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Aug 17th, 2021

You Little Beauty: Chart Hills

Bunkers as far as the eye can see!

I last played Chart Hills not long after it opened back in the early 1990s. Memories are sketchy, but two things came to mind about the first course designed by Sir Nick Faldo in Europe: bunkers everywhere and secondly that it was tough, really tough.

Much has happened in the intervening years, with ownership changes and a severe decline in the condition of the course. Raymac Group bought Chart Hills in 2019 and, a year later, embarked on an extraordinary renovation of the golf course.

In just twelve months, every fairway was stripped, thousands of metres of irrigation piping laid down before more than 30,000 tonnes of sand was used to shape the holes. Having followed the progress on Twitter and YouTube, I was keen to tread those newly laid fairways myself.

Chart Hills lies on 200 acres of gently undulating countryside in the heart of Kent, some twenty-odd miles due West of Ashford. I stayed the night not far from the course and the heavens opened and poured rain down on the Garden of England all night. The new drainage was going to be tested!

Arriving at the club through an imposing set of gates and winding one’s way up to a rather corporate-looking clubhouse Chart Hills has that feel of the new breed of course built in the latter part of the twentieth century. Looking out over the course confirmed that view with holes defined by the contrast between rich green undulating fairways and the hay-like deep rough – more of that later!
The rain had mercifully stopped and after a warmup on the range (for some), we set foot on the newly laid course. We were honoured to be the first allowed to play without the requirement to use a mat on the fairways.
The 1st - a classic risk v reward!

The first hole at Chart Hills, a long sweeping par five from left to right, immediately sets you the challenge you will encounter on many of the holes, particularly the par fives. Bunkers line the right-hand side of the hole and the further right you aim to shorten the second shot the greater the carry; it’s the classic risk v reward and of course, I found sand!
It was impressive how dry the fairways were given the overnight rain with the only clue to the deluge that had proceeded being the odd puddle on the paths.

The Faldo layout is the same, with all 138 bunkers remaining from the original design. Although some would seem to be superfluous on certain of the holes, they do define the experience.
It was also noticeable on the way round how vast Chart Hills is. You only see other golfers if they are on the green ahead of you, as no hole seems to be visible from another fairway.

We Played off the blue tees and given the lush fairways and windy conditions, the course played all of its almost 6,500 yards (7,119 yards off the back) and more given that you seem to be playing uphill quite a lot of the time. The fairways will firm up in time, but I suggest you head to the yellow tees for an enjoyable round for all.
In addition to the bunkers, there is plenty of water to challenge players, along with the aforementioned long rough. Somewhat akin to some links courses, if you find the hay unless you are on the edge or walk straight to your ball, walk on.
Beware of the Anaconda

The two signature holes at Chart Hills are the contrasting par five fifth and the short seventeenth.
The fifth features a 200-yard snake-like bunker, the longest in the country and fittingly named the Anaconda Bunker. Many a mere mortal playing the hole may find they visit the Anaconda more than once as they battle their way up the hole.
Short but deadly!

The par three seventeenth is the shortest hole on the course, but an island green demands accuracy with a short iron.
The greens at Chart Hills are good but a work-in-progress to get them back to the fast-running greens of yesteryear. Once the thatch is removed and other work completed, the sloping greens should be back to their devilish best.
If one is fussy, there are areas off the fairways that need tidying up and in some places, it would be good to remove some vegetation to afford a better view of the hole off the tee but these are all matters in hand.
The uphill 9th hole

Chart Hills is probably a course you need to have played before to score well. A course planner of some form is essential as the multitude of hazards provide for a lot of decisions off the tees. Bring your ‘A’ game as there is no hole that gives you an easy ride on this course; even the shorter holes throw challenges at you.
Given the penal long rough and numerous hazards, it may not be a course for a high handicapper but Chart Hills offers a real challenge for your average golfer. However, as said, you don’t need to head to the back tees to test your mettle and if you do, you may find yourself crawling off the final green begging for mercy.

Off the course, the clubhouse felt a little soulless, partly due to the COVID situation but also the fact that some of the rooms are large. The clubhouse, rebuilt after a fire in 2005, appears to have been designed with weddings and functions in mind as well as the golf.
Is that a reflection or a halo?!

Money was spent renovating and remodelling the clubhouse but there is still a little work to do. In particular, the changing rooms could do with a little TLC, but I am sure this is planned.
One thing that does not need sorting out is the food. Although the first-class barbecue laid on by the club sadly had to move inside the quality of the fare was excellent. If the chef can make the more basic food taste great I am sure his lunches are a treat.
In summary, what Anthony Tarchetti and his team have achieved at Chart Hills is quite incredible. Of course, to renovate a golf course in less than a year should alone be applauded but the fact that the result is so good is icing on the cake.
I look forward to taking on the challenge again and hopefully, next time, I will not need my bucket and spade!

TAGS: Travel, You Little Beauty, Chart Hills Golf Club, UK and Ireland, Kent, 2021