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”.
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.
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.
Time slipped slowly over the preceding days and ever decreasing nights. We set off at dawn for Deal and as the roads narrowed toward the precipice of the shore, the sky brightened, kissing the distant horizon of the glistening, mottled Channel beyond. We were excited to return, we are old hands here. We knew what to expect; A Titanic back nine pushing 3700+ yards into the prevailing. We relished navigating the vast and cavernous bunkers ahead, sat like icebergs on an angry sea of rolling dunes. The dizzying corrugations of the greens, that would be firm and fast and true. The vast ball eating deserts of feral flora soothed only by sherry Bovril at the turn. We were not disappointed.
Getting to Deal is the reason they won’t be holding the Open anytime soon. It’s good enough. One road in. one road out. Fine for you and me but 45000 people a day? Nah.
Deal is something timeless and essential in this modern world, that amongst all the change there is a redoubt of palpable and reassuring steadfastness. It is like returning to the cold stone corridors of the old school and finding your old master is still there, a little greyer, a little shorter perhaps but as sharp as ever, wielding a macbook instead of a chalky gown.
Ah, the Wind. A rare day indeed. With the wind at our backs we set off, usually it is the other way around and the first gives you a taste of what to expect on the way in. Generally, it means you gather a score on the front 9 and desperately try and hang on to it with your long sticks on the back 9 as you head back in. Not today. At the second we switched back into the howling wind for the next 8 holes. By the fourth I had lost 4 balls and scattered more shots like confetti, more than a Vegas wedding chapel sees all summer in fact.
I lurched to the fifth tee deafened by the whistling wind in my ears and my trousers flapping like my confidence. The BBC weather app once again testing my credulity. 14 MPH??? Je ‘ pense pas! I stabbed the crapiest ball in my bag into play. Just.
Viscerally intoxicating golf, exhausting and exhilarating in equal measure.
All is well, everything is as it was but very much relevant to now. Unlike our National Trust that keeps vast swathes of our Country preserved in aspic; anathema to me, a lauded mausoleum to, by and large, ghastly people, the trust create a pastiche of yesteryear that bears no resemblance to the reality of most people of that time. Or ours. Turn these opulent estates into schools, Country Clubs, and hospices. Do away with the acrid and the ammonia rinsed, the Irrelevant and the stale. The Grade 1 Listed, hideously unctuous voyeurism, that celebrates yesterday over a tomorrow we could better create ourselves, It has to go. It has no benefit that could justify not having a purpose.
Deal is as good as I remembered. I have changed and So has Deal, new bunker construction here and there but by and large it is as good and spectacular a place to play today as it ever was. I appreciate it more now, each time I am lucky enough to go back.
A year ago I played here, the course was immaculately presented (as it should be in mid-summer). Not at all enjoyable however. The pace of play was excreable with no attempt made by the Club even to acknowledge the problem. Shan't be back.
Err... me thinks you mean execrable dear fellow. I played RCP six weeks ago as a two and was round in three hours. You must have caught the club on a bad bay.
One road in and out? That will be the same road used to access Royal St Georges!
I appreciate that there are courses like Shinnecock and Pebble Beach that most probably garner a 6-ball rating, but I haven’t played those courses, I have played many of the Open courses here in UK and rate RCP accordingly.
Obviously a great course is required to gain 6-balls but I also feel that a great Club needs to have that atmosphere where you feel butterflies in your stomach as you turn off the main road and down the drive, in RCP’s case, driving through the village of Sandwich thinking just over the next street is a vast expanse of land with crumpled fairways and some incredible green complexes. When driving down the gates of any Open course I get butterflies because of the history there and walking in the footsteps of Pro’s past and present, at Royal Cinque Ports, I feel proud! Yes, I am a member so this MIGHT be biased but I am mature enough to give credit where its due and the opposite.
Standing on the first tee, you are looking at not an overly undulated piece of land, but it is in the details that you really realise that this course does not need the hills of some courses in the US. Take Hoylake for an example; on a flat piece of land yet you rarely have a flat stance for your approach shots. At RCP, it is really around and on the greens where the course comes into its own. I could not think of another place that I have played where I could spend more time hitting shot after shot at greens and marveling at joy of watching the ball take the slopes and undulations to work out the best way to get close to the hole.
The 12th hole is a perfect example of that; a ‘U’ shaped green where the direction of play is along the bottom of the ‘U’. From the middle of the fairway you can play straight at the flag which is fine, but if you are ever so slightly off centre with your tee shot you have to contend with these perfectly manicured banks either side of the flag. The options are so much fun: do you try to land on the top of a bank thus killing the speed and the ball rolls down to the flag, or do you over hit a bit knowing you have a bank as a backstop and hope the ball comes down in the right angle to get near the flag. Throw in the fact you are going into the prevailing wind which makes the lower shot all the more appealing, this is honestly one of the most fun shots I have played.
Without boring you, I will quickly talk about the 3rd hole as this green site is truly fantastic. The approach to the green is preceded by huge waves of fairway that are very steep, any ball hitting them at slightly the wrong angle will kill all speed and the ball will roll back. That being said, if you catch a downslope on your second shot into this long par 5, which is doable as it is downwind, then the ball will shoot forward and hopefully crest the top of the last hill and will take the slope all the way onto a large deep green. Its hard to describe it but this green is almost like a giant bowl but with a quarter of the bowl rim taken away. If the flag is at the front and you have a putt from the back, I could aim 90’ right and watch the ball roll all the way across the green and slightly towards the 4th tee like a pinball machine and hope I have judged the speed correctly for the ball to die at the top of the back slope and roll its way straight to the flag.
Everyone talks about the 16th hole which is indeed the toughest par 4 into the wind I have played, but it is also the most amazing green too and it is almost impossible to fly a long iron on and keep it on the putting surface, the play is to hit a low boring long iron which will bounce short and run up the slope before the green. I have played here more times than I can count and I have only realised this is the best way to play the hole….Honestly, it’s not me being stupid I promise!
The par 3’s are a great mix, so much so that I have hit all clubs ranging from a 3 wood to a 9 iron.
I played last weekend in a very strong wind and also some rain, I cannot commend the Greenstaff enough for their work on the course and bunkers. The greens were amazing, firm on the first bounce but provided such a true roll on chips and putts. The fairways and bunkers had fantastic grass coverage and that prime links sand we know and love. I really think if golfers spent a bit more time actually looking away from the flag, their score would improve….instead of hitting a 20 yard bunker shot that stops by the flag, as satisfying as that is, aim to the right and hit a bunker shot that just gets out and takes the slope and ends up in the same place. More often than not. The approaches are like putting surfaces in Surrey.
I would highly recommend anyone to play this course, Royal St George’s may be of the higher caliber of club but this is a more fun course that is genuinely sneaky tough.
Whilst there's always going to be a strong element of bias when a member writes a review for their own club, this review is one of the best examples I've seen of someone who knows a course intimately being able to describe articulately what makes their course so enjoyable. I've played RCP numerous times now and everything within this review is spot on. It took me a few plays to really understand what's special about the course as it doesn't have the obvious beautiful vistas of other top courses, but the playability of RCP is up there with the best and it's a toss up between RCP and the new Streamsong Black course as to which are the most interesting greens I've ever played. I personally still prefer Royal St George's to RCP but the reviewer makes a good argument as to why RCP is a challenger to its throne.
I played RCP earlier this year on warm sunny August afternoon; even with a clear blue sky the breeze was ever present. It’s a magical links course; from a distance it looks very flat, however once on the course it has plenty of rolling fairways and blind shots to test even the best golfers, I can see why final Open qualifying is held there. The day I played the wind direction meant the final 5 holes were directly into the stiff breeze making them brutally tough, even from the yellow tees, I did have the pleasure of making par on the 212 yard 14 having hit big 3 wood directly into the breeze which held the green. Conditions were perfect when I played, firm and fast fairways and greens which were not overly fast albeit I watched my playing partner putt into a greenside bunker and then me making the same error two holes later! Sadly I didn’t shoot anywhere near handicap (15) but I always think the true test of a great course (and fair one) is that you want to go out again straight away, RCP left me with that feeling and wishing I’d scored better on the front 9.
I saw some earlier contributors said the club wasn’t very welcoming, I found the opposite, they were happy to allow my partner and our 3 month baby in the bar along with my playing partner and his family including a 6 month old. The club house is treasure trove of golfing history, well worth staying a while to browse, some famous names to be seen on the wall plaques.
On our annual GBI trip in June, we revisited Kent for the 2nd time in 4 years. It isn’t hard to love the area, with Royal St. George’s next door, and the charming town of Sandwich nearby. But that shouldn’t suggest RCP/Deal can’t stand on its own! A great and underrated course, out and back 9s, the 2nd typically into the wind, fantastic green complexes, challenging for sure. For added pleasure, visit the pro shop and listen to the longtime professional’s stories! Don’t miss it.
Played the course in a very nice afternoon in mid June after having played St. Georges in the morning. Even though less famous a much better experience. A real link course where you need to use all your clubs. Cannot add much more to the very detailed reviews below, just make sure you play it before playing the more expensive and less fun St. Georges!
I'm aware that describing Deal as a curate's egg is somewhat clichéd but it's what I feel. I played it in a light breeze and yet couldn't keep the ball on some of the semi-blind fairways (the 13th was particularly galling as a straight drive elicited a lost ball as the unrelentlessly firm fairway dealt my ball into the first cut, itself more than shin-high, never to be seen again). But the course had captivated me from the 2nd hole out as far as the 7th. The section around the half-way house was quite forgettable and 14 was a bland though none-to-easy par three dumped somewhat crudely within the landscape. But not to worry as 15th through 17th were gorgeously memorable; 18th somewhat less so despite my closing birdie as the marshy surrounds to the fairway and stream were out of place. Overall a very, very stern test of golf: almost as stern as the bar staff who disliked my wish to see the (empty) dining room whilst not wearing full formal dress attire. Having played RSG the day earlier with the friendliest of welcome not to mention the endless supply of free range-balls before play unlike the miserly yet expensive supply at Deal, I have to say that RSG is a class act. Deal is a very good test of golf but the clubhouse staff need to lighten up and stop being so formal and stuffy - RSG do this job admirably and Deal could certainly learn a trick or two from it's elder half-brother down the lane.
I played Royal Cinque Ports today with all but three holes with a 25mph cross wind. It was one of the most enjoyable games of golf I can remember. The course is fantastic - golf as you imagine it must have been played 100 years ago; wildly undulating fairways; amazing greens; and a real test of every club in the bag.
The pick of the holes for me are the 3rd, 6th and 16th, but all of those on the run home from the 12th are great holes (difficult enough in a cross wind, I can only imagine how hard they'd be straight into the prevailing wind off the championship tees!).
Having also played Royal St Georges and Princes this week, this is right up there with the former in my opinion. I can understand why RSG is ranked higher (it is an outstanding course) but for sheer enjoyment I'd actually chose to play here. If you're down in the area, do not miss it.