I arrived at the course with Ken, my father, who tends to tag along when I am off somewhere that could be quite interesting, a couple of hours before we were due to tee off. We had coffee in the superb clubhouse while looking over the course and the sea beyond. Royal Cinque Ports has everything a true links should, mounds, hummocks, bumps and plenty of bunkers, the terrain just looks and feels so natural.
The first hole is quite flat compared to the rest of the course, just a drive towards the burn running through the fairway and a pitch over it to a generous green that has plenty of depth. The second turns in the opposite direction and is the beginning of the wonderful terrain that forms the rest of the course. The fairway rises and falls in all directions leaving you searching for a safe place for your ball to land while standing on the tee, this is very much the case for the rest of the round. The third is a short par 5 at 507 yards but with the wind against, as it was for us, is difficult to reach in two. Aim close to the bunker on the left from the tee then approach the green from the right to leave an easier pitch to the punchbowl green, we both had long putts on this green and ended up with 6′s.
The fourth is the first par 3, short with no bunkers but still tricky with an upturned saucer green that ejects balls in all directions. Aim up the right of the fifth for a flatter lie for the next shot which needs to be straight to avoid the bunkers on either side of the fairway. A large sand hill obscures the green from the sixth tee as it doglegs to the right, you could go for it but the deep gully in front and the beach behind may make you think again. Avoid the bunkers from the tee of the seventh but also pay attention to wind direction or you may find yourself on the beach, your approach should be played away from left side bunker that will swallow anything that comes close.
The eighth is a tricky par 3 that is played towards the sea, it’s short but the nine pot bunkers that surround it requires accuracy, with the wind blowing across we surprise ourselves by both getting a par. The ninth turns back north with perfect line off the tee being just right of the left hand bunker, once the fairway is found check your distance to the green as the four bunkers that guard it will catch anything coming up short. The tenth and eleventh are both doglegs to the left, the tenth has an angled green with a deep hollow to the side of it, while the eleventh provides great views towards Sandwich and with the wind behind you are tempted to drive over the bunker for the perfect line to the green.
The twelfth fairway is pretty flat compared to the rest of the course but the green complex is set between two ridges giving it a ‘U’ shaped look. There is a 200 yard plus carry over the two bunkers from the thirteenth tee and the undulating green is raised above the surrounding terrain making it tough to hold. Two bunkers again guard the bend in the dogleg on the fifteenth, the approach is often blind with a couple of large mounds in front of the green which falls away back right.
As you play the sixteenth make a point of taking in the view in front of you, admire the natural humps and bumps leading up to a raised green that’s surface imitates the terrain you have just walked through. Drive down the right on the seventeenth into ‘Vardon’s Parlour’ where you will be able to see the flag, check your yardage on approach as anything short will follow the contours of the land right. The final hole is quite flat compared to the holes that precede it, aim your drive at the right hand bridge for a better line in to the green which is raised but fairly flat.
The staff and members we met couldn’t have been more friendly, the clubhouse looks and feels as though it has been standing there for centuries and the changing facilities inside are superb. Your round will certainly have more fives than fours in it but the experience of Royal Cinque Ports will more than compensate.