|This statue at Royal Jersey Golf Club honors favorite son Harry Vardon, who in 1900 became the first Englishman to capture the U.S. Open. (Clive Agran/WorldGolf.com)|
Although it's off the coast of Normandy, the Channel Island of Jersey is a birthing place of top English golfers - and stellar golf courses such as Royal Jersey Golf Club, La Moye, and Les Mielles Golf and Country Club.
Although it lies just off the coast of Normandy, the Channel Island of Jersey is a very English place where manners matter more than the size of your offshore bank account.
It's a delightfully old-fashioned, courteous place comfortably marooned around 1955 and successfully resisting all efforts to drag it into the modern era.
With a great respect for tradition and immensely rich in history, Jersey curiously has strong ties with American golf. One of Jersey's favorite sons is the legendary Harry Vardon, who in 1900 became the first Englishman to capture the U.S. Open. He subsequently twice finished runner-up. Having won it six times, Vardon also holds the record number of British Open titles.
Curiously, the most recent Englishman to win the U.S. Open was another former resident of Jersey, Tony Jacklin. Sandwiched between them is yet another Jerseyman, Ted Ray, who won the U.S. Open in 1920 when he edged out the 50-year-old Vardon. For a small island to have produced the first two in such a huge tournament is quite remarkable.
It could be the sea air, the famous Jersey cream or the equally renowned tomatoes that have helped the largest of the Channel Islands to produce such brilliant golfers, one of whom is Tommy Horton, the two-time Ryder Cup player who, despite approaching 70, is still active on the European Seniors Tour.
Another explanation is that Jersey is blessed not only with enviably low income tax but also with some outstanding golf courses. Royal Jersey Golf Club, where Horton was head professional, is one such magnificent links. With a statue of Vardon at the entrance and a stone commemorating Ted Ray on the 15th tee, the place is as steeped in history as the air is laden with the invigorating smell of the sea.
For most tee shots, the recommended line is often a fort or medieval castle. Lower handicappers take precise aim at a turret or keep, while higher handicappers are generally less specific about their intended target.
Although I've played on courses with well guarded greens, their defenses here are formidable. Towers, forts and World War II pillboxes offer a level of protection rarely encountered on the mainland. Clearly, Jersey has witnessed several fiercely contested confrontations, not all of which have been fought with woods, irons, putters and good
La Moye Golf Club, perched 250 feet above beautiful St Ouen Bay, benefits - if that's the word - from a more or less constant wind that ensures that the course presents a fresh challenge every day.
Perhaps the toughest one of all, however, is to concentrate on your shot and not be too distracted by the spectacular views and pounding surf. Corbierre Lighthouse, La Rocco Tower and the tiny isles of Sark, Herm and Jethou are the landmarks to note on those rare moments when you're not worrying about club selection or what line to take.
This is natural seaside golf at its absolute best with well-contoured greens, a modest sprinkling of strategically placed bunkers and gloriously springy turf. As you stroll up the 18th fairway towards the vast bowl that is the final green, it's easy to imagine past winners of the Jersey Open like Sandy Lyle, Tony Jacklin and Ian Woosnam acknowledging the applause.
Woosie, by the way, is yet another who has made his home on this delightful island and is now a regular at La Moye. Find time before you go to enjoy the clubhouse and the splendid views from the lounge over the course and across the Channel.
Back down to sea level and almost directly below La Moye is Les Mielles Golf and Country Club. A comparative newcomer to the Jersey golf scene, this proprietary club may not be quite so steeped in history as its more illustrious neighbors, but it has already witnessed some remarkable golf.
Playing the 252-yard, par-4 third in the 2002 Channel Islands Players Championship, Paul Simpson recorded a two in the first round, a two in the second round and a hole-in-one in the third and final round, leaving him seven under par for the hole over three rounds. Your correspondent took precisely the same number of shots (five), playing the hole just once.
More believable, perhaps, is the story of another professional playing in the same competition who walked in halfway through his opening round having run out of balls. Water is an ever-present threat. Somewhat less threatening are the flocks of geese, ducks, swans and other wildfowl that wander about the fairways.
A popular venue with those locals patiently waiting to join either Royal Jersey or La Moye, Les Mielles is often very busy, especially at weekends when a round can take a while.
But Jersey is not the right place for you if you're in a hurry. It is much better suited to those simply wanting a relaxing break and outstanding golf.
July 10, 2009
Although in his 60s, with a handicap of 15 and lifetime earnings comfortably below $100, Clive Agran nevertheless still believes he can win a major. Arguably England's most gifted golf writer, when not dreaming of glory he's scouring the globe simultaneously searching for lost balls and great golf courses. Follow Clive on Twitter at @cliveagran.
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