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.
Date: August 10, 2019