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The golf course where 007 outfoxed his deadliest foe

01-Jun-2009 • Bond Style

Early on during James Bond's high-stakes golf round against Goldfinger in Ian Fleming's book, the narrator observes: 'The difference between a good golf shot and a bad one is the same difference between a beautiful and a plain woman - a matter of millimetres' - reports the Daily Mail.

Standing at the first tee of the Royal St George's golf course at Sandwich in Kent, the basis of the fictional Royal St Marks course in Goldfinger, I watch my ball sail many millimetres into the rough on the right-hand side of the fairway.

It is, to use Fleming's analogy, a very 'plain woman' of a shot.

Fleming was for years a member of Royal St George's, which has hosted several Opens and is due to stage the big event again in 2011. He lunched at the club the day before he died of a heart attack aged 56 in August 1964.

Golf was an abiding passion for the creator of 007; his wife Ann regularly complained that he spent too much time at Royal St George's, both on the course and at the 19th hole, where he was fond of pink gins.

And his incredibly detailed account of Bond's game against Goldfinger - they play for $10,000, with Bond winning on a 'strict rules of golf' technicality despite Goldfinger's cheating - brings the famous links course to life for any visitor.

The film may have been shot at Stoke Park golf course in Buckinghamshire, conveniently close to Pinewood Studios for Sean Connery and the production team, but Fleming's description acts as a guidebook to Royal St George's.

In the book, the golf professional is named Alfred Blacking, while at the time Fleming wrote, the club's professional was Albert Whiting.

I meet the current assistant pro, Justen Fiddler (perhaps not the best name in a sport that deplores cheats), before my disastrous start to the round. 'You can't get any more English than Royal St George's,' he informs me.

Indeed: the flags on the greenpins are the St George's Cross. 'This is a very traditional place. The fact that James Bond was based here adds to that.' Bond played against Goldfinger on a 'beautiful day in May with the larks singing over the greatest seaside course in the world'.

It's a beautiful day in March when I go, with larks chirping and a gentle breeze coming off the English Channel.

I struggle through the first two holes but fare better at the third, where Goldfinger cheated by flattening the turf behind his ball to make the shot easier. Without cheating, I just miss a putt for par. And then I move to the fourth.

Straight ahead of me there is a giant bunker, described in the book as 'one of the tallest and deepest bunkers in the United Kingdom'. It is almost comically large, right in the line of a drive on to the fairway. Somehow I clear the monster, as did Bond, but end up with a six, rather than Bond's four.

Goldfinger cheated again on the fifth hole, deliberately dropping a club just as Bond swings, putting him off badly.

'Don't do it again,' says Bond, before lighting up a cigarette in annoyance. I take a terrible eight but manage a par three at the short sixth hole, nicknamed The Maiden.

The tenth hole, Fleming writes, is 'the most dangerous' on the course: 'The second shot, to the skiddy plateau green with cavernous bunkers to the right and left and a steep hill beyond, has broken many hearts.' Mine included.

Even with these words of warning, I struggle along and score a seven, not putting in from a great distance as Bond does - the turning point in his round against the baddie.

Fleming himself was a competent golfer with a handicap of nine at his playing best (just like Bond). A contemporary described his swing as looking like 'a housemaid sweeping the floor' and Bond's swing in the thriller is described as flat - it seems as though Fleming is describing his own game.

Quite a few of my shots end up being 'plain women' but the seaside scenery, with the undulating dunes and glittering sea, makes up for my poor play. I become particularly familiar with the rough, which is described in Goldfinger as 'bad stuff - jungle country'.

There are a few happy moments - a par on the short 16th hole, the same score as Bond, and the occasional long drive.

But I have no Goldfinger to accuse of playing the wrong ball on the final hole, which is how Bond beats his rival, whom he considers to be 'the flaming limit' for cheating so much.

Back in the clubhouse, where you must wear a jacket and tie in the dining and smoking rooms, I talk to Christopher Gabbey, the club secretary. 'Fleming was nominated to be club captain,' he says. 'The day after that he died. The basic layout of the course is still the same as it was in his day.'

I buy a pack of Penfold balls marked with '007' from the shop and eat spaghetti bolognese at the snack bar which is full of characters I can imagine Fleming mixing with during his visits from his home in nearby St Margaret's Bay.

A man in red corduroy trousers and a blazer, is drinking red wine and discussing share prices with a distinguished fellow in a tweed jacket and a woman wearing pearls.

Fleming once said: 'After a certain age, one must not consort with persons who leave one with a bitter taste in the mind or on the palate. Don't let your face or your mind become stringy with bitterness or your stomach. Be bland, be relaxed, be kind.'

For anyone who wants to get into the mind of Ian Fleming, and relive their Bond fantasies, Royal St George's is the place to go.

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