Royal Cinque Ports
Designers: Henry Hunter, James Braid, Sir Guy Campbell
Among the numerous redeeming qualities of the game of golf is the manner in which courses can connect with the golfer in a deeply personal way. Whether it’s the local muni where the game was first learned as a child, or the member of The Open rota where a standout day was etched in memory, every golfer has that course which tugs at the heartstrings. Along the Channel Coast of England lies a links which boasts a level of unconditional love and admiration from its patrons that few courses on the globe could ever match.
Royal Cinque Ports, more commonly known as Deal, was established in 1892 and derived its name from the series of coastal towns that, beginning in the 12th century, were charged with maintaining a navy and defending the shores on behalf of the Crown. The club’s first 9-hole links was laid out by its head greenkeeper, Henry Hunter, and was quickly extended to a full 18-holes. The ravages of two World Wars went on to cause extensive damage to the course, making today’s links a patchwork of sorts by various architects. James Braid was commissioned after World War I to reconstruct holes 8 through 12, while Sir Guy Campbell made further repairs to the links after World War II.
It was the war against water, however, which played an equally disruptive role in Deal’s history. The club had previously hosted two Opens – 1909 and 1920 – and was set to host another in 1938 when an abnormally high tide and unfavorable winds flooded the course and prompted The Open to relocate to Royal St. George’s. After the post-war reconstruction, Deal was set to host the Claret Jug in 1949, yet the same unfortunate events played out once again. Today, a massive seawall protects the course from flooding, but its arrival was a bit too late to save the club’s place in The Open rota.
So how is it that Deal manages to charm so many of its admirers? Put simply, this is links golf in its purest form. The ground bumps and rolls its way over the terrain, the wind is constant, the lies are tight, and the bunkers are best avoided. Needless to say, the round at Deal can prove rather long for those without a solid ground game and a sense of creativity. Yet when those features are paired with holes like the 3rd and its punchbowl putting surface, or the 16th and its plateau green similar to the Alps at Prestwick, it’s easy to see why so many become spellbound by this historic links.
Of course, not everyone comes away with the same affection for Deal. Much like the Old Course at St. Andrews, those expecting sweeping seaside panoramas will rarely find them thanks to the seawall. And again like the Old Course, this is a links that often takes numerous playings before its greatness is truly apparent to the golfer. But for lovers of the links game, the memories and smiles come rather easy at Deal.