Royal Cinque Ports, or Deal as it is more commonly known, was founded in February 1892. Henry Hunter, Deal’s first green keeper was appointed shortly afterwards and three months later, a nine-hole course was ready for play. A second nine was soon added.
The First and Second World Wars did their level best to obliterate the links, but James Braid restored the course and it reopened in 1919. Sir Guy Campbell later performed a similar role and once again, in 1946, the course reopened. Donald Steel was engaged in an advisory capacity at Royal Cinque Ports. His company is renowned for making sympathetic changes to traditional links courses. But it was Master Greenkeeper and course consultant Gordon Irvine, who appeared on the award-winning BBC programme Coast, who spearheaded the recent transformation of Deal, returning the course once more to a world-class championship links.
Deal is an absolute brute of a links course. Its back nine, or rather the last seven holes, are relentless, invariably playing directly into the teeth of the prevailing south westerly wind. The layout is stark and cheerless – only the sandhills and wild dune grasses provide this narrow out-and-back layout with any real definition. You can expect tight and hanging lies from the fairways, making stances awkward. Let’s make no bones about it – this is a tough course. Make your score on the front nine, otherwise Deal can make even the very best golfers look like weekend duffers.
In 1909, J. H. Taylor – one of the Great Triumvirate – proudly won the first Open ever played at Royal Cinque Ports. The Open returned to Deal in 1920 and made Walter Hagen look decidedly useless. In the lead-up to the Open, Hagen had boasted that he was unbeatable. He eventually ended up in 55th place! The real story behind the 1920 Open focused on two Brits, Abe Mitchell and George Duncan. It’s a story that is beautifully documented by Bernard Darwin in his book Golf Between Two Wars.
In those days, the Open was played over two days with 36 holes played each day. After the first day, Mitchell had a six shot lead over his closest pursuer; Duncan was even further adrift, a massive 13 strokes behind. The first round of the final day saw Duncan card a 71 while Mitchell could only manage an 84. Darwin wrote: “His lead had vanished like a puff of smoke”. In the final afternoon round, Duncan consolidated his 71 with a 72, Mitchell could only manage a 76. Darwin’s moral of this story is “that the man to back on the last day of a championship is he who gets his blow in first”.
1920 was the last Open to be held at Deal, despite the fact that it was planned to return in 1949, but sadly the sea breached its defences and flooded the course forcing the 1949 Open to be played at Royal St George's.
We’ll let Darwin close this passage: “Golf at Deal is very good indeed – fine, straight-ahead, long hitting golf wherein the fives are likely to be many and the fours few”.
The golf at Deal is a wonderful experience. History oozes in abundance as you inhale the stories of days gone by within your first few steps inside the clubhouse door. Thankfully, most things at RCP are old fashioned, even the style of golf you need to play along the ground in order to score.
Despite being on a mostly flat piece of land protected by an enormous sea-wall, there are many holes that roar with undulation! The shapers did a glorious job laying out the greens, which have been preserved to perfection over the decades. The club has added at least three new tees up on the sea wall which adds serious length, challenge and wonderful panoramic views.
This is a classic links that makes you earn every point you can as you go ‘out and back’. There is great anticipation of the epic closing 6-hole stretch as you turn in the prevailing wind. The par 4th 16th is among the greatest mid-length holes in all of golf requiring a preciously placed drive and a long iron into a raised undulating green. It’s one thrilling heroic shot after the next making RCP a beast!
The club has aspirations of hosting major events, which would be a great decision by the R&A. There are greens at RCP you won’t find anywhere else in the world, and it was a true honour to play this shining jewel along the English Channel.
Played on a lovely sunny day with the prevailing wind blowing which was “with” on most of the front 9. As a result shot level par front and 12 over back. Some wonderful holes including:- 3, 5, 6, 7, 8, 12, 13, 15 and 18. Front 9 is more scenic, the back 9 is more interesting. A really good golf course.
Proximity to great courses can get you noticed -- but it can also provide a large shadow for those facilities providing top tier golf offerings too.
Consider the southeast coast of England. To be specific - the immediate Sandwich area.
The 800-pound gorilla is a multiple host for The Open Championship -- Royal St. George's. The club remains a favorite with the R&A and although no future event has been announced there's little question the closest links facility to London will likely be included given its brilliant routing, fascinating land features and infrastructure.
Amazingly, literally no more than 5-10 minutes is another club -- one that hosted two Opens years ago - and which deserves a good bit of attention as well.
Royal Cinque Ports -- more commonly known as Deal to those locally -- is a very solid test of golf. While I am not a fan of traditional "out and back" layouts because of the one-dimensional nature of such routings it's hard to highlight any major deficiency with the variety of holes encountered here.
The land clearly doesn't possess the dunes like elements one sees with Royal St. George's but Deal is blessed with a range of different lies throughout the round. It's not as harsh with the fairway bounces as its next door neighbor -- but there's never a dull moment either as the player must find the proper angle into the putting surfaces and much of that deals with securing relatively flat lies for approach shots.
Deal starts with a fairly similar hole to starter at The Old Course -- except the opener here is about 40 yards longer and generally plays into the prevailing wind. The key is getting off the tee with a quality play -- because if the pin is cut tight to the very front the ditch that needs to be carried has to be treated with utmost care.
The bulk of the outward half of holes plays in the same direction -- and players will likely have the wind with them on most days. Being able to score effectively on the front nine is crucial for reasons I will explain shortly.
The par-5 3rd is a delight to play with its bowl-shaped green and its artfully crafted fairway which calls upon top tier execution if one is to go for the green in two shots. The short 4th provides a birdie opportunity but nothing is given away without a solid approach. Ditto the qualities of the 356-yard dog-leg right 6th which presents a bold playing route for those who dare -- just realize while the reward can be great the risk is equally present for those not up to the task.
Holes 7 and 9 smartly have back tee positions placed on the top of the sea wall that serves as the main protection against the English Channel which has at times flooded portions of the course.
After one plays the 10th the real teeth of Deal becomes ever apparent. The prevailing wind which aided the player for the bulk of the outward journey then flips completely around into one's face starting at the 11th which also features a back tee position on the sea wall.
The back nine has no par-5 holes yet still plays over 3,700 yards. There are five par-4's that play no less than 455 yards along with a especially demanding long par-3 at the 14th which is listed at 221 yards but can easily be a full driver when the situation is called upon.
One of the best long par-4's in England comes at the 16th. At just under 500 yards the pressures placed on any player can be daunting. The green is not very big and there's sufficient contour to thwart the reckless putter. The concluding two holes are well done in terms of differentiation. The par-4 17th features excellently placed cross bunkers that must be thoroughly respected. The home hole turns slightly in the drive zone and the green is slightly elevated so approach shots will need to be appropriately played to get all the way to the target.
The key at Deal is solid driving -- there's no way around it for any score of note to be achieved. During my round the wind was on the gentle side but I can only imagine when Mother Nature opts for more sterner stuff.
In addition, the movement and contours of the land in and around the putting surfaces provides for a range of different lies, stances and challenges to overcome.
When playing Royal Cinque Ports remember one thing plainly -- there will be no "Deal" provided unless you earn it. A quality no nonsense design through and through.
by M. James Ward
Great review, James. Royal Cinque Ports is just one of many fine courses in Kent. Since your review, Royal St George's has been chosen as the host venue for The Open Championship in 2020 - the 15th time 'Sandwich' will have hosted the major.
Visited Sept 16 as part of a "birthday treat" .
VERY impressed - the pro shop were friendly and helpful as were the bar staff after.
The course looks awesome (with great views of it from the Clubhouse) and - especially when you play it in a stiff breeze like we did - plays awesome too !!
Some great holes and not an easy course I would suspect even if you do catch it on a calm day.
Condition excellent and easy to see why it commands the position in the rankings it does.
Left a few balls behind (!!) BUT picked up substantially more (all pro v's) than I lost so that was a bonus !!
CLASSIC TRUE LINKS - hope to get back there soon !?!?
Played on a cloudless day, and I played pretty well, so those things certainly help, but this is a special place. There's a great feeling of anticipation playing downwind on the front 9, knowing there's a serious test coming your way when you turn for home. The last 7 holes are indeed brutal, but not unfairly so, and the rough all the way round was not so penal as to not be able to find your ball. It's much more beautiful than I thought it might be and if I could only play one of the great links in this part of the world again, I think this just knocks Royal St George's of its perch. Both wonderful though!
Played this classic links on 2/8/16, and what a delight it was. The round was preceded by a morning's 18 at Princes, and pleasant though it was,the 18 here surpassed it many times over.
Adjectives that spring to mind are; exciting, beautiful, immaculate, inspiring, challenging... I could go on, but if you are ever in this part of the world, be sure to make a trip down the lanes to Deal; it is a wonderful golfing experience. LB.
I realise that I never actually reviewed this before after playing a few years ago, but offered the comment that we were made to feel knee high to a worm when hauled off the practice range and made to pay over the odds for knee high socks that I have never used again, and then moved out to the balcony to finish our lunch due to a complaint from an ex captain due to our wearing shorts with the said long socks !
This could have given the wrong impression of the course, since it is one of those courses that are approached at ground level and appear underwhelming and straight forward.
We played in calm, dry Summer conditions yet it only took about half a hole before we were emphatically disabused of our pre conceptions! Everything that a Links lover would seek - raised seaside tee boxes, blind shots, big fast undulating greens and that indefinable feel of Quality.
Don't miss it, truly excellent, and taken with RSG and Princes this is a one the great places to play golf in England and if you stay in Deal rather than Sandwich (very pretty but dull), a great night out ! If you can eke out the trip to write to and play Rye too I think it's better than the similarly priced England's Golf Coast (TM) in Lancashire .
It was few years ago I played RCP and I was very impressed. My initial impression, viewing it from the car park, and without the knowledge of this website, was of a fairly flat looking course. At the time I was keen on golf, not necessarily links courses, but this, along with Brancaster, was one of the reasons I now want to play every links in the world.
I played this two days in a row - day one by myself in a strong breeze and shot over a 100 (hcp about 8 at the time). Next day, with a member, in little to no breeze and shot high 70s. About 25 shots difference. same swing, a little bit more knowledge but really showed what this house can do in a bit of brreze. Fantastic the whole way through, beautiful to putt on and found most balls. Have played some 6 ballers since and RCP just misses out and, at this stage of my journey, sits just behind St Andrews Old, Western Gailes and Cruden Bay but peers with Brancaster, Hunstanton, Murcar amongst a few others.
The 9th, 10th and 11th holes are each a dogleg left where a good drive with a slight draw is needed. All of these par fours are well bunkered. Take one more club than you think on the long par three 14th which is uphill and feeds balls left of the green where the rough can be especially heavy.
The next few holes have extremely bumpy fairways so keeping your ball out of the rough is a difficult achievement, especially if you are into the wind. Gary Player has described these last four holes as “the finest four consecutive holes on any course in the world”.
The short par five 16th is, like the 3rd, one of the best at Deal. Keep your drive to the right at the 17th but this is also where the rough is at its worst if you are not accurate. The 18th fairway is a flatter affair but this hard running fairway contains a burn that can catch a long drive.
This review is an edited extract from Another Journey through the Links, which has been reproduced with David Worley’s kind permission. The author has exclusively rated for us every English course featured in his book. Another Journey through the Links is available for Australian buyers via www.golfbooks.com.au and through Amazon for buyers from other countries.