KENT, England — History oozes from every castle and stately home generously scattered over this southeastern county of Kent, known as the garden of England. It has more historical castles, mansions and gardens open to the public than any other region in Britain.
It's a wooded county of rolling landscapes, vineyards, orchards, parks and gardens of all types, shapes and sizes as well as waterways, steam railways, historic towns and quaint villages. And, a big bonus, the county is within easy reach of London making the capital sightseeing attractions and nightlife just a short train or car ride away.
As well as an abundance of historical homes and castles, the county has its fair share of golf courses. They include long established parkland courses with old-fashioned rules and regulations, lovely wind-blown links courses, wooded inland courses and, a product of the 1990s golf course construction boom, even some great courses designed by two of the big boys — Nick Faldo and Jack Nicklaus — with all the mod cons that come with them.
Chart Hills Golf Club in Biddenden, opened in 1993, is a Faldo masterpiece which sits in 200 acres of rolling terrain on which there a great variety of holes that you won forget in a hurry. Especially the ninth, where you'll wonder where the heck the fairway is as you stand on the tee and get psyched out by its highly visible 13 bunkers.
Knole Park Golf Club, near Sevenoaks, was opened in 1924 and because of its outstanding setting and views over the North Downs it's a course well worth a visit. The testing course is laid out in one of the few remaining deer parks in England on a 1,000-acre parkland where the deer roam freely, with a backdrop of the imposing Knole mansion perched on the hilltop.
The London Golf Club, just 20 minutes from Canary Wharf, has two Nicklaus courses the International, open to visitors. The Heritage — a signature course, which only members can play although a special International Membership — is available for overseas golfers, as is a helipad for flying visits.
Hever Castle is made up of three nine-hole courses, although the Kings and Queens are the nines generally put together as the par-72 combination (7,002 yards). You'll be looking for as much distance as possible here and need very accurate shots into greens. The back nine is pretty tough and water plays a prominent part in the course design especially around their men corner their three feature holes.
The Kent National Golf & Country Club, opened in 1993, is a long hilly course spread over 250 acres with superb views over the Weald of Kent. It a challenging course where the ball doesn't sit level with your feet too often and where bunkers play a massive part.
The region was a favored haunt and hunting ground of Henry VIII in the 16th century where he wooed and visited Anne Boleyn at her childhood home. The fascinating moated Hever Castle is a must-visit privately owned country estate with a beautiful Italian garden and lake.
Further afield near Maidstone, and not to be missed when sightseeing, is Leeds Castle. Once a Norman stronghold, it became a royal residence for six of England medieval queens and one of Henry VIII palaces.
There are also numerous National Trust and English Heritage properties waiting to be explored. Just outside the village of Westerham is Chartwell, the family home of Sir Winston Churchill, which has magnificent views over the Weald of Kent and where the rooms, terraced gardens and studio where he painted remain more-or-less as they were when he lived there.
August 1, 2006
Having boarded the luxurious MV Europa 2 in Lisbon, Clive Agran had five days of golf cruising ahead. For those unfamiliar with the concept, golf cruising is a glorious combination of golf and cruising where a sedate sail is punctuated with the occasional round of golf.
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