|There's a blind tee shot off the downhill par-4 seventh, with bunkers each side of the narrow entrance to the green and water on the left of it. (Courtesy Kent National G&CC)|
BIDDENDEN, Kent, England — Nestling deep in the heart of the Kent countryside, on what was originally part of the great Andredsweald forest which in ancient times covered much of Southern England, is a gem of a course created by Nick Faldo: Chart Hills Golf Club.
Stand on the first tee and soak up the far reaching views over the course and the Garden of England as Kent is known. Admire the 200-year-old oaks generously distributed over the rolling course and ponder which line to take over the bank of bunkers greeting golfers on the opening hole, a 599-yard par 5.
Take in the clusters of fairway bunkers splattered about the course, winding creeks just where you don want them, sweeping doglegs, some wicked pin positions and steep bunkers threatening every approach shot to large undulating greens. It's alluring and it promises to be exciting.
No wonder Faldo said of his first European designed golf course: Chart Hills is a course few golfers will ever grow tired of playing.
When Faldo was faced with the task of designing Chart Hills, a name derived from a series of Royal Charters first issued in 762 A.D., he reckoned he had found the perfect piece of land: 200 acres of gently undulating hills. From this he molded a championship course which was officially opened in August 1993; it now a PGA European Tour Qualifying School venue and home to the Ladies English Open until at least 2010.
It's also a course which, as Faldo predicted, golfers just do not tire of playing.
"I think the course is wonderful," said Stuart Neilson, a founder member and a 16-handicapper. "It beats me to a pulp most times. The greens are excellent and the course drains really well, despite the fact it is clay-based."
Stuart and his playing partners, Andrew Wilding and Ernie Nicholls, play golf all over the world, but love coming back to Chart Hills, they said.
Considered Nick Faldo's best course by a mile, Chart Hills is billed as a championship course and lends itself perfectly for European Tour events because that precisely the way it was designed. It has between 87-109 yards of raised rough in between the joining fairways so it feels like a very quiet course when you are playing, but the same raised rough gives spectators excellent vantage points during Tour events.
The greens are fast and true and prepared to USGA standards; greens and tees are playable year-round regardless of weather. There are 138 bunkers, water comes into play on around 13 holes and each hole enjoys five different teeing positions.
The back tees (7,119 yards) are affectionately known as the Faldo tees — tough to play from with long carries and a lot of damage to be done between tee and landing area. They're especially during summer months when the traditional rough raises to about 18 inches a different course altogether than from the yellow and blue tees and, a bonus, low-handicap players can request to go off the Faldo or blue tees if their golfing skills can cope.
"This is probably one of the best new courses in the country," said Anthony Froom, pro shop assistant with a handicap of 1.5. "The signature second and 13th are great holes — tough, but definitely risk and reward. Each hole is so unique so when you e finished playing you don forget anything; it all stays in your head."
Faldo didn't forget to leave his mark on the course in the form of some memorable signature features either: the attractive island green at the short par-3 17th hole and a 200-yard snake-like bunker, the longest in the country, which wriggles down the side of and across the fairway on the par-5 fifth hole, fittingly named the Anaconda Bunker.
The clubhouse is currently being rebuilt after a devastating fire in September 2005 which caused 1.8 million pounds worth of damage; the big and better rebuild complete with new conference facilities, function rooms, bars, lounges, and sun terrace is scheduled for completion December 2006.
But don let the rebuilding put you off as the Spike Bar (which has fabulous views overlooking the first, ninth and 18th holes), the restaurant and pro shop are all fully operational and the temporary locker rooms adequately comfortable.
The fact that there is a high level of repeat business speaks for itself, with golfers often booking another round within 24 hours of having played the course, and many golf societies are now in their 11th and 12th year. As they say: the proof is in the pudding. There no doubt it would be very hard to find a better course in the area.
"Chart Hills is a thinking golfer course," said David Walls, a nine-handicapper and sales and marketing director for Leaderboard Golf which owns this and three other quality courses in the UK. "Then golfers can walk off the course and relay back to their golfing colleagues every hole they have just played. There none of the sameness about any two holes out there.
Green fees for 18 holes between April and October 2006 will set you back 60 pounds on Tuesday, Thursday and Friday and 75 pounds at weekends (only open to members and their guests on Monday and Wednesday during these months), with 25 pounds for a cart and five pounds for a course guide.
Being located deep in the Kent countryside means traveling between four and 12 miles along country lanes to find suitable accommodations. There are a couple of small places to stay approximately four miles away in the picturesque village of Tenterden: the 26-room AA/RAC three-star London Beach Country Hotel, with golf course, conference facilities and function rooms and the homely 16-room Little Silver Country Hotel.
Further afield (14 miles) in Ticehurst is the four-star 34-room Dale Hill Hotel & Golf Club (same owners as Chart Hills) with conference facilities, small indoor heated pool, sauna and gymnasium, plus two 18-hole golf courses on site.
Chart Hills has a Spike Bar which serves good meals and snacks, and there are several old pubs renowned for good food in the area the George & Dragon on the High Street in Headcorn, which serves snacks in the bar (such as jacket potatoes and toasted sandwiches), plus a number of wholesome dishes in the restaurant.
There's The Three Chimneys — a beautiful pub just outside Frittenden, near Biddenden; the warm and cozy Smarden Bell in the middle of nowhere near the village of Smarden, near Ashford; and the 14th century Chequers Inn in Smarden Village which offers a good range of meals, real ales, cider and Guinness.
November 6, 2006
Any opinions expressed above are those of the writer and do not necessarily represent the views of the management.
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