Behind East Londoners favourite beach at Camber Sands lies a more exclusive golfing destination also sought out by Londoners and those from across the golfing world. It is not a grand Edwardian clubhouse like Deal or St George’s. It is bedded into a ridge above the course with a ‘field of fire’ over a third of the course and could be related, architecturally, to the pillbox above the 4th hole which commands the view seawards. That might be a slightly harsh comparison, in architectural terms, because, and although, the clubhouse is built to repel all meteorological invaders, the service inside is all seeing and warm. Much like the course it is not a temple to vanity but it is a very accommodating clubhouse. The attention is firmly on the links.
The course is approached over the marshes which are foreboding, mysterious and atmospheric like the links. This is a rugged place, an authentic course, man against the elements. It is a course where duels are played out, cut and thrust, singles or foursomes, matchplay preferred. It is tighter, more fearsome than Deal. Anything stray here is caught and bound and gagged like a prisoner by the tangling thick rough.
The first is a good opening hole with a generous stroke index of 9. But then you know it is not easy when a par 3 of over 200 yards is stroke index 18. Deep bunkers lie in wait at the second hole where it also becomes evident just how fast these greens are. I have never played the course in the summer when the run of the ball must be impossible to foretell with any certainty. Three is a more testing par 4 but only serves to set you up for the fearsome fourth.
It runs, normally against the wind, along a spiny ridge that is said to include a fairway, surveyed by said pillbox and a grassy crater on one side and the earlier fairways 30 yards below you on the right. Normally I pull one into the crater before smashing a provisional ball way to the right. I have yet to par it. I doubt I have got within a double bogey because the green, I am told, is not easy either. This hole captivates and infuriates. Stroke index 7 too!
The next hole is a par 3. It is very enticing. It is rare for a shot to work just as one imagines it. A wider range of second shots you could not wish for on these par 3s. And that does not include second shots from off the green. A miss can send you into an area of quite different atmospheric pressure so deep are some of the pitfalls.
Six is a characteristic Rye hole which utilises the central ridge that runs down the centre of the course. A blind tee shot to a rippling fairway that always leaves you a long second. Although it is marked as stroke index 1 I would swap it with hole 4 any day. But I suppose if you don’t crest the ridge a cricket score awaits. My favourite par 3 follows set along the ridge with a thin green well bracketed by long grass and bunkers.
Seawards lies the Jubilee course. Not reviewed here as it is a doubled nine holer. It is a marvellous links course with some tremendous holes and well worth extending your day to include them.
The ninth is a good closing hole, if you started at 10, because you can stretch your driver if required, but in truth, it is never an easy green to cosy up to the pin whatever the range. I am afraid that I find 10 and 11 rather out of character even though the green complexes are on a par with any others on the course. 12 gets you going again towards the best links land with the harbour on your right. 13 is not dissimilar to 6 as you are required to hit a blind approach over the ridge. It is almost a par 5 and will be if your drive is not your best. The only criticism with the layout is the lack of two par 5s. The first is only 482 yards off the blue tees. Whilst length isn’t everything it would be better balanced with two fives. I am sure that this has been considered and the solution found wanting so I defer to local knowledge. The par 4s are so good one could not mess with them, 15 and 16 are two of the best, but 18 is one of my favourites.
Curiously it is a mirror of the fearsome fourth. Along a spiny ridge but this time to a banked green needing just one more club than you think. The wind is often more helpful as it runs in the opposite direction to the afeared 4. The fact that you set your tee shot for the bar perhaps concentrate the mind but I am less inclined to fall into the traps set and make sure little delays my arrival at the bar and one of their sumptuous lunches and a very tidy wine list. To be sniffed at and enjoyed.
There always seems to be a cake which you can self medicate until memories of failure at the fearsome fourth have become the stuff of legend.
This is a course imbued with character, not polished but genuine, a wild romantic place that lets and requires the imagination to run amok. Proper elemental, authentic, links golf.