Lovely Littlestone: a links gem with par-3 excellence
The British Isles is strewn with golf courses practically no one knows about that qualify as true hidden gems. Littlestone Golf club is just that. (Photographer: Jason Livy)
I’m lucky. I play Littlestone on an annual basis in the 72 Club, which does exactly as it says on the tin: 72 holes in one day of medal play, walking and carrying. No trollies, buggies, caddies, or range finders.
The 72 Club is a hardy bunch who all have one thing in common: we hate slow play. The faster groups will average about two hours 20 per round, ranging to 2:40 for those at the end of the field. I competed last year and played four rounds in 13 hours, two minutes and 56 seconds, and that included 45 minutes for lunch and short breaks between rounds. Just a casual 34.53-kilometre walk.
Playing at Littlestone makes it all worthwhile.
This links has previously staged Final Qualifying for the Open Championship when it was staged at Royal St George’s. Kennie Ferrie won the 1996 Boys Amateur Championship here, and Louise Stahl won the 2005 Women’s Amateur.
The layout only measures 6,486 yards, but as one Littlestone member once said:
“No one is going to tear it asunder.”
I can vouch for that.
The course has arguably the best selection of par 3s in the British Isles. It starts with the 159-yard sixth hole. Miss this long, narrow green and you’re struggling because it falls away left, right and long. If you are going to miss the green, then short is okay because you’ve got a better chance of par.
The ninth calls for a 4 iron to a big green with lots of tough pin positions.
The 14th has a great green that slopes downhill back to front and three putting will be a regular occurrence.
The 17th is arguably the best par 3 in England, which is why I’ve named it the course’s best par 3. Read about it below.
The bottom line on the four three-shot holes? Find the green or you’ll probably be four over for those holes.
One of the reasons Littlestone is great for the 72 Club is there are no long walks between green and next tee. I think the longest is from the 8th to the 9th, which is only about 60 yards. It’s old fashioned golf at its best on a compact site with all the humps and hollows you’ll associate on a links.
The links feel is obvious from the tough, par-4 second hole. The second shot has to be threaded through a narrow gap between two huge mounds to a tricky green. That’s if you have a view of the green. You can find yourself on the fairway and not be able to see the green.
Believe me, if you make a four on this hole you’ll have a chance of a good score. I usually make six.
I always think when I walk through those mounds that the round truly starts. You’re into glorious dune land with great holes that epitomise links golf.
The 16th, described below, is the toughest hole on the course and wouldn’t look out of place on any other links in these isles.
Littlestone is just a great walk over great links turf. Best of all, it’s a course that can easily be played in three hours, even if you’re taking things leisurely. That means you’ll have time to go around again. Maybe not another three times, but you’ll find it hard to resist another trip around this lovely links.
Get yourself down to New Romney in Kent and experience one of the true hidden links gems in the British Isles.
Best par 3
17th, 182/173 yards
Club selection could be anything from a 3-wood to a 9-iron depending on the wind. And your ball has to find a raised green with deep bunkers guarding it. Go long and you’re in knee high grass. There’s really no bail out. Find this green or you’ll probably be marking down a four, maybe a five, on your card.
Toughest pin position is front left, which brings the deep left-hand bunker into play.
Best par 4
16th, 469/411 yards
I think the reason this par-4 is so hard is because it’s actually a par 5. I can count the number of times I’ve made par on this hole in the 72 Club on the fingers of one hand, and every time it’s felt like I’ve made birdie.
Back right is the toughest flag and a four is great score when the pin’s there.
Best par 5
18th, 499/479 yards
Littlestone isn’t known for great par-5s, but the closing hole is the best of the three shotters. There should be no problem getting the drive away, but bunkers left and right of the fairway will catch tee shots not hit down the middle. You have a good chance of finding the green with your second. The fun starts with the second/third shot to a raised, well contoured green.
Toughest pin position is on the back right, which brings the right-hand pot bunker into play.
Littlestone’s Amen Corner
The 16th, 17th and 18th holes are the best trio of holes. A tough par four followed by arguably the best par 3 in England and an 18th with a well contoured green that affords a birdie chance to end the round.
The 300-yard first is really a nothing hole calling for a drive and a flick to a dull, flat green. Thankfully it isn’t representative of the rest of the course.