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The Sandwich Open Championship

PUBLISHED: 16:03 22 June 2011 | UPDATED: 19:35 20 February 2013

The Sandwich Open Championship

The Sandwich Open Championship

With the 140th Open Championship in Sandwich this July, Kent Life looks behind the scenes at the tireless work of the greenkeepers to get the famous links into tip-top condition

The Sandwich Open Championship


With the 140th Open Championship in Sandwich this July, Kent Life looks behind the scenes at the tireless work of the greenkeepers to get the famous links into tip-top condition


The advent of High Definition and 3D TV has revolutionised sport for armchair fans who can see their heroes in action in greater details than ever.


But while slo-mo replays offer multiple camera angles which can zoom into the tiniest of details, it has created a myriad of problems, particularly for rules officials.


Golf has already been left to deal with the ramifications of Padraig Harringtons disqualification in Abu Dhabi over a ball which moved no more than a hairs breadth, spotted by an eagle-eyed TV viewer.


No doubt the greenkeepers at Royal St Georges will suffer a few sleepless nights worrying over any imperfections on their beautifully-manicured golf courses being exposed by the 21st-century camera technology.


Luckily, the appeal of traditional links courses like Royal St Georges lies in their rugged terrain and contrast created by the combination of long grasses, sand dunes and preferably a foaming sea.


But even a casual golfer may be surprised to learn how much effort goes into preparing a championship course like the one at Sandwich for one of the games four great Majors.


It is eight years since the Open last ventured to the north east corner of Kent and the 140th Open Championship in July will be the 14th time the county has staged the R&As blue riband event.


Royal St Georges is a very private club with its 900-odd members jealously guarding their gem, and without the need to answer to corporate control or shareholders, they take great pride in caring for its heritage and reputation.


Some would argue it is the best course from which to view the Open, with Sandwichs jagged mounds offering many great vantage points from which to look down on the action.


A team of 14 greenkeepers have been working around the clock to get the famous links into tip-top condition for when the 154 of the worlds finest golfers arrive this month.


RSG secretary Christopher Gabbey, who retires after this summers showpiece, says: Since the last Open, weve had a major amateur championship here every year, so striving to keep standards at the highest level is simply what we do.


But of course when the Open comes here, the publics gaze, not to mention television scrutiny, means we have to seek even higher levels of excellence.


The club has invested in the latest John Deere equipment to aid the course staff, led by head greenkeeper Graham Royden and his assistant Paul Larsen.


Christopher adds: The two of them and a dozen other greenkeepers form a strong, well-bonded team. In February the five-month countdown began and work to finish the programme to completely overhaul the courses 103 bunkers was completed in earnest once the heavy winter snow had thawed.


A huge amount of material was shifted with new turf cut for the revetting process which gives pot bunkers their distinctive links-look, plus the new surrounds. Fresh sand has been added.


When Kent Life visited in early March, the month-long project was very much in evidence with ground-under-repair (GUR) signs placed in many of the bunkers keeping players out of the traps to give them time to bed in.


While the staff will be hoping for some much-needed rain, the most striking fact gleaned in our fact-finding mission was the superb conditions of the greens. Christopher Gabbey believes they have never looked or played better and certainly they were the best Ive played in Europe in 20 years.


The greens are now cut with new individual hand-cutting mowers, which give the greenkeepers a better feel of the hallowed putting surfaces. And a request by the R&A for the fairways to all be cut in one direction will see extra machinery being drafted in by Godfreys of Sevenoaks, who supply the equipment in the weeks before the first player tees off early on 14 July.


The R&A has an agronomist from the Sports Turf Research Institute (STRI) retained to give advice on the preparation of each course on the Open rota. Alaistair Beggs makes four visits a year to advise on preparation, recommending the switch to new mowers that allow the fairways to be cut lower.


But if you are sat at home watching the Open you should hopefully not need the latest TV technology to see close up how good Royal St Georges really looks.



Ones to watch



Tiger Woods


The deposed world number one would have been expected to have been hot favourite, given that he finished tied fourth here in 2003 when recovering from a serious knee operation six months earlier.


Injuries have blighted the last three years of his career, coupled with his off-course problems. However, with his nightmare withdrawal at the Players Championship at Sawgrass in May, following yet more injury problems, a fourth Claret Jug looks extremely unlikely.


But then we are talking about Tiger so anything is possible, assuming he is fit enough to play. Perhaps more interesting will be to see if he draws the huge galleries around Sandwich once more or whether the young guns currently taking golf by storm hold more sway with the adoring fans.



Rory McIlroy


Among those young contenderss is 21-year-old North Ireland sensation Rory McIlroy,


who looked set to win his first Green Jacket at Augusta in April before a calamity on the back nine.



Graeme McDowell


Rorys fellow Ulsterman will be many punters fancy after his US Open win but GMacs early season form has been extremely disappointing, leaving young R-Mac a much more likely contender, given his top-five finish at St Andrews last year, despite a nightmare 80 in the second round.



Matteo Manassero


The youngest gun of them, Italian sensation Matteo Manassero, will not be overawed when he tees it up at RSG. Two victories in less than six months as a professional for the 18 year old has started a debate over whether he can beat Tigers record as the youngest-ever Major winner.


He has three years in which to rewrite the record books, but many pundits may overlook the fact that Manassero has a distinct advantage over the field. He played here in the British Boys Championship just two years ago, fresh from his victory in the British Amateur at Formby, which earned him a place at the Masters last year. That course knowledge could prove invaluable given that he managed to finish tied for 15th in his Open debut at Turnberry having qualified as the British Amateur Champion.



Charl Schwartzel


Another new world star who is familiar with this part of the world is Augusta winner Charl Schwartzel. The South African wore a green jacket when presented with the Brabazon Trophy having won the 2002 English Amateur Strokeplay just down the road at Royal Cinque Ports, aged 18.


And we suspect the latest member of the Major winners club will fancy repeating Tigers trick of winning the Masters and the Open in the same season as Woods did in 2005.


Only six players have claimed the Green Jacket and Claret Jug in the same season - all-time greats such as Woods, Nicklaus, Palmer, Watson and Hogan - and Charl will be keen to add his name on the trophy below that of his great friend and defending champion, fellow compatriot Louis Ouisthuizen and match the feat of their mutual hero Gary Player, the only South African to claim both Majors in one season.



Martin Kaymer


But our money will be riding with European No. 1 Martin Kaymer who, after a disappointing Masters, will be a real threat, despite having finished 10 shots behind Louis last year.


If conditions are benign despite the course having been lengthened to 7,200 yards and with a par of just 70 the German could be ready to tuck into a birdie fest at Sandwich, and claim his second Major after victory in last years PGA Championship at Whistling Straits, another windy links-style course set beside water.



Places to eat in the area



DEAL


Deals pretty seafront is best seen from the far end of the pier where the recently refurbished caf offers hot drinsk, an all-day breakfast and great views towards Dover and Ramsgate in each direction.


Beach Street, Deals promenade, is picturesque, its painted houses offering splashes of colour along the horizon and many of the best pubs and restaurants are along this road, including:



81 Beach Street


From the outside this restaurant looks as though it only has space for a few tables, but inside it opens up with an airy back room and space upstairs for larger parties.


Unusual fish dishes include skate with bubble and squeak and sea bass with a vanilla sauce, but theres also rib-eye steak with chunky chips, a couple of vegetarian choices and mouthwatering desserts.


81 Beach Street, Deal CT14 6JB


01304 368136


Three courses for two people with a couple of drinks each, approx. 70.



Dunkerleys Restaurant:


The famous seafront restaurant where beer-battered cod with hand-made chips stars on the lunch menu (two courses 11.95, three 15.95). A different evening menu is 21.50 for two courses or 27.50 for three.


19 Beach Street, Deal CT14 7AH


01304 375016



The Bohemian:


A specialist beer and cider pub offering real ale from around the UK, including Sharps Cornish Coaster, Hopbacks GFB, while for the lager drinker continental brews include Leffe, Becks, and Amstel, with Westons Old Rosie for the cider drinker among many others. Lunch and evening menus as well as bar snacks available.


47 Beach Street, Deal CT14 6HY


01304 374843




Places to visit



MARGATE



Turner Contemporary


Situated on the seafront with amazing views as the light changes by the hour the fabulous new art gallery is a place not to be missed during a visit to the Thanet coast.


JMW Turner is probably Britains best known painter, yet during his lifetime his works were criticised and little understood. Now his paintings are regarded as amongst the greatest ever made. Little wonder he is the inspiration behind the new gallery built on the Margates seafront.


Celebrating contemporary art, the two-storey modern glass and concrete structure has been built facing Turners inspiration, the north Kent coast.


The excitement of the new modern artists, along with the opportunity to see a Turner original (currently The Eruption of the Souffrier Mountains in the Island of St.Vincent) is drawing in the visitors in their thousands.


Over time Margate has declined but as the collaborative local work, Etagram, professes: The tide has turned and a pride in Margate, Will, flood back.



Turner Contemporary, 18 The Parade, Margate CT9 1EY


01843 294208


Free admission, closed Mon.




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