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”.
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 Chapple 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.
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.
It was a complete two day stay there as the previous day I had played Prince's and that morning Royal St George's, before driving a couple of miles to play my T-1 Open Venue (only missing Musselburgh Old) on a very nice afternoon with sun and the wind blowing pretty strong in the opposite direction to the usual one, which made the course play totally different. It is usually said that when you arrive to tee 12th with a decent score on the way you feel you have it done but not knowing the last 7 into the wind are brutal. This time we battled for 11 holes with the wind before playing the last 7 downwind, which in any way means they are easy!
As I arrived jsut little before my 3:30pm tee time after the round at St George's, I had no chance to experience much from the Club House just a quick drop to the ProShop to buy some ball markers as it was going to be closed when I finished and then off to the tee.
I had a great ball striking round, but both wind and putter put me +7 on 12th tee with double on 9 and triple on 11 which was disappointing. Got a coupleback for a very good 76 considering I carried my bag also in the morning and the wind was quite strong. The course is very challenging and you can take the hole yardages as reference, as some of them play much longer and some quite shorter, it usually depends on the line you take for the tee shot.
I will just try to figure out some of the best holes: par 5 3rd where the green is in a sort of hole with a much taller flag played a lot longer, not only due to wind but also to the many natural slopes the fairway has. Par 3 4th played not exactly into the wind but some across but it was one of the toughest. The other and last par 5 5th hole played a monster long, totally into the wind. Amazing 6th hole played longer with no chance of taking the shortcut to the green with the driver, hitting PW from 90 yds which is not usual! Par 4 7th showed 410yds in the GPS but played at least as 470! 8th is one of the nicest holes, with wind across we had to aim the tee shot way left to compensate the wind.
9th happened to be one of my nightmares, a good hit driver and a hybrid to a hole playing almost like 500yds! 10th tee shot with the unusual wind was quite tough, as you had to aim the deep rough and pray for the wind to let it come back. 11th killed me, not only wind but the cross bunker plus the rough on the righ plus my 29th hole of the day. Luckily I got some more energy to play the final holes where par 314th (225yds downwind) plus both 16-17 were the best holes, with very natural ondulated greens and tough to read putts.
The course was firm and fast, greens rolling extremely good and true and rough is playable just of line, but if you go wider the penalty will be one or more lost shots.
A nice afternoon, a 3hr round, a post round drink at the charming terrace enjoying the view made it a complete perfect day and just looking forward in time to complete the Open Rota in the near future.
Cinque Ports is a must play, both history and golf course will make you feel you are in one of the best places in the world. And the small town there is a good place for dinner after golf. Many usually think in Scotland as the first mandatory UK golf trip, but England has a team to compete with the Saltire. They are both different, but none lack of greatness.
The ground upon which Royal Cinque Ports covers appears to be relatively uninteresting at first view. It’s pretty flat, featureless and scrubby, and apart from the 4th through to the 7th, the sea is out of view due to the large sea wall that scales the length of the beach. But don’t let that fool you, the individual holes here all have character and the greens are the most impressive that I’ve played to date.
For what is a straight forward opener and not really indicative of the rest of the course, the crazy rollercoaster of a green gives you a sign of what’s to come. Honourable mentions also go to the green complexes on the 3rd and 12th, the latter with its wonderful valley green, like a skateboarder’s half-pipe.
Whilst the greens are superb, it’s the crumpled, lumpy duneland between 3 and 7 and back from 15 to 17 that provide most of the course’s charm. The fairways through this stretch of land roll like waves. Don’t expect an even bounce as your ball will ricochet back and forth through these holes like a pinball machine.
Whilst there are 7 or 8 first class holes on the course, two in particular stand out for me. The par 5 third is a great hole that’s split into three sections. The landing area for your drive is relatively flat with a dune crossing the fairway and a natural bunker set into one of those dunes protecting the hole from being overwhelmed by a long drive. The second section is the most pronounced of all of those lumpy sections across the whole course, in this section your ball will finish wherever the fairway topography decides it should go. The final section is a blind punchbowl of a green complex within which sits a wavy two-tiered green.
The other main highlight is the 16th. This is a long par 4 where you drive to the left of the concrete pillbox over two nostril bunkers towards another bumpy fairway. The green then sits perched above the surrounding land and you’ll need to carry over some intimidating swales and slopes to reach the putting surface.
You won’t go wrong with a day out at Deal, this is links golf at its most natural. And whilst there are going to be obvious comparisons with Royal St. George's (it doesn’t provide the same aura or prime duneland as its more famous neighbour), Royal Cinque Ports offers the perfect complement to Kent's main attraction for any visitor wishing to play golf in this area of the world.
I always enjoy my visits to play Royal Cinque Ports Golf Club at Deal, the Kentish town that the course is often referred to by name.
It’s an excellent links golf course that requires imagination and skill as well as distance and sound hitting. However, cunning is certainly the order of the day for the most part here. What I love most is that on a number of occasions after you have hit the ball it will disappear, behind a hump or into a hollow, only for it to reappear a few seconds later travelling in a completely different direction. How some of your recovery shots slowly unfold around the brilliant green complexes is a true joy.
It’s a golf course that has grown on me with multiple plays, in different wind directions, and I think it’s the sort of layout that needs this in order to gain a fuller understanding of it. I wasn't overly enthralled by it on my first play, which is a bit unusual because it actually delivers everything I love about links golf; quirk and challenge. Maybe I had my head in the clouds or perhaps it was because I played it straight on the back of playing its near neighbour; Royal St. George's. Either way I'm happy to be proved wrong on my original opinion.
After my first ever round here in 2014 I left Royal Cinque Ports not quite knowing what to make of it. I thought there were some unbelievably good holes but several that I wasn’t too sure about and wanted to have a second look at. Now I have had another chance to get to know this highly individual course I believe there is probably only the first (although it has a putting surface), the 10th, 11th and 18th that don't really bring much to the party. Every other hole is either exceptionally good or world-class.
Ed is the founder of Golf Empire – click the link to read his full review.
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.