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Links to the Past: Royal Cinque Ports

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England’s Royal Cinque Ports Golf Club, commonly referred to as Deal, is situated along the Kent coast near the historic town of Deal. Established in 1892, it has a storied history and has quietly cemented itself as one of the world’s premier links golf courses. Its 18 crumpled fairways wind through coastal dunes and grasslands, presenting a unique test of seaside golf.

Originally called Sandhills Golf Club before being rechristened Cinque Ports Golf Club Deal. The “Cinque Ports” name refers to England’s five historic port towns – Hastings, Romney, Hythe, Dover, and Sandwich – which were long required to supply ships and sailors for the king’s naval expeditions. Bernard Darwin

Henry Hunter initially designed the course with alterations by James Braid in 1919 and later by Sir Guy Campbell and Henry Cotton in 1946. Donald Steel was also brought in to consult on bunkers and tee box placement. Deal is renowned for its fine collection of strong par-4s and par-3s and excellent green complexes with heavy contours and run-offs.

In this post, we’ll explore Royal Cinque Ports (Deal), its origin and history, notable events, and facts about the course. We’ll review the notable events hosted by the course and learn what makes the course so memorable. Finally, we’ll suggest some further reading and show videos to bring the course to life. As always, the adjacent images are simulated to set the scene and provide context.

Royal Cinque Ports intro

Origins and History

The club traces its origins back to 1890 when suggestions of a golf course in Deal began circulating in the local East Kent Mercury newspaper. This sparked great interest, leading to a pivotal meeting at Walmer’s Union Club in 1892 attended by local figures intent on establishing a golf club. Subscriptions were set, funds were raised, and local resident Henry Hunter was hired as greenkeeper – marking the official founding of the Cinque Ports Golf Club.

The new course was routed along the southeast coast of England, taking full advantage of the linksland terrain. It quickly earned praise, being labeled “second to none” by 1893. Its challenge and seaside beauty soon attracted events like the Ladies Championship and Men’s Amateur Championship. Then, in 1909, Cinque Ports was awarded its first Open Championship. It was scheduled to host again in 1915, but WWI put a wrench in those plans. However, the course did host another in 1920, the first Open post-WWI.

It was granted “Royal” status in 1982 for its 90th anniversary. And in 2023, Royal Cinque Ports cracked Golf Digest’s Top 100 Courses in the World for the first time, bringing renewed global recognition. Its crumpled, bouncy fairways, micro-contours, quirky bunkering, and crowned greens lined by the English Channel provide a world-class test along Britain’s southeast shore. Though it’s been a century since hosting The Open, Royal Cinque Ports remains a crowned jewel and hidden gem of British links golf.

Royal Cinque Ports course

Did You Know?

This historic course by the English Channel has hosted its fair share of characters and controversies over the years. When the flamboyant American Walter Hagen arrived to compete in his first Open Championship in 1920 at Cinque Ports, he caused quite a stir by pulling up in a chauffeur-driven Daimler.

Upon arriving, he was told that professionals had to change in the pro shop rather than the main clubhouse. Outraged at this lack of hospitality, Hagen decided to protest. Hagen changed clothes in the car park rather than the locker room, flouting the rules that professionals use the caddie facilities.

For the entirety of the tournament, Hagen had his car parked prominently in front of the clubhouse flagpole. After each day’s play, he would return to change his shoes and sweater in the car, making a deliberate display. He also ate extravagant meals of pheasant, caviar, and champagne served by his driver right there in the backseat of the Daimler, in full view of the clubhouse.

Despite his flamboyant arrival, Hagen struggled mightily on the links at Royal Cinque Ports, finishing near the bottom of the field in 53rd place. He shot rounds of 84, 82, 78, and 85 for a total 329 (+45) score – a rather embarrassing result.

While it was not a successful first Open appearance for Hagen in terms of his play, he made quite an impression. Over the next decade, he would win The Open four times (1922, 1924, 1928, 1929) and cement his legacy as one of golf’s first superstars. But in 1920, at Royal Cinque Ports, the 27-year-old American was humbled by the links but remained defiant of the course.

Royal Cinque Ports intro hagen

Notable Events

Royal Cinque Ports has hosted several prestigious professional and amateur golf championships since its founding in 1892. Most notably, it hosted The Open Championship in 1909 and 1920 – crowning J.H. Taylor and George Duncan champions, respectively.

The Open was set to return in 1942, but war intervened again. The R&A selected Deal to host again In 1949, but flooding forced the events to be relocated down the coast to Royal St George’s. Beyond The Open, Royal Cinque Ports has hosted The Amateur Championship three times over the decades. Since 1925, the historic links has been the annual host site for the Halford Hewitt Cup – considered the world’s largest amateur team tournament with over 600 golfers.

While no longer on The Open rota, Royal Cinque Ports today continues to host Final Qualifying when The Open is played at nearby Royal St George’s. Its challenging closing holes winding along the English Channel provide a stern test for the game’s best. The club also regularly hosts other prominent amateur events, cementing its status as one of England’s foremost championship links courses.

Royal Cinque Ports notable

The Course

The course is laid out over 7,300 yards from the black tees as a par 72. It features three par-3s, three par-5s, and twelve par-4s. The routing is largely out-and-back along the coastline, with a few deviations, including an inland loop in the middle before returning to finish along the sea. The course features rumpled, crumpled fairways that play over and through the natural, sandy linksland, leading to awkward lies and challenging bounces. Greens are elevated and set on plateaus, requiring precision to hold them. The sod-faced bunkering is difficult and strategic.

The first five holes head straight out to sea before the course turns inland through dunes for four holes. The first green is protected by a burn reminiscent of the famous Swilcan at St. Andrews and is just as menacing. Starting off the round by hitting the fairway takes some of the pressure off that first approach. The par-5 3rd is an old-school long hole played along a sea wall that features a punchbowl green with a flag hidden from view until you ascend the hill 150 yards away. Strategically placed fairway bunkers are ready to collect offline drives and layups. The course’s first par-3 comes at the fourth. “Sandy Parlour” plays downwind from an elevated tee, making club selection of paramount importance as recovery shots pose a challenge with a green wider than it is deep.

The closing nine holes play back along the coast, frequently into the prevailing wind off the English Channel. The 16th used to play as a long par-4, but the club converted the hole to a short-ish par-5. Henry Cotton listed it among the best 18 holes in England. However, Bernard Darwin found it too difficult for a two-shot hole. From the tee, you can see the small, elevated green perched on a dune in the distance.

Visit Royal Cinque Ports online at https://www.royalcinqueports.com/.

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Further Reading

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Classic Golf Links
by Donald Steel

Summary: Classic Golf Links of England, Scotland, Wales and Ireland by Donald Steele is a guidebook featuring 75 spectacular links golf courses in the British Isles, covering their history, design, and challenges. The book includes scorecards, hole maps, photos, and playing tips for each course, providing key information for golf travelers while celebrating these revered seaside tests.  With writing by Donald Steel and photos by Brian Morgan, Classic Golf Links is considered an essential reference for experiencing the best of links golf.

This book is a must for anyone with an affinity for links golf. I bought this book years ago and still return to it often. The pictures are amazing and they alone will make you fall in love with these courses.

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Sand and Golf
by George Waters

Summary: “Sand and Golf” explores how sandy terrain uniquely suits golf, studying similarities and differences between courses worldwide with sandy features. It examines all aspects of the relationship between sand and golf, from the sport’s origins in Scottish coastal dunes to its global spread onto sandy sites. Written by golf architect George Waters with a preface by renowned designer Tom Doak, it details through examples and illustrations why firm, rugged, windy sandy terrain makes creative shot-making integral to the game. The book appeals to knowledgeable golfers interested in course design and architecture, analyzing the art and science behind why golf belongs on sand.

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The 150th Open
by Iain Carter

Summary: The 150th Open is the official book celebrating the sesquicentennial (seriously, that’s a thing) of golf’s oldest major championship, produced in partnership with The R&A and capturing the history and stories that make The Open unique.  From its 1860 origins in Prestwick to today’s iconic venues, the book chronicles The Open through archival images and interviews with past champions, reflecting on characters, courses, and moments that have defined this revered event over 150 years. The comprehensive narrative and visual history in The 150th Open commemorates The Open Championship’s illustrious past and enduring prestige as golf’s most beloved tournament.

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True Links
by  Malcolm Campbell & George Peper

Summary: True Links by Malcolm Campbell and George Peper profiles over 240 of the world’s top links golf courses across the British Isles and beyond, examining their history, design features, and status as an authentic “true links.” Organized geographically, the book offers photos, maps, scorecards and playing tips for renowned seaside tests like Royal County Down, Ballybunion, Cabot Links, Barnbougle Dunes and others that meet the authors’ criteria.  For links golf aficionados, True Links serves as an illustrated guidebook for experiencing the unique joys and challenges of the game’s most revered coastal courses.

Videos

Royal Cinque Ports Flyover
Royal Cinque Ports
Deal’s Hidden Gem
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