During the ‘Golden Age’, when Hollywood stars and the rich and famous of the 1930s were being entertained at Leeds Castle weekend house parties by the last private owner Lady Baillie – a lesser known but equally significant chapter of the castle’s history was happening outside….on the golf course.
In 1931, Lady Baillie agreed to the construction of the golf course, as she felt that a vast expanse of beautifully laid-out trees and mowed grass, leading to an expansive sheet of water, with the castle as the focal point in the middle, would create as idyllic a country scene as could “humanly be devised”.
Eminent golf course architects of the day, Sir Guy Campbell, Cecil Hutchinson and Stafford Hotchkin, were commissioned to design a course where “no bunkers would be visible from the castle”, which would not “interrupt the skyline with a flagpole on a green”.
The end result was a unique nine-hole course considered by many at the time to be one of Britain’s finest, which remains open daily to players of all abilities.
Since its completion, the course has hosted many of the world’s top professional golfers, including American professional Walter Hagen, a major figure in golf in the first half of the 20th century and Gene Sarazen, also American and one of the world’s top players in the 1920s and 1930s.
In 1935 and 1937, the American Ryder Cup teams stayed at Leeds Castle en route to Southport and Ainsdale for the Ryder Cup matches.
Later during the 1970s and following their victory, members of the American Walker Cup team stayed at the castle as guests of Lady Baillie’s husband, Sir Adrian Baillie. The team played a number of matches on the course in preparation for the British Amateur Tournament.
Today, the historic nine-hole golf course at Leeds Castle is undergoing a major two-year‘ face lift’, which will be completed in 2016, 85 years after it was first opened for play!
The stunning views of the castle from the course will be restored with the addition of new vistas, created by thinning out existing overgrown woodlands.
Over the coming weeks and months, work will begin on remodelling parts of the current course in keeping with Sir Guy Campbell’s original vision.
Campbell’s approach to designing a new course was simple and practical; make use of natural hazards but avoid trees, avoid building up teeing grounds, never build high plateau greens, use as little manures as possible and do any weeding by hand!
Although Sir Guy will not see the exciting modifications due to take place on his course at Leeds Castle, some of his original holes will be retained and, in some cases, re-instated.
To supervise these changes PGA Master Pro and EIGCA Golf Course Architect Alan Walker, has been appointed and brings his expertise to the project.
Mr Walker said: “I’m very excited and privileged to be able to oversee the restoration of this unique course back to its former glory.
“The program is both a restoration and an agronomy project. From an architectural standpoint, there will be some changes to the individual golf holes, but the main change will come in 2016 with the re-routing of the nine hole course and restoring the classic opening hole playing around the moat with the castle in full view. It will be once again one of the most iconic opening golf holes in the world.
“The programme will be phased over two years with the renovation of all bunkers and teeing grounds one of the first jobs to complete. We are also reviewing the current irrigation system and updating where necessary.
“Charles Henderson of Sports Agronomy Services will plan and manage the agronomic changes to the golf course. Charles has a wealth of knowledge and experience in sports turf working on numerous golf courses around the world. The implementation of his plan has already commenced and the golf course will begin to show signs of improvement as the months progress.
“Our ultimate plan is to upgrade the golf course and enhance the overall golf offering in the coming years. We wish to create a sense of pride of place for golf at LeedsCastle”.
Shane Guy, Head of Tourism for LeedsCastle, said: “We are proud to be able to invest in the product and bring the golf course back to the standards that are expected of LeedsCastle.
“The course has, and will continue to, provide a leisure facility for our conference, wedding and accommodation customers as well as visiting golfers.
“Whilst the work is in progress we will remain open and golfers will start to see a rise in standards of the course.
“We want to provide a facility that meets the requirements of all levels of golfers, and one that shows quality throughout the year.”
“From 1 April, there will be two new ways to enjoy golf at Leeds Castle.
“The new ‘One Under Card’ gives seven rounds of golf for the price of six with prices starting from just £70. For those wishing to play unlimited golf, you can now purchase a ‘Season Ticket’ for five or seven days with prices starting from as little as £295 per year.”
For more information, please call PGA Professional Steve Purves in the Pro Shop on 01622 767828 or buy online at www.leeds-castle.com/golf.
Leeds Castle is located near Maidstone in Kent just off Junction 8 of the M20 and only one hour’s drive from London.