The pedigree of Royal Cinque Ports Golf Club is well known to most golf aficionados. The club hosted two early Open Championships and two later ones were planned, but had to be abandoned because of flooding from the nearby English Channel. The club is still active in holding other key events and earlier in ‘17 hosted a final qualifying for golf’s oldest major championship.
The relevance of Royal Cinque Ports - also known as Deal - is very much alive and well.
The layout features two distinct nines. Each impacted significantly and differently by the daily wind pattern. The outward nine, with the exception of the 1st hole, marches in one direction. The inward half - especially the final seven holes - heads in the opposite direction and usually into the prevailing southwest wind. With a par of 71 - the course rates a stout 75 when played from the championship markers. The average length of the par-4’s on the back nine is 440 - with the famed 16th being the most noted.
Henry Cotton, the three-time Open Champion, called the 16th at Royal Cinque Ports, one of the top 18-holes in England.
Much of the greatness of the 16th can be attributed to Harry Hunter - the club’s first head golf professional and greens keeper. Hunter created the first nine holes and later added a second nine in time for the 1909 Open. Hunter is credited with the design qualities one still sees today with such stellar holes as the 3rd, 17th, and most famously at the 16th.
The length of the 16th is clearly a major issue even with today’s improved equipment technology. At just under 500 yards, the hole often plays longer because of the aforementioned prevailing winds. Two cross bunkers need to be carried at just under 210 yards and the fairway provides sufficient width, but it would be a stretch to call it especially generous. The fairway also has its share of humps and bumps, which means it is more than likely you will have less than a flat lie for one’s 2nd shot.
Immediately near the cross bunkers sits a reminder Deal played in English history - a World War II pillbox. It is an apt inclusion since golfers will feel under siege when playing this relentlessly challenging hole.
Most golfers will not likely get to the green in the regulation stroke and will be confronted with no less a demanding task when laying up. The fairway tapers down considerably - to a width of roughly 15 yards and getting one’s second shot into this narrow sleeve of space can be a chore of the highest order. Complicating things even further is the short pitch golfers then have to play to a plateau green that looks considerably smaller from that angle.
Bernard Darwin, the famed golf writer, was quick to define the area short of the plateau green as: “The valley of inglorious security.” Hitting a well-executed pitch shot off tight turf to an elevated target is no small feat. Plenty of golfers have often faced a dreaded “repeat” shot because the first effort failed so miserably.
Hard to imagine a hole of this nature being created today. With such a devilishly tough green, the 16th rejects more approaches than applicants seeking admission to Oxford or Cambridge. The frontal pin location is maddening in its ferociousness with falloffs to both sides for those who push or pull their approaches.
In all reality, scoring bogey 5 on the 16th is a good number. The key is never attempting to steer the long shot and thoroughly understanding one’s ability level. The putting surface is quite large - 8,225 total square feet - but when positioned on an elevated plateau the visual receptivity can be off-putting for any player’s sense of confidence.
When playing the 16th it is best to know there is no “deal” in securing a good score without vintage execution and a bit of Divine Intervention.