When the Open Championship last visited Royal Cinque Ports in 1920, George Duncan ran out as a two-shot winner over Sandy Herd. The competition will, however, always be remembered for the man who finished second to last.
Walter Hagen was one of golf’s most ostentatious showmen. He won the US Open in 1914 and 1919 and his participation in the 1920 Open was greeted with great anticipation and excitement.
Hagen enjoyed a lavish lifestyle, made possible by the money his professional career had generated. True to form, he arrived at Deal in a chauffeur-driven Daimler. Club rules dictated professional golfers were not allowed inside the clubhouse so Hagen changed his shoes in the back of the Daimler that he had parked directly outside the front door. He even had champagne delivered to the car.
Although his golf didn’t match his bravado that year, Hagen clearly enjoyed the event as he returned to British shores to win the Open in 1922, 1924, 1928 and 1929.
Today “Deal”, as it is also known, provides a wonderfully welcoming atmosphere, not to mention a superb golf course. The clubhouse exudes history and tradition, from the locker room that feels like it hasn’t changed since the 1920s to the men’s lounge, where studded leather armchairs and gin and tonics are the order of the day.
Out on the course you’re faced with a stern test of links golf: tight and firm fairways, treacherous pot bunkers, severely undulating greens and knee-high rough. Keeping the ball in play is crucial as, during the summer months, anything straying far off the short grass is as good as lost. The prevailing wind is helping on the front nine and it’s here you must make your score. As you forge out along the sea wall, heading towards Royal St George’s, there are birdie chances at the reachable par-5 5th and the short par-4s, 6 and 7. As you enjoy a sausage sandwich and a Bishop’s Finger in the halfway hut, your Stableford points total needs to be 18 or better.
Heading back towards the clubhouse with the breeze in your face there are some extremely challenging holes. Fairways always seem narrower when there’s a headwind and this is certainly the case here. Negotiate the brutal 12th and tricky 13th and then face the par-3 14th. It measures 222 yards from the white tees and in the strongest winds it can be unreachable for the shorter hitter.
When you’ve finished what will be a thoroughly enjoyable and eventful round you can return to the clubhouse and take a drink on the veranda overlooking the 1st fairway and 18th green.
Just a few miles along the coast towards Ramsgate, Prince’s Golf Club also has Open history. In 1932 the Championship was played for the first, and only, time around Prince’s and Gene Sarazen claimed his only Open triumph there. His total of 283 was an Open record and it wouldn’t be bettered until Bobby Locke returned 279 at Troon in 1950.
The set-up at Prince’s is ideal for a day’s golf. In 1985 Peter Alliss opened a new clubhouse located right in the centre of three loops of nine holes: Shore, Dunes and Himalayas. Each starts and finishes within 200 yards of the clubhouse. If you’ve only time to tackle 18 holes then Shore and Dunes are probably the best loops; they’re also the most difficult. Much like Deal, leaving the fairway is ill-advised as the rough is extremely punishing in places. The greens here deserve special mention. Although they feature some tricky breaks, they’re extremely true and once you’ve decided on your line you can trust the ball will not deviate. Himalayas has a slightly less linksy feel to it but there are some excellent and testing holes to negotiate.
After sampling two of Kent’s finest coastal courses we headed inland, back towards the capital and a very different style of golf. The London Club near Brands Hatch offers the highest levels of service and two 18-hole layouts in the Heritage and the International.
The former is used as the members’ course while the latter is open to visitors. The International plays as an “inland links” and demands the use of a wide array of shots from start to finish. Water is a feature on a number of the holes, in particular two of the most intimidating par 3s you’re likely to play. Both the 8th and the 12th require long iron shots over water – anything falling short will result in an unceremonious splash.
Kent is undoubtedly one of England’s premier golfing counties. We’d visited three fantastic courses and hadn’t even scratched the surface.
Where to play
Royal Cinque Ports
t: 01304 374007
Stats: par 72, SSS 73, 6,899 yards
t: 01304 626909
Stats: Shore – par 36, 3,618 yards; Dunes – par 36, 3,586 yards; Himalayas – par 35, 3,384 yards
t: 01474 879899
Stats: International – par 72, SSS 72, 7,005 yards
Where to stay
The Royal Hotel
t: 01304 375555
Situated right on the seafront in the heart of Deal, this is the perfect base. Spacious and comfortable rooms, a busy bar and an excellent cooked breakfast, what more could you ask for?
t: 01304 368194
Guest house attached to a lively pub in the centre of Deal. It’s a traditional seaside inn that’s always been popular with visiting golfers. There are 14 en-suite rooms, 10 of which offer sea views.
Explore 2,000 years of history from the Roman lighthouse to the secret wartime tunnels. Open daily through the summer.
A world heritage site and Mother Church of the Anglican Communion. Open daily in the summer.
Norman Castle just seven miles from Maidstone. Open daily.