Chart Hills is now in pristine order and back to where it belongs as one of the best courses in the country.
Chart Hills was built in the early 1990s: it was Nick Faldo’s first design project and one that he was considerably involved in. The course is very distinctive, with plenty of sand and water, with several different sets of tees, and at its longest - from the Oaks – the course measures nearly 7200 yards. The par 72 layout twists majestically through 250 acres of prime Kent countryside; despite its name, the layout is not very hilly, however the undulations are part of the charm.
To play the course well, you will need to get inside the head of Sir Nick Faldo: strategy and precision are required to ensure that your ball is positioned in the correct place to approach the green and leave yourself an easier, uphill putt. Faldo is not the first person to set this type of challenge for golfers, but to do so on a layout of such beauty and charm shows a great eye for design.
In recent years Chart Hills had fallen into a state of poor repair. It is a very expensive course to maintain in first-rate order, whilst the market forces were not working for golf facilities of this type and in this location. Nevertheless, there have been two recent changes of ownership, most recently with Ramac Group - who also own Princes Golf Club - taking the helm. They have set about creating Chart Hills as a perfect addition to their superb course on the Kent coast, with everything having to be rebuilt to the highest possible standards.
The biggest problem for Chart Hills was that the fairway drainage and irrigation did not work properly: despite enormous build costs at the outset, the course played poorly in the winter and could not be kept in great condition throughout the playing season.
The bold decision to close the course to do this remedial work was taken just a few months after Ramac took over. This was sad for many of the members who missed the social life, but just what many of them wanted to hear. Always priced as a premium product, Chart Hills had represented less good value for money in recent years as its condition faded. Today it is in pristine order with beautifully finished fairways, hard, firm and well drained. The greens are spotless and the bunkers in excellent order.
There is plenty more work to do, with the buggy paths and rough soon receiving the Ramac treatment. Best of all though, the course will play well throughout the year, whereas in the past the charms of Chart Hills were not well displayed in the wetter, winter months.
Water and sand play a big part in the design of the course. The undulating fairways also force the golfer to hit from a variety of different lies, greatly adding to the experience of playing the course..
Anthony Tarchetti, a PGA professional and the general manager of Chart Hills has been charged with delivering the new course and overseeing the remarkable turnaround in the quality of the layout. He spoke to Golf Features:
“It has been a privilege to be involved in such a big project. I have known Chart Hills and enjoyed playing it for many, many years, but there is no way of dressing up the fact that it had fallen on hard times. Now with the Raymac Group taking over, they have invested without compromise and expect an excellent course for their customers. There has been a tremendous amount of work from all involved and obviously the greenkeeping team deserve much praise for their efforts. They have done an outstanding job, and continue to do so. It is really exciting to be a part of such a thorough turnaround.”
For the first two months, when the course reopened in June this year, every golfer had to use portable mats when striking the ball from the fairway, fringe or semi rough. This was frustrating for some of the members, but it has borne fruit. Today the fairways are outstanding - giving them an extra couple of months to mature and thicken-up has provided the course with breathing space as its recently seeded fairways became established. The decision to do all 18 holes in one go was really handed to us by the pandemic. This enabled us to accelerate the programme and get all seeds in the ground. Wasn’t necessarily the case that the germination sped things up.
Chart Hills, like a few exceptional layouts, is one of those courses that does not have a bad hole. All of the holes can be varied by tee and pin positions and of course the wind, which plays a greater factor here than some might think. It would be easy to run through a list of superlatives for each of the holes, but rather than doing that let’s just have a look at some of the shorter and quirkier holes.
The sixth hole is a short par four, with a slight dogleg from right to left. The corner of the dogleg and the left of the green are heavily bunkered and there is water immediately to the right of the putting surface. This seemingly innocuous hole, which can be driven by the longest hitters, can easily snare any quality of golfer.
The ninth hole is very much a feature hole for Chart Hills, but does not rely on great length or a very narrow fairway to present its challenge. The fairway narrows abruptly for the longer hitter, particularly from the forward tees, but getting the right distance for the second shot is vital as you hit uphill to this heavily bunkered green. The green slopes substantially from the back to the front, resulting in many a hapless golfer putting off the green into card wrecking territory.
The fourteenth hole, which would not register as a long par 4 by any measure, presents an immediate challenge from the tee, with a cleverly positioned water feature traversing the fairway on the diagonal before the golfer faces an undulating green, once again heavily trapped with beautiful, yet deadly bunkers.
The only hole with no sand is the par 4 eighth, once again with water crossing the fairway, but not in range from the tee. The green has a false front which will whisk away the under hit approach shot, thus leaving a fiendishly difficult chip to rescue one’s score.
The par 3 17th has a large, welcoming green, completely surrounded by water, and varying in range from a wedge to a mid iron for most golfers. The hole is framed by a Tudor mansion behind the green and is as pretty as a picture. Many have been so entranced by the view that they have ended with a visit to the water.
Chart Hills is a total delight, including the areas not used for golf, which provide glorious vistas of the Kent countryside, and is home to wild life of every description.
Chart Hills has been clearly positioned in the marketplace as a premium membership club. It is reassuringly expensive to join, but represents excellent value for money, as the conditioning of the course is first class. The course also has a stunning clubhouse and there is plenty of opportunity to develop the hospitality side of the business now that the course has been so powerfully re-established.
As the editor of this magazine and as a golf professional of nearly forty years, I have played hundreds of courses in my career yet this remains one of my absolute favourites and one that I am proud to be a paying member of.
I am very privileged to be a member of this great facility, which is only a few miles from my home, and the improvements are a delight to all my golfing friends at Chart Hills.
For more details on this most remarkable of courses, please visit the website, www.charthills.co.uk.