Canterbury began life as a small Iron Age settlement on the River Stour. When the Romans arrived in the 1st century AD the town grew and emerged as a place of strategic, economic and spiritual importance. It flourished during Roman occupation and went on to enjoy a chequered history. Beset by Saxon raids in the 3rd century and invaded by the Vikings in 850AD it has nevertheless been a centre of Christian worship since the arrival of St Augustine in 597AD.
Now the town is synonymous with its magnificent 11th-century cathedral. The final resting place of the Black Prince and the scene of the murder of Thomas Becket in 1170, it’s a magnificent building and a marvel of medieval architecture.
It’s difficult to travel to Canterbury from any direction other than the north and west. Having said this, it’s not remote. Located just 90 minutes from London, it’s an ideal base for a short golfing trip – simply head down the M2 which then becomes the A2 and follow the road signs from there.
The first course on our itinerary is North Foreland at Broadstairs on the Isle of Thanet. Founded in 1903 and expanded to 18 holes by Lord Northcliffe in 1912, it’s a seaside course but not a typical links. It’s constructed on chalk and many of the holes have more of a downland feel. The quality and testing nature of North Foreland was underlined when the course was used in qualifying for the 2003 Open Championship.
From its position on the cliff tops, the course looks out to where the English Channel meets the North Sea. It’s a bracing spot and the strength of the wind plays a massive role in how great a challenge you face.
On a benign summer’s day the wide, fast-running fairways are flattering and as the greens are always excellent a good score is on. But when the breeze gets up across the headland, this course is an entirely different proposition. Although it measures 6,200 yards it can seem like 1,000 more. The holes head in varying directions so the breeze comes at you from a different side on almost every tee.
Visitors to Sandwich on the Kent coast often overlook Prince’s Golf Club in favour of its more prestigious neighbours but this is a mistake. Like Royal St George’s and Royal Cinque Ports, Prince’s is a former host of the Open (1932); moreover it offers 27 of the most interesting and challenging championship-standard holes in the South-East. There are three nine-hole loops (Shore, Dunes and Himalayas) each starting and finishing at the modern clubhouse which sits at the centre. Visitors can pick and choose: just play 18 holes, add another nine for just £10 more or add 18 for £20 extra.
The Shore nine is perhaps the most difficult. Featuring extremely punishing rough and fairways that are difficult to see, let alone hit, this is links golf at its rawest and most challenging. If you’re just playing 18 then Dunes is probably the other loop to tackle. Himalayas is an excellent track but some of its holes venture inland and lose the seaside feel. Relaxed and friendly, visitors are welcome at Prince’s. It’s a great place to spend a day and we did just that.
Heading back to base as the sun was getting low, we were glad the next morning was to be golf free.
Canterbury is bustling, packed with history and character. There is more than enough to keep even the most ardent sightseer occupied. Visit the cathedral, The Canterbury Tales experience in St Margaret’s Street and soak up the atmosphere of the old town. There are also some fantastic pubs to enjoy. Try The Cherry Tree and The Bishop’s Finger.
Canterbury Golf Club is an entirely different animal to the other two courses on the trip. Designed by the prolific Harry Colt, it’s set in scenic woodland. Although you’re just half-a-mile from the centre of town there is a sense of serenity and seclusion here. The course is well manicured and the greens roll beautifully. The fairways are fairly generous but the proximity of woodland on most holes means accuracy is paramount. The closing stretch from the 15th onwards is where the course really shows its teeth so maximum concentration is required right to the finishing post.
Canterbury is a town rich in history and character. Add varied golfing opportunities and you have the makings of a truly great British break.
Where to play
T: 01843 862140
Stats: par 71, SSS 71, 6,436 yards
T: 01304 611118
Stats: Shore – par 36, SSS 36, 3,347 yards; Dunes – par 36, SSS 36, 3,343 yards; Himalayas – par 35, SSS 35, 3,163 yards
T: 01227 453532
Stats: par 70, SSS 70, 6,272 yards
Where to stay
T: 01227 766266
Dating from the 16th century and situated in the city centre, this hotel offers comfort and convenience. Its restaurant is highly regarded as is Jacobs – the attached bar.
The Bow Window Inn
T: 01227 721264
Situated in Littlebourne just a few miles out of the city centre, this is a cosy, friendly place to make your base.
Express by Holiday Inn
T: 0870 400 9093
Just off the A2 two miles outside Canterbury this is very functional. The guest rooms can accommodate two adults and two children.