Two-thirds of the way from London to the famous links courses of Kent sits the historic town of Canterbury. Golfers headed to experience Sandwich, Deal, Rye and Littlestone might stop there to see the 12th century Cathedral, but few bother with Canterbury’s Harry Colt-designed golf course.
I visited with Colt-spotter Tony Muldoon (who took these pics – my camera died on the 5th hole) last week and the set of par threes alone was worth the visit. Only my third Colt course, but I am becoming quite the fanboy! I enquired with Paul Turner before my visit and he reported that aside from the repositioned 4th green and 18th fairway, most of the course was faithful to what Colt designed.
The enormous greenside bunkers looked fantastic where many clubs have cut such hazards into two or three smaller traps, and I have not seen a course before with such extensive use of grass bunkers – the construction of some putting a skewer in the occasionally-heard claim that Golden Age GCA’s didn’t move much dirt. On such sloping land, some large-scale excavation was needed to build up the low side of several green sites.
The 4th, 7th, 9th and 14th holes have each seen a single tree added to tighten the approach, and while Tony probably put it quite succinctly by commenting “I don’t think this is the sort of thing our friend Harry would have built”, in all instances they protect the holes from the advancement of technology, forcing the tee shot to be placed well for an easier approach to the green rather than merely bombed as far as possible.
There are some average holes on dramatic land not suited to golf, but by and large there is plenty to thrill, and even those average holes have some great features, as I hope I can demonstrate below.1st hole – par 5 – 472y
The opening tee shot is played through a chute and over a gorge to a blind fairway, but a very wide one. The temptation to attack the green with your second shot is reduced somewhat by the deep bunker, towards which the area short of the green feeds.2nd hole – par 3 – 166y
Anything short runs 40m back down the hill, leaving a chip to a blind green atop the hill. It sets up beautifully from the tee, and is indicative of the charm and challenge to come on the other four one-shotters.3rd hole – par 4 – 385y
A drive similar to the opening hole, but with two right-hand fairway bunkers keeping you honest. Right of the green sits the first of the grass bunkers, hidden from view as you play your second by a bunker 30yds short.4th hole – par 4 – 376y
The one hole that has changed markedly from Colt’s creation. Originally a reachable par four, a safety risk to players on the 5th tee saw the hole converted into a mid-length dogleg-right, protected at the green by a tree that blocks anything hit from the right.5th hole – par 3 – 155y
Rippling land short of the green affects your distance perception, and a devilish grass bunker awaits at the back right. The green slopes to the front, but slow green speeds reduce the impact of leaving yourself a downhill putt.6th hole – par 4 – 385y
We arrive at the less than ideal golfing terrain to find a formula Colt also employs on the 12th, 13th, 15th and 16th: the tee shot is played over the lowest land to a side-hill with a strong camber. Through green placement or doglegging, each hole asks you to keep your tee shot as close to the high side of the fairway as possible. Here, the second shot can be run down the hill fronting the green, with the putting surface also tilting from front to back.7th hole – par 5 – 540y
A fairway mound and bunker should not come into play for a well-struck tee shot or second shot, but play with the mind of the golfer pitching out to a safe lay-up zone, as dows the grove of trees visible on the right. The green is flat, but flanked by bunkers of both the sand and grass varieties.8th hole – par 3 – 140y
Perhaps the first time you will have ever teed off over a topiary! A bit Mickey Mouse, perhaps, but the shrubs serve the same purpose as gorse might on a Scottish links. The green is open at the front, but flanked by bunkers, and feeds from the left.9th hole – par 5 – 499y
An open tee shot to reachable territory, but a tree at the turn-point of the dogleg means an aggressive second will have to be cut along the sweeping line of the fairway, or hooked from over dead ground that will mean a lost ball. Without that tree is a brainless brawn-fest, with it, it’s a clever little hole, with a cheeky, sloping bunkerless green.10th hole – par 4 – 453y
Adding to the challenge posed by the length is the creek that crosses the fairway at 275yds: a long drive, but with the steep downhill fairway, one you cannot rule out if you take driver. From there, the land slopes hard left, towards thick bush and a deep grass bunker. The green slopes so severely that little more than a third is pinnable.11th hole – par 3 – 180y
The green sits in an aphitheatre about 5yds above the tee. The putting surface can be accessed by a bank over the short-right bunker, but short, left and long are all poor options possibly involving a penalty stroke. The green contours are not severe, but they are enough to keep you thinking once you have a putter in your hand.12th hole- par 4 – 365y
A beautiful setting, and a great hole. The tee is again raised, giving a clear view of what is required. The safe play is an iron to the bottom of the hill, but a drive that flirts with the creek snaking up the left will mean just a short iron or wedge into a heavily-contoured green with a false front.13th hole – par 4 – 380y
Back to the difficult land. A mid-length par four where a drive in the left side of the fairway gets the best angle into the green, but anything missing left will have a tall tree 40yds short of the green to contend with, forcing a safe approach to the right of the large green.14th hole – par 4 – 321y
The most open hole on the course brings the chance to open your shoulders, but a drive of 250yds or so will bring Colt’s mounding into play. It hides the flat land in front of the green, playing havoc with depth perception when coupled with the steep hill the green is built atop. Many holes do feel as though the trees have encroached, and maybe this is how Canterbury GC felt 75 years ago: open and spacious.15th hole – par 4 – 392y
The bold green – built-up with massive bunkers either side – is the feature of the hole, with a drive that huge the right earning the A-line in. A good example where the bunkers could have each been converted into two smaller hazards, but the grandeur would have been lost.16th hole – par 4 – 378y
Continuing along the side-hill encountered on the previous hole, the strategy is the same. The green is angled to the right, and a deep grass bunker to the left is hard to see from the driving area.17th hole – par 3 – 195y
A quarry short and left creates a dramatic view from the tee, looking up to the green some 10-15yds higher. A bunker short right is merely a better class of purgatory than the quarry. Like the par threes that have preceded it, it rewards only a well-struck and accurate shot, with very few kind landing areas off the putting surface.18th hole – par 5 – 490y
Built by Colt as a straight-away par five, the 18th now doglegs right to steer drives away from the public driving range. A similar shape and length as the 9th, but here it is a cluster of bunkers that deters you from attacking the green with your second. The two-tier green is an original element.