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.
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.
There are so many holes I would consider great it makes little sense to go through them one by one or even attempt it. With only one play to date I know this course will grow on me the more I go... if it were only a little closer to home. My favorite holes would be the par 5, 3rd, short par 4 6th and par 4 9th on the outward 9. Coming back home I’d have to say 16 and 17 were by a margin the standouts for me.
Again, it’s not lightly that I call Deal my favorite course in England. I have a few contenders I still need to experience (though not many) and knowing a few members at Royal Cinque Ports, all I have to say is, lucky devils!
Described above in the RCP course article as “an absolute brute of a links course,” I can assure you that, in relation to its Royal neighbour next door, this course is a cuddly pussy cat in comparison. Not to say that it’s easy, because it’s not (especially considering it has a standard scratch score rating of one over par from the regular gents tees).
The landscape’s rather stark, slightly dominated by what looks to be a man-made shingle bank running the length of the course, presumably to keep the English Channel at bay on the other side.
I loved the old-fashioned routing, reminiscent of Western Gailes, with holes 2 to 11 running along the shoreline before turning for home at the 12th.
The green of the 6th hole sits behind a huge dune and it’s probably one of the tougher short par fours that you might ever play, even with the wind at your back.
On the closing stretch, the three slight doglegged holes at 13, 15 and 16 are more than capable of humbling the most accomplished golfer. I must mention the half way hut, manned by a couple of Artisan members when I played the course last week. What a great pit stop to make half way through a round, with staff more than willing to talk all things connected to golf with visitors.
The clubhouse was just as welcoming, though food service had ended when we finished our round in the early evening. I’d love to come back and play here again sometime, which is as good an endorsement as I can give to Royal Cinque Ports.