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Royal Cinque Ports Golf Club in Deal: One of England's true links gems

Clive AgranBy Clive Agran,
Royal Cinque Ports Golf Club - Hole 1
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There is nothing more thrilling for a golfer with a feel for tradition than to play a genuine links course - and Royal Cinque Ports is one of the best. (Courtesy of Royal Cinque Ports G.C.)

DEAL, England - Since it is the French for five, it seems not unreasonable to pronounce cinque as "sank." However, that would be wrong in the context of Royal Cinque Ports Golf Club where the word should be pronounced "sink."

Originally, there were five "Cinque Ports" along the eastern end of the English Channel: Hastings, Romney, Hythe, Sandwich and Dover. Established by Royal Charter in 1155, it was their role to maintain ships ready for the Crown in case of a naval skirmish. In return, they were excused taxes, could administer justice and hang on to goods washed up on the beach. By the 16th century, they no longer had any real significance but they retain the title and some of the ceremonial to this day.

As you might expect of a club with such an impressive name, The Royal Cinque Ports Golf Club, or Deal as it is often referred to, is itself steeped in history. Lying on the edge of the historic town of Deal next to the English Channel just north of Dover, it can trace its origins back to a meeting on Feb. 12, 1892.

Remarkably, the first nine holes were ready for play at the end of May, only 15 weeks after the golf club was formed. A few years later it was expanded to 18 holes and A.J. Balfour, who later became prime minster and is famous for the Balfour Declaration that eventually led to the formation of the state of Israel, was made captain.

To celebrate the opening of the additional nine holes, Freddie Tait played a 'guttie' ball from the roof of nearby St Georges; his 32nd shot going through the window of the new clubhouse at Deal. Although often mooted and discussed, a repetition of this feat has not so far been attempted.

A long association with the British Royal Family began when the Prince of Wales, who later became Edward VII, played regularly at the golf course from about 1900. The Royal Title was bestowed by King George V in 1910 and reconfirmed by King George VI in 1949. Edward, Prince of Wales (for a short time Edward VIII), was a frequent visitor and today, single-figure handicapper Prince Andrew, Duke of York, is a patron.

As well as Royalty, golf's aristocracy have strode Deal's springy fairways including Harry Vardon, John Henry Taylor and James Braid before the First World War; George Duncan, Abe Mitchell and Walter Hagen between the wars; and Bobby Locke, Jack Nicklaus and Sergio Garcia in more recent times.

Although two Open Championships - in 1909 and 1920 - have been played at Deal, it should have been more. The First World War prevented an Open being played in 1915 and then a combination of high tides and easterly winds brought the sea over the golf course rendering it unplayable in both 1938 and 1949. Today it is used as a final qualifying course when the Open is played along the road at Royal St. George's Golf Club in Kent.

Royal Cinque Ports Golf Club's outward nine

The golf course occupies a wonderful stretch of natural links land adjoining Sandwich Bay. Thanks to the glorious dunes, it's not often that you find yourself with a flat lie. Almost invariably, the ball with be either above or below your feet. There are 66 bunkers, which are mostly large, deep and revetted. However, they can pretty well all be seen before you play the shot that lands you in one, so there's really no excuse. A few of the holes are bunker free but that doesn't seem to make them any easier. The greens, when you finally reach them, are enormous, full of humps and hollows, fast and wonderfully true.

There's a stream that crosses the first and the 18th, otherwise the only water is the English Channel, on the other side of the sea wall. Incidentally, the beach is an integral part of the golf course but is not recommended.

Apart from the first, the front nine holes run more or less in the same direction and are usually made slightly easier because the prevailing wind, which is always a major factor, is from behind. Spare a thought as you play them for Alan Denne, who, in the summer of 1939, started his medal round par, birdie, eagle, ace - 4, 3, 2, 1 - to stand 5 under. However, a 10 at the fifth took him back to par and necessitated an immediate visit to the nearby pub, The Chequers. Apparently, he never played golf again!

Denne's was by no means the first hole-in-one on the short fourth. Known as Sandy Parlour, for the first 46 years of Royal Cinque Ports Golf Club's existence it was a blind hole played over a large dune and was famous for the exorbitant number of aces - caddies giving a ball reasonably close to the hole a friendly nudge in search of the traditional sovereign tip.

Royal Cinque Ports Golf Club's inward nine

Two new tees by the sea wall on the seventh and ninth have strengthened the outward half but the inward half remains the more formidable challenge and the 16th is one of Henry Cotton's "Eighteen best holes in England." The comparatively small, undulating and elevated green is the principal cause of most of the problems here.

From the championship tees, the golf course is presently 6,960 yards but plans have already been drawn up to lengthen it to just over 7,300 yards over the coming years.

Royal Cinque Ports Golf Club: The Verdict

Royal Cinque Ports is a joyous place. The clubhouse is delightful and is worth entering if only to stand on the balcony and look out over the English Channel. Links golf is the original and authentic form of the game and there really is nothing more thrilling for a golfer with a feel for tradition than to play a genuine links course. And this is indisputably one of the very best. But not only does Royal Cinque Ports have a rich and wonderful history, it's also a forward-looking club that is anxious both to preserve the very best of what it has and meet the challenges of the future. To this end, it's not frightened to strengthen the golf course or improve the clubhouse.

Lodging in Deal, England

The Royal Hotel (www.theroyalhotel.com) on the seafront in historic Deal is only a few minutes walk from the clubhouse.

Steeped in history, this early 18th century hotel provides a perfect point from which to reach the great seaside golf courses or explore the fascinating "smugglers" town of Deal. The rooms are comfortable if somewhat eccentric - no shower in mine, just a bath - but the restaurant is exceptional, the beer's magnificent and the staff are friendly. Lord Nelson - he of the Battle of Trafalgar - and Lady Hamilton stopped here but, apparently, didn't play golf.

Inexpensive if rather basic, the Beachbrow Hotel (www.beachbrow-hotel.com) occupies a lovely spot along the front at Deal opposite the pier. A family-run establishment, it's a cozy period hotel that dates back to the late 1700s. Some of the rooms face the sea and not all have bathrooms en suite, so check first. There's a restaurant and bar and wi-fi if you want it.

Visiting Kent

For more information on golf and tourism in Kent, see www.visitkent.co.uk.

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Royal Cinque Ports Golf Club - Hole 16Royal Cinque Ports Golf Club - Hole 4Royal Cinque Ports Golf Club - Clubhouse

Although in his 60s, with a handicap of 15 and lifetime earnings comfortably below $100, Clive Agran nevertheless still believes he can win a major. Arguably England's most gifted golf writer, when not dreaming of glory he's scouring the globe simultaneously searching for lost balls and great golf courses. Follow Clive on Twitter at @cliveagran.

Any opinions expressed above are those of the writer and do not necessarily represent the views of the management.

Reader Comments / Reviews Leave a comment
  • Thanks

    Mortimer Merriweather wrote on: Apr 4, 2009

    A great piece of writing. The author has encapsulated the very essence of this fabulous course, which I rate as one of the finest in the world. Thanks.