The 18 holes traverse flattish, but naturally undulating linksland, and provide a fair test of golf with a few surprises thrown in along the way. The last of these revelations come in the form of a double-whammy at the 16th and 17th – two of the finest holes in the UK, but more on those later.
On my most recent visit to this fine championship links the playing conditions on a hot, humid and hazy afternoon in early May were more akin to the height of summer. The fairways were not just starting to brown off, many of them were frazzled and scorched to a crisp – brilliant stuff! This produced some of the tightest lies and must make it one of the firmest and fastest running courses in the country. It’s not surprising that this stretch of coastline enjoys a unique microclimate that makes it one of the driest places in Britain.
The green complexes at Littlestone are very good, varied and go about their business in an unassuming manner. Some of them are mere extensions to the fairway whilst others are more pronounced. Virtually all of them bleed into their natural surrounds beautifully though.
I was particularly impressed with the rising fourth, the eighth – where an approach from the right is favoured – and the glorious 16th which is just a heavenly hole from start to finish. Here, you must turn the ball from right-to-left from the tee to give you the best chance of reaching the cresting green which is located at the end of higher piece of ground and perhaps favours a fading approach.
It should also be said that the green sites at all four of the short holes are superb. As a set they are just about as good as any links course in England. The two-level kidney-shaped sixth, the well-protected ninth and the 14th, where a necklace of bunkers defends the hole quite superbly, are all wonderful in both design and visual appeal. Then we have the short 17th – one of the best green complexes you will ever play to – from an elevated tee across you fire across a natural valley to a putting surface set into shallow dunes with sand and slopes to contend with; a real visual feast.
Indeed, it’s as if Littlestone builds to a crescendo throughout the round which peaks at the 16th and 17th although the 18th is no slouch either. The opening five holes are good without being exceptional. The two par-three towards the end of the outward half, which take us to the far end of the property, raise the bar higher and then as we gradually twist and turn our way back to the clubhouse the back-nine uses the best of the rolling terrain to good use and the golf is even more engaging.
In all truth, there’s very little I didn’t like about Littlestone. I’m not sure the ditch that crosses the second fairway does the hole any favours and some of the fairways early on are runway flat which is not to my personal taste. I also thought the 11th with its brilliantly angled and contorting burn would play far better from the normal white tees as opposed to the new blue/green tees where it appears that length has been favoured over strategy and courage.
Mention should also be made of the quality of the greens. On my trip which also included Royal St. Georges and Royal Cinque Ports the greens at Littlestone were far superior. They ran quicker and truer (by a long way) than both the other courses.
This demanding, yet wholly playable, venue is rightly recognised as being one of the top 100 courses in England and one of the premier links in the whole of Great Britain & Ireland. Founded in 1888, it has hosted many major championships and has a long and distinguished history including being a final Qualifying course for the 2011 Open Championship. Par is 71 and the yardage tops out at 6,632.
Located between the famous Romney Marsh and the English Channel the course is just under an hour from the South-East powerhouses of Sandwich and Deal, plus Prince’s, and less than 30 minutes from Rye. Anyone considering a visit to this corner of England to play some high quality links golf should ensure that Littlestone is on their itinerary.