- +44 (0)1304 374007
5 miles S of Sandwich
Contact in advance – Not Wed am or at weekend
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.
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”.
Let’s fast-forward one hundred years… Golf at Deal is still very good indeed. In fact, the course is continuing to improve by dint of ongoing investment, hard work and Martin Ebert’s guidance. Even the critical golf course architecture cognoscenti agree.
One recent (2019) change can be savoured at the much-improved 16th which is now a par five with a split fairway. As a par four it was hard for the single digit golfer to approach this green with a long iron, and almost impossible to hold the green. Played as a three-shot hole, #16 now offers some respite when heading home into the prevailing wind.
For the latest course and turfgrass updates, visit Royal Cinque Ports greenkeeping blog.
We played Royal Cinque Ports on a cold dark September evening. I mention this as it has some relevance.
Conscious of incoming darkness, we arrived early for our tee time and enquired with the pro shop if we could get off early, which he kindly found a slot for as long as we could tee off immediately. Without such accommodation, I doubt sincerely we would have made it round. Excellent and sensible welcoming approach.
The course itself is superb, I would describe it as one of the last traditional links clubs, with a basic club house and a course which feels entirely natural, and the type of course that simply wouldn't be built nowadays.
The contours and rolling fairways leave plenty of room for invention, and my one regret is that whilst rushing around, we didn't have time to fully enjoy some of the iconic greens, the 3rd in particular, and one which escapes my memory on the back 9, which I'm sure had multiple ways to get to the hole had we had time to experiment.
As a group, there was some dissent, some found it a tad featureless, and I do have some sympathy for this view, its a natural, rather than landscaped, course, and as a result its devoid of spectacle, but as a golfing test it was fair, high standard, and thoroughly enjoyable.
A final word is for the price, which is what marks it down, I think it is unfortunately overpriced for the facilities provided, and for the style of course, which is, lets face it, low-maintenance, as well kept as it is.
All in all, if all you are interested in is the quality of course, its right up there with the best.
One of the best courses around! Scandalously underrated! The back 8 is one of the best stretches you're likely to play (if not extremely tough when its usually into wind). A brilliant area for golf with RSG round the corner (and Princes which is also underrated!).
The first time I saw Royal Cinque Ports (Deal) was in 1994 on a family vacation when I had my wife and three young children wait in the car while I walked the length of the seawall between the course and the Sandwich Bay. I returned several years later to play it. I will not do a full review as I know from some of my American friends who have played it as well as from the club’s website that there have been some substantial and meaningful improvements. So, the point of this review is simply to sing the praises of the course and to encourage others to make the effort to play here.
I know many golfers who have played the most highly rated courses around the world who consider Royal Cinque Ports to be in the top 100 courses in the world as “naturalism” and links courses make a comeback against the more modern/manufactured course. The importance of a good ground game that was established when golf first started has returned to the forefront as opposed to target golf.
Even longer players who hit the ball a long way off the tee and do not really require much of a “ground game,” other than putting, sometimes have mixed feelings about links courses. For these players, many links and “links-like” courses are beautiful to see and fun due to the weather conditions and undulating terrain, but they consider them to lack challenge in both difficulty and strategy because the par 5’s are easily reached in two and the long par 4’s can be reached with a 8 iron or less. It takes a very compelling course for the longer/better players to praise a links course. When I lived in England and to this day, Deal is a links course that has earned the praise of players of all abilities. The additional length and changes added have likely continued to make it a compelling and challenging course.
For most of us who hit an average length or are a bit wayward at times, a course such as Royal Cinque Ports is a prime example of what one truly wants in a links golf course. We prefer a course where the ball will run, where there are multiple options available for recovery shots, and where the weather is either a blessing or likely an additional obstacle due to the natural contours of the course. We prefer a course that will hold our interest because it has so many “unknowns.” Deal has mysteries on nearly every hole.
I hope to return so that I can give a more detailed review but until then I will provide an overall assessment as well as highlight the holes at a high level.
Deal really does have it all from a setting and design standpoint. The strategy of the hole is apparent from the tee as the ground determines how to play it. The hazards are visible with a few exceptions. There is an unknown element to the lies on the fairway. The holes present the right mixture of challenge and fairness. There is “just enough” thoughtfulness in the routing that adds variety to the course. The greens offer diversity in how they are positioned and finished. Finally, there is only the course to consider from a visual perspective (the nearby housing is somewhat of an eyesore on the course but it gone quickly and there are a few walkers/runners on the wall).
While the topography is not nearly as dramatic as many other seaside courses as it lacks the big dunes of Rye Old or Royal St George’s, there is adequate subtle movement in the land on the fairways with mounds, hills, valleys, and swales off of some fairways or near the greens to make the course very compelling. One needs to know where to land one ball and where to miss if one is attempting to recover.
The history of the course begins with a nine hole course laid out in 1892 with eighteen holes finished in 1896. James Braid re-did the routing in 1919 while replacing the ninth and tenth holes. After WWII, Sir Guy Campbell and Henry Cotton restored the course. The Open Championship was held at Royal Cinque Ports in 1909 and 1920. It was scheduled to host the event again in both 1938 and 1949 but strong winds forced water over the embankment making it unplayable and therefore the event was moved to Royal St George’s. Deal has continued to be a qualifying site for the Open as well as hosting the top amateur events.
One memory from playing there is as we walked off after finishing, we paused to watch a twosome tee off the first. One was an elderly gentleman who had the most convoluted swing involving standing forward on his toes, rocking back, dipping, then swinging upwards, and three pauses in between. To this day it remains the oddest swing I have ever seen. Mind you, he did hit it right down the middle about 180 yards out. I was so taken with his swing, we watched him do it again to lay up perfectly in front of the burn.
Quick notes on the holes:
1 – much like the Old course at St. Andrews, the burn is fairly wide and difficult to see. Its best to be long. After playing the hole, you do not see the housing until the finish. I do not recall a bunker on the hole.
2 – this par 4 introduces the player to a primary feature of Royal Cinque Ports – the undulating fairway with mainly uneven lies and a pin that can be obscured by a low ridge.
3 – the fairway is undulating and rolling on this short par 5 with a sunken, punchbowl green almost invisible behind the final mounds. I like the separation of the fairway. It is one of my favorite holes.
4 – there is a lovely view of the white cliffs of Dover from an elevated tee on this short par 3. It did not have bunkers when I played it and I hope it still does not. The green looks very tempting as it is wide but however upon arrival one finds that it is not very deep.
6 – a lovely short par 4 sharp fishhook dogleg right with a gully fronting the green situated on higher ground.
5 – A long par 5 seemingly that never appears to get closer until you are within one hundred yards.
7 – a longer par 4 that reminds me of holes at Royal St George’s due to the high number of bunkers on both sides throughout the hole as well as the fall-off front left of the green.
8 – One of the only two holes running east and a heavily bunkered par 3. One of my favorite holes on the course.
9 – 11 If there is a flaw to the routing, one can point out the next three holes which all dogleg to the left, although the tenth is sharper. I found this to be the most difficult stretch of holes for people who hit a fade versus a draw as well as they are well-bunkered. Thankfully, the tenth is a shorter hole and only the second hole to go east. The eleventh starts the transition back to the clubhouse.
From 12-18 it is an excellent finish. The twelfth has another sunken green with sidewalls that can stop a ball from a bad outcome.
The thirteenth is a long par 4 dogleg right with bunkers on the right corner that have to be avoided even if it means lengthening an already long hole. There are cross bunkers on the hole. This is followed by bunkers on the left front of the green which can catch those who rely on their fade into the green but then hit a straighter shot than they normally do.
The fourteenth is a long par 3 well over 200 yards but is also uphill playing even longer with an excellent green that likely sends a lot of balls into the bunkers on the right or the hollow on the left.
Gary Player once described the four finishing holes “as the finest four consecutive holes on any course in the world.” It is hard to disagree although I think there are other rivals. I very much like the visual on par 5 sixteenth with a narrowing fairway and a large mound and bunker fronting the elevated green that seems to be on manufactured land such is its height. I know an alternative fairway has been added which would add to the strategy of the hole.
The mounding on 15-17 sometimes means you cannot see where your ball finishes in the fairway. There is another partially blind green on the seventeenth and it is excellently placed behind those large cross bunkers with substantial fall-offs at the green.
The eighteenth also finishes with a burn although this time crossing the fairway more in play for longer hitters or on a day with a bigger tailwind. This is another hole without bunkers to a crowned green which is angled off to the left.
The course has been lengthened considerably from when I played it which I am certain has only improved it. There are new tees, a new split fairway on sixteen, tees on the seawall, etc.
Although it has a relatively uninspiring setting, much like Royal St Davids or Royal Lytham & St Annes, it is a magnificent course. When I played it, I considered it to be one of the best courses I had ever played even though I was at the beginning of being fortunate to play many of the world’s very best courses. I have since played over four hundred courses ranked at one time in the top 100 in the world, or are certainly considered the best course in their region. Yet most of the them are not as good as Royal Cinque Ports was back then, and I know it is better now. Much like Silloth-on-Solway this was once a “hidden gem,” but now it is recognized as one of the world’s very best golf courses. Everyone should make the effort to play here. I intend to go back.
Just returned from playing 36 holes at Cinque Ports. A course that has always intrigued me because of its former Open Championship status, reputation and quirky name and it did not disappoint.
The most striking feature for me is how beautifully crafted this course is with its natural layout and surroundings. The stretch from 2 to 8 is up there with the most aesthetically pleasing run of holes I’ve played.
Hole 3 is a majestic Par 5, a long straight drive is then faced with threading a second through a gap next to two imposing bunkers then your third plays into one of the most beautiful links greens you’ll come across.
Hole 4 is a cracking little Par 3 which forces you to be bold to hit the narrow target area.
The 5th is another long quality Par 5 while the 6th offers something different with a short dog leg Par 4 which rewards accurate placement off the tee.
The 10th is another under rated hole a gentle dog leg left with a appealing approach shot should you find the correct par of the fairway.
The back 9 is a real war of attrition but beautiful all the same. After a fairly gentle start through 10-12, the ante is upped considerably with the long and well protected Par 4 13. The 14th (Par3) and 15th (Par4) are two of the hardest holes you will play, demanding length and laser like accuracy from both tee and approach shots. The 16th offers a little respite in terms of a relatively short Par 5 however a beautifully shaped green means any approach shot must be accurate. The 17th offers some beautiful undulations which can prove tricky for your approach shot should you end up on one of the slopes.
The only holes I find that are average and let the course down somewhat is the 1st & 18th which are fairly bland and not to the same standard as the other 16.
Overall it is hard to find a more classic links in the UK and certainly in England. Making great use of its surroundings it offers a tough but fair test which is mostly very pleasing on the eye.
I'm so glad Royal Cinque Ports (Deal) has finally been recognised as a Top 100 golf course in the world.
I'll start with my only criticism of the course, which is hole 9 and 11, and holes 13 and 15, are near identical off the tee, which can make it hard to remember them after your round. However, this one negative is outweighed by dozens of positives.
Firstly, the front nine is one of the best in golf, despite the back nine often getting lots of attention for its difficulty. I firmly believe that 2 of the best holes in golf are on the front nine(*), so I am going to run you through the best holes on the course.
2 - marvellous straight par 4, undulating fairway and a crazy green
3* - my favourite par 5 in golf. One of the best punchbowl greens you'll ever see
4 - short, bunkerless par 3, but if you miss the green you're dead
6* - short par 4 to a rumpled fairway, and very fun elevated green
7 - another great straight par 4 with lots of bunkers and a crazy green
8 - par 3 surrounded by deep bunkers
12 - amazing half pipe style green
16 - one of the best par 5s in golf, another mental green
17 - great par 4 with a tiny, undulating green
The worst hole at Deal is in my opinion still a 7/10, which shows the strength of the course.
The greens are the main feature, and I can honestly say they might be the best in the world. The undulations and slopes are like nothing you've ever seen, with everything from punchbowls to half-pipes to upside-down bowls. They have to be seen to be believed.
On top of all this, the club has great history, and it feels like you're stepping back in time. If you are in the area and you don't play Deal, you have make an awful mistake.
RCP has been for me a real grower. Before I first played it I remember reading a report on here that it was a flat and dour piece of land which could be a bit depressing in winter. How right and how very wrong!!! So I think for me first time I played it, indeed perhaps the lack of big dunes and features relative to St Georges, Saunton and other of my favourite links courses had me thinking it was not in same league. However as I have played it more I realise that it has many many absolutely beautiful views which really titillate the imagination when making your shot, and the course and land is anything but bland. ANYTHING BUT BLAND! Firstly there is the intangible: I find from the moment I step on to the first tea there is an absolutely lovely feeling to being on that piece of land. Secondly these are 18 great holes, a solid test of golf and great links golf requiring imagination... not even close to there being a weak hole, and each hole has its own character. This is another thing that grows upon you. Thirdly as previously alluded to there is such an array of inspiring spectacles for shot making. For instance on 8, playing your second shot in to the green all the ripples and angles of the green and approach and the framing with the bunkers with the wider framing with the pale thescue grass looks too lovely to have been imagined by any architect, and the course is full of this. Finally I would echoe the gold star or recent improvements to the course which speak of a highly enlightened management. The new drive on 3 is much more interesting, love the new bunker on 9, and the changes on 16 give it even more character and variation from the holes preceding it.
My apologies - as well as there being a few typing errors in the above, also I refer to the 8th hole when I meant the 7th... I refer to the 9th hole when I meant the 10th... thanks,
One review for Royal Cinque Ports in all of last year then suddenly this is the third one in a week – perhaps there are now enough golfers paying attention to these critiques who want to find out for themselves (then tell others) what the fuss is all about!
Believe me, it’s a golf course worth becoming acquainted with, especially after the recent course improvements that have been overseen by architect Martin Ebert, who is undoubtedly one of the best in the business.
Coupled with that expert guidance, the club has in place a terrific team both on and off the course to ensure a playing experience as memorable as you could wish for. It’s always a delight to visit somewhere like RCP and see all the strands pulling together.
I understand all the recent upgrade elements – including additional tees and bunkers, new irrigation system and a nifty little short game area behind the clubhouse – were accomplished on time and within budget, which indicates how tight the ship is being run at Deal these days.
During my round, I reached the halfway house at the turn just as a monsoon deluged the course for an hour, forcing a retreat to the clubhouse then an earlier than planned lunch. A couple of hours later, I was back out to finish my round and could only find water lying in the bunkers, which was quite astonishing.
The big bathtub green on the 3rd has to be seen to be believed and the volcano green complex on the short par four 6th is another memorable feature on the front nine. Coming home, the wild fairway undulations on the newly reconfigured 16th and the par four 17th are additional sights to behold on the way in.
I suspect the days of living in the comparative shadows of a near neighbour with a higher public profile might be numbered and that Royal Cinque Ports will soon receive the recognition it thoroughly deserves as one of the finest links layouts in the land.
A 2 and a half hour trip took us to Royal Cinque Ports Golf Club where we had quite an eventful day in their Junior Open. It was raining cats and dogs and thunder & lightning was lurking. When standing on the 5th tee we even saw typhoons swirling by the sea! I think its safe to say that the weather was not so good. Our group managed to get to the 6th tee before the horn went off and we had to turn around. After a lot of waiting around, the tournament was then cancelled. However, we refused to head back home and were desperate to finish our round, so we wrapped up and went back out, this time hoping to play all 18 holes! Thankfully we finished our round and the weather actually cleared up after about 6 holes.
The course is magnificent buf i feel like it starts you off a bit slow with holes 1 and 2 being fairly bland and straight forward. However when you get to the 3rd hole the course really livens up. This is a great par 5 with an awesome green and a very undulating fairway, definitely one of my favourite holes. This is then followed by a fantastic par 3 measuring 160 yards or so, and the view of the 3rd green from the 4th tee is magnificent. The 7th, 8th and 9th are 3 fantastic holes to end the back nine. The 7th is a 380 yard par 4 with many fairway bunkers making it important to hit a straight drive. The 8th is a small par 3 again with lots of bunkers surrounding the green, a very tough up and down if you don’t hit the green. The 9th is a 400 yard par 4 with deep bunkers around the green yet again!
Unfortunately, it becomes a lot harder on the back nine with multiple 400+ yard par 4s and a 220 yard par 3. Some of my favourites would be the 10th, which has an enormous drop off at the front left of the green as well as a big fairway bunker about 260 yards off the tee. 12 is also a great par 4, measuring about 430 yards and can sometimes play 500 yards if the wind is straight into your face which it often is! Thankfully it wasn’t for us, yet i still had to hit a good drive and a 4 iron to get there. A very hard hole, but you can use the slopes to your advantage on the green as there is a big slope on the left hand side which will funnel your ball back towards the hole. The 16th is an awesome par 5 with lots of bunkers and a split fairway when you get further up towards the green. Again this green has a huge amount of slope on it which can help you get very creative. 18 is a great finishing hole with a beautiful looking tee shot and your aiming point being just left of the big flag by the clubhouse. You hit your 2nd shot into a raised green so it is important to take enough club and get it up there.
Overall I thought that it was a great golf course and a really tough test of golf. The course looked amazing and you were able to get extremely inventive with your shots with the huge undulations in the greens making it a lot more fun. Definitely a great experience and a course i would love to play again.
Where has the time gone? By my reckoning fifteen years have slipped away since I last played here. Back in the noughties I didn’t fall in love with course or club. I felt it was a really good layout, a bit of a rough diamond condition-wise and the club was stuck in the rather stuffy doldrums of the 1980s.
Fast-forward a decade and a half… how things have changed. It was as though I’d been transported to a different world, an inclusive clubhouse atmosphere, cordial and relaxed – and no jacket required at lunchtime on Sunday.
I was incredibly fortunate a few weeks ago to be shown round the course by Bledge, the Course Manager. We played eighteen together and he proudly pointed out all the changes he and his team have undertaken under the watchful eye of Martin Ebert, who is also the consulting architect at nearby Royal St George’s and Prince’s.
The opener is a tad ho-hum with a flat fairway leading to a huge green that’s protected at the front by a ditch, but the next five holes are out of the top drawer. New tees on the 3rd have created a much better angle and the short one-shot bunkerless 4th to an upturned saucer set next to the coast remains one of my favourite par threes. The short par four 6th doglegs hard right and it’s as good as any short par four gets.
#7 and #8 are solid holes which are followed by three similarly shaped (right to left) par fours of varying length – the short par four 10th is my pick of the three where a trio of fairway pots threaten the drive leaving an approach to a stellar green complex. #12 is a brute of a par four to start the run for the house. Its green site with a gathering U-shaped surround is genius, very unusual and supremely testing.
#13 is another brutal par four with a blind drive into the prevailing wind where another fabulous green site lies in wait. I love the comment on the course planner: “never give your opponent a putt on this green” enough said. #14 is a killer long par three where anything short will funnel left – its stroke index 15 belies its true difficultly as the green is rather too severe for such an “allegedly” easy one-shotter. The brutality continues at #15 where shallow diagonal ridges cut across the entrance to the green, pushing any short approaches offline – mere mortals play #15 as a par five.
#16 was another brutally long par four that measured nigh on 500 yards from the tips. It’s now an excellent par five with a new split fairway and a green that is more receptive to receiving a short iron than a fairway wood. Take a par and move on.
#17 is my favourite hole at Deal, a 390-yard par four where a drive down the right side looks to find the fairway plateau known as “Vardon’s Parlour” which leaves a short/mid iron to the smallest green on the course that’s foreshortened by two yawning bunkers and hidden dead ground before the outstanding green complex. #18 is not the best closing hole I’ve ever played but it continues the homeward nine’s tough theme.
There are some commentators that don’t like Deal’s balance where most of the time the downwind front is said to be too easy and the back nine too tough. Frankly I don’t care. It’s just a privilege to play Deal and enjoy the ground contours and the outrageously good green complexes, which I don’t think can be bettered by any other course in Britain.
Deal or no Deal? In my case it is emphatically Deal. I think RCP is underrated and I’d personally place it the World Top 100. It may not have the romantic allure of Royal St George’s, but it’s nearly as good in my book and has improved immeasurably since I was last here all those years ago.
Hats off to the club and the greenkeeping team who are adding the polish and elbow grease, returning this classic to its Sunday best. The grassy pathways from green to tee and the newly installed sprinkler system to irrigate these walkways are a touch of pure class.
Everything you’ve heard about Cinque Ports is true. The front nine is scoreable and on the last seven holes it rain bogeys. It’s long and nasty and these days plays even longer – the 16th has been reverted to a par 5 like its original design. Two deep cross bunkers and a raised green make it a true three-shotter.
What I didn’t expect was how friendly it was. It may be a royal club but it didn’t feel snobby, in fact a member insisted he poured us beers as the barman was away. We were made to feel very welcome. It also has some incredibly sloped and quirky green complexes. The highlight was the 12th’s which is like a half pipe, U-shape and leaves treacherous putts if you don’t find the lower ground. Its greens are more fun and interesting than nearby St George’s.
The first hole shouldn’t be hard but is all under the watchful gaze of the clubhouse, and anything sliced will be heading that way. It’s quite nerve racking then, and anything around par is a good score before you head out into the ample dunes. This is links golf at its purest - sadly England is overlooked by many tourists but RCP is as tactical, quirky and fun as any championship standard links. It surely would have held modern Opens if there was more space.
The every day SSS of even par is deceptive, and I think wrong. The last seven holes feel like repeated punches to the stomach, overall I’d say it’s easier than St George’s but that stretch is more brutal than anything I’ve faced. For context the back nine is longer than either side at Carnoustie or Bethpage Black. You feel compelled to hit a wood from the tee, bringing more trouble into play when really you’re better off hitting an iron and making the hole even longer. Better being short in two than losing a ball in the long, twisted rough.
RCP is an ideal blend of tough, not so tough and fun, then afterwards you’re rewarded the option of a drink on that clubhouse balcony, with excellent views over the course and sea (plus anyone slicing their opening shot). I will certainly be revisiting and I’m sure I’ll be as enthusiastic and fulfilled after that visit, and the one after that.