It may not have hosted an Open for 100 years, but Deal’s scenic Royal Cinque Ports will soon be catapulted into the global golfing spotlight once again.
Lying just three miles south of Royal St George’s – which is set to host The 149th Open next year – the links course possesses a long and convoluted history, welcoming the world’s premier golfers in both 1909 and 1920 for the 49th and 55th editions of the Championship.
But its Open history is not quite as linear as that, becoming embroiled in a contentious debate at the beginning of the 20th century concerning an unfair advantage being gained by non-English players.
And, as its well-acquainted neighbour prepares to host The Open for its 15th time next summer, it seems pertinent to revisit the origins and turbulent journey of Cinque Ports – an unequivocal hidden gem of the English golfing map.
It was in 1890 when suggestions of a golf course in Deal first began to circulate, originating in the East Kent Mercury – a publication still in print today – and rapidly beginning to gather momentum.
Just two years later a watershed meeting took place at Walmer’s Union Club, attended by multiple local figures with the collective purpose of establishing a golf club.
Plans moved swiftly: subscriptions were set at two guineas, with 10 life members being created at £50 each in order to garner the necessary funds to lease the land desired for the course to be constructed.
And, when local 33-year-old Henry Hunter was appointed greenkeeper on March 1 that year, followed promptly by Marquis of Dufferin and Ava as president and General JM Graham as captain, it became official – Cinque Ports Golf Club had been born.
The next major development was to follow shortly after in 1898, when Arthur Balfour – who would later go on to succeed his uncle Lord Salisbury as Prime Minister – was announced as president of the club, finalising Cinque Ports’ embryonic stages and laying the foundations for a subsequently compelling 25-years of history.
Balancing the scales
The dawn of the 20th century marked the advent of Deal’s global emergence, with 1906 seeing the Championship’s administrative running become the subject of vociferous debate.
After The 46th Open had drawn to a close, the rota of courses still stood at five, with Prestwick and St Andrews joining Muirfield, Royal St George’s and Royal Liverpool.
Indeed, with England and Scotland hosting the Championship in alternate years, this balance soon became perceived as one unfavourable to the English players, a move that soon necessitated the introduction of a third English course to restore parity in the respective nations’ venues.
And, after being considered alongside Western Ho! – now Royal North Devon Golf Club – it was Deal that eventually prevailed, ostensibly receiving the nod owing to its more preferable ‘true links nature’.
Deal hosts the Open
It was three years later when Cinque Ports first hosted the Championship, initially being awarded the 1909 and 1915 editions of the competition in order to alter the dynamic of the host nation.
And while the 1915 event never materialised owing to the impact of the First World War, Deal’s maiden Open was won by JH Taylor, overcoming the two favourites James Braid and Arnaud Massy by six strokes.
1909 marked the fourth of Taylor’s impressive five Open triumphs, augmenting his silverware collection and permanently crafting his name into Royal Cinque Ports folklore.
The Open returned to the venue in 1920, the first Championship to be staged after the war and a competition that attracted only a limited field of 54 competitors.
It was George Duncan who waltzed to victory that year, shooting a brilliant final round of 72 to secure the Claret Jug in addition to a gold medal and £75.
Tried and failed attempts to host the Championship
While Deal is yet to host a further edition of The Open, it was earmarked as the desired venue to crown the Champion Golfer of the Year again in 1938 and 1949.
But it was about to suffer the most peculiar example of history repeating itself, with uncannily similar circumstances preventing it from doing so on both occasions.
In 1938, with Henry Cotton due to travel to the south-east to defend his Championship, an abnormally high tide and easterly wind swept the sea over the course, rendering any prospect of play impossible and seeing the venue altered to Royal St George’s just down the road.
Somewhat bizarrely, 1949 witnessed an identical occurrence, with high tides and potent gales forestalling the same defending champion from retaining his crown.
Indeed, that edition of the competition was similarly forced to relocate north to Royal St George's, eventually being won by South African Bobby Locke.
However, and despite its precarious and continually-vulnerable position on the south-east coast, Deal is and will always remain one of the country’s most iconic links courses, still playing host to the Halford Hewitt Public Schools Championship each year and being named one of four Final Open Qualifying venues between 2014 and 2017.
As the countdown to The 149th Open at St George’s intensifies, the history, stories and ever-enduring legacy of Deal must never be forgotten.