1. Kummel = Yes

    Royal St George's Golf Club (or Sandwich, as it is sometimes known), on the Kent coast about two hours by train from London, is one of the most famous links courses in the country. Known for the huge scale of the property, its St George's Cross flags, and the hosting of the Open Championship 13 times, RStG is a special place to play and one of my favourite golf courses in England.

    The course starts off with some interesting holes, such as the 4th with its huge wooden-faced bunkers off the tee, the 5th hole playing through a gap in a huge dune, and the famous 6th playing back to a green at 90 degrees to the original blind par 3 hole. The middle of the course has some shorter par 4s, before a great and challenging finish. Throughout the round, you're aware of the scale and atmosphere of the club, with the isolation of individual holes in the landscape being greater than almost anywhere else I've seen. It's beautiful.

    Final mention should go to the clubhouse. Build in the style of a relaxing small country house, the social activity revolves around two primary large rooms - the bar and the dining room - which are next to each other. Their very high ceilings and general low-key elegance, combined with possibly the most comfortable wingback chairs in existence, and a glass of Wolfschmidt Kummel, make it a perfect place to relax after a hard day of golf!

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  2. Kummel = Yes

    The West Sussex Golf Club, near the South Downs and the south coast of England, is an excellent heathland golf club. With a beautiful old clubhouse, and interestingly a logo very similar to Pine Valley, it's an example of great design making a challenge of a course which extends to just around 6200 yards.

    The course has a number of standout holes, including the difficult long par 3 6th, the long dog-leg par 4 14th, and a fine final 3 holes. The course is built on ground that is essentially flat, but which contains a number of substantial undulations such that the 18th is the only truly flat hole on the course.

    The course was in excellent condition, and special note goes to the design of the bunkers... they are unusually good for a UK inland course, with interesting shapes and flashed faces very similar in places to the famous bunkers of Royal Melbourne.

    Overall, West Sussex is a gem of a course which doesn't get as much publicity as it probably should. The membership were very friendly and welcoming, and the club bar is well stocked with Kummel. It's certainly somewhere that I'd return to whenever I get the chance.

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  3. Kummel = Yes

    The Royal Automobile Club is a London gentlemen's club founded in 1897. It is probably the best equipped of all London's clubs with a giant clubhouse just yards from Piccadilly Circus at 89-91 Pall Mall, containing three restaurants, a bar, cocktail lounge, library, business centre, post office, barber shop, many grand function rooms, 100+ bedrooms, an Italian marble swimming pool, Turkish baths, steam room and sauna, treatment rooms, 3 regular squash courts and 1 doubles court, CV and resistance gyms and a snooker room. As if this wasn't enough, they also own Woodcote Park - a mansion on the Epsom Downs, right next to the grandstand of the racecourse where the famous Epsom Derby has been held since 1780, which has similarly luxurious facilities. Most importantly, it has two golf courses - the Old and the New.

    The Old was designed by Herbert Fowler of Walton Heath fame. Known for preferring to not move earth and for finding the most natural fit of holes to land, Fowler built a course at the RAC that plays surprisingly well, considering the site he had to work with - the whole course plays across the side of a hill sloping up away from the clubhouse and towards the racecourse. The course has some great holes - the long par 3 3rd being particularly good, as is the grand par 5 18th, doglegging down the hill before finishing in front of the wonderful clubhouse.

    The course at the RAC Club was always intended as a club course rather than a championship course and it has clearly suffered from the rise of modern technology. Many holes would be a lot more fun if only they weren't so short (particularly on the back 9). Having said this, the old fashioned English parkland bunkers here are large and old-school, the course as a whole is always in excellent condition, and to worry too much about the quirkiness of the course is to miss the point... The RAC Club is simply a lovely environment in which to go out and play golf with friends on a very well conditioned course in the middle of the English countryside. Then retire to the clubhouse for a drink, have a swim and sit in the sauna, play croquet on the lawn, then leisurely drive back to London (preferably in an old classic sports car!) - a great summer's day out.

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  4. Kummel = No

    Engineers Country Club in Roslyn Harbor, Long Island, a little east of La Guardia Airport, is an old school golf course that was designed by Herbert Strong. Recognised right away as a great course, Engineers held the 1919 PGA Championship and the 1920 US Amateur, and was played by many of the greats of the golden era of golf. Unusually for Long Island, the ground at Engineers is anything but flat. The course has an interesting routing and wide open feel around a number of hills, although the 1st, 16th, 17th and 18th are separated from the rest of the course by a small valley and feel oddly isolated and cramped. They are interesting holes, with the huge and crazy first green and the famous 16th green being architecturally significant, but the last three holes especially must have been short even back in the 1920s, and now they are far too short.

    Once you get to the second hole, however, you're treated to the great side of Engineers. A decent length par 4 to a very thin green perched on a ledge on the side of a hill. This is followed up by a good long par 3, a great short par 5 and then the best hole on the course, the dogleg right par 4 fifth hole which plays over the crest of a hill and down to another great two tier green (see above photo).

    As the course continues the majority of the holes are very good, if a little on the short side. The course has 19 holes, so you miss out the par 3 11th (which has a putting green sized flag in the hole!) and instead play the short par 3 14th. Famous for Bobby Jones and Gene Sarazen both taking double figures here during a match in the 1920s, this 120 yard hole (it was 90 yards back then) is a great par 3 to a volcano green which simply must not be missed anywhere! I hit long into the thin strip bunker at the back left and then my bunker shot went just over the right side of the green and into a bush-filled valley. I did avoid double figures, but not by much! Such a hole preys on the mind long before one reaches it and it is a pity that architects no longer build such unique holes. The next two photos are of the 14th.

    Engineers CC is no longer a championship course, but it is a fun place to play while imagining how golf might have been back in the days of hickory clubs and plus 4s. It would actually be a great course to regularly play with hickory clubs, or at which to hold a hickory championship. Unfortunately, time has hurt this club, and not just in terms of the length of the course. Where once there was a beautiful old fashioned clubhouse, there is now a modern 1960s clubhouse (although I think part of the old one exists within). All the holes have cart paths, a couple of the fairways were a bit patchy, and you generally get the feeling that things aren't quite as polished as you would hope to find at such an historic course.

    If Engineers were able to continue the good restoration work that they've done in recent years (such as their recent reclaiming of lost areas of the awesome 16th green) and do away with the cart paths, then this course really could become a better known 'must play' for those interested in golf architecture history. Whether this can happen, given the factors which clubs inevitably face these days, remains to be seen. In the meantime, Engineers is still a classic course and one that is definitely worth playing.

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  5. Kummel = No, but probably did back in the day...

    The Lido Golf Club, which used to exist at Lido Beach, NY, was one of Charles Blair Macdonald's greatest creations. Created in 1914, Bernard Darwin called it "the finest course in the world", and Claude Harmon once said it was "the greatest golf course ever". Built on a sea meadow, in building the Lido Links CBM and Seth Raynor had to overcome numerous logistical challenges. In the process they sculpted a links course from scratch, bringing in sand and building the terrain to fit their course plan, in probably the first man made course of its kind. Yet despite this, the Lido looked impressive and natural, containing a number of unique holes as well as the famous template holes used at other CBM creations. Unfortunately, the club built a huge clubhouse which dragged the club down during the depression, and when the army took over the course during World War II, the end was approaching fast. After the war, the land was sold off for real estate, the clubhouse was turned into condominiums, and a new Robert Trent Jones golf course (under the same name) was built to the east, overlapping ever so slightly with the old course (which is now mostly built upon).

    A sad end to a course that was considered in its day to be an equal to National Golf Links, and which almost certainly would still be ranked in the top 30 US courses, if not higher.

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  6. Kummel = No

    Bethpage State Park's Black Course, designed by Tillinghast in 1936, was the first publicly owned course to ever host the US Open, in 2002. Set on a huge property, Tillinghast was given free reign to route a course that might challenge Pine Valley for difficulty, and the result is a fantastically interesting and challenging course.

    The first thing a player notices at Bethpage (other than the sign by the first tee warning that it's a very difficult course!), is the scale of the place. The fairways are big and the bunkers tend to be huge, creating optical illusions where you feel sure you're only 160 yards from a green which is in fact 210 yards away! From the back tees the course is approaching 7500 yards, and with many doglegs, diagonal carries over hazards and sweeping elevation changes the course feels even longer. The 4th hole is one of the best par 5s I've seen anywhere, and indeed Tillinghast himself was rather proud of it. The 5th is an excellent diagonal carry that requires a power fade from the tee to give you sight of the green, which is hidden around trees to the left. These two might be my favourite back to back holes anywhere... and when the 4th plays as a par 4 from the forward tees they are probably also the two hardest consecutive holes anywhere.

    Other great holes are the dogleg par 5 7th, the par 4 15th hole uphill, and the par 3 17th. The only places in which Bethpage is let down are the greens (they're generally very flat and with few roll off areas... maybe because Tillinghast was designing for the public links player?) and the 18th hole. Rees Jones made modifications here, but they failed to significantly improve an already weak finishing hole. Under pressure in the Open, the leader on the 18th tee need only hit an iron shot short of the fairway bunkers, then hit a short iron to the reasonably sized final green. As a result there has already been talk of using the 18th on the Red course as the final hole if/when the Open returns to Bethpage.

    Overall, despite these flaws, I was very impressed by Bethpage. From tee to green it is a really great course... and at $50 a round on a weekday for a New York resident, it ranks alongside Carnoustie and St Andrews as one of the few places in the golfing world where the general golfing public can play such a great course for so little. Also like Carnoustie and St Andrews, the rounds can unfortunately be 5 hours plus!

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  7. Kummel = No

    Shinnecock Hills Golf Club is located in Southampton, at the far end of Long Island. I have visited the area twice before - once in 2006 for Shinny and once last year for National - and I never fail to be impressed with the golf and general environment of the area.

    When I visited National last October, I came away convinced that NGLA is the best course in the United States. I still feel this to be the case, but where before I was sure there now is doubt. The only previous time I've played Shinnecock I wasn't fully aware of the history of the place, I didn't know that there had been multiple courses on the site, and I couldn't have told you the names of any of the architects. I can only assume that I wasn't looking at the course in the right way, because whereas before I merely respected it, I now find myself in awe of it.

    There can be no denying that Shinnecock is a very hard course. It's a championship course, and much as with Muirfield in Scotland, part of Shinnecock's charm is that everything is right there in front of you - everything is very fair and above board. And while I can't deny that it would be quite exhausting to play here every week from the medal tees (which are only about 6700 yards), as a course to play on the odd occasion and to admire the rest of the time, it is fantastic.

    The previous time I played here I surprised myself with just how good my driving was, and again today I suddenly pulled a fairly consistent driving swing from somewhere, exactly when it was needed. From the 1st tee I drilled a slight draw down the middle, and other than pushes on 5 and 15 I generally hit it very nicely. Also copied from last time were my less than accurate approach shots and average short game, which made scoring rather tough in places. Still, after losing a ball left of the 16th green due to a wayward attempt to reach in two, I then proceeded to comfortably par 17 into the wind and then 2 putt from 20ft on 18 for another par and a narrow win over my playing partner. Next stop - beer in the clubhouse bar.

    I haven't mentioned much about specifics of the course here since I've already reviewed the course previously. Standout holes are clearly the par 5 5th, the redan 7th (the sole surviving CBM hole), the par 3 11th, par 5 16th and the fun dogleg 18th. However, it almost feels wrong to single out individual holes since while National is a collection of 18 excellent individual holes, Shinnecock is a perfect collection of 18 holes which tie together beautifully. When combined with the beautiful old fashioned clubhouse (the oldest in the US), a day out at Shinnecock remains one of the best (if not the best) experiences in the world of golf.

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