Royal County Down Golf Club - Course Guide

royal county down golf club

To play well here you have to be very, very creative. You have to expand your mindset. You have to be very open.

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There is a long-running, and largely friendly, argument in Northern Ireland about which of Royal County Down and Royal Portrush is the country’s greatest course.

The world, on the other hand, tends to settle on the side of Royal County Down, not only consistently rating it Northern Ireland’s best course, but also the world’s (most recently in Golf Digest’s 2018 rankings).

Like many courses in Great Britain and Ireland, it owes its existence to the 19th-century expansion of the railways, with a hotel built to accompany the course in the beautiful seaside town of Newcastle.

No less a figure than Old Tom Morris was employed to design the original layout in 1889 which was remodeled by George Coombe in 1900, Harry Vardon in 1908, and finally Harry Colt in 1926.

The course has therefore been touched by some of the finest minds in the game and yet in truth it was created by mother nature, being one of the most natural layouts in the sport.

The terrain is perfect, boasting rugged linksland that features vast dunes and fast-running turf.

It has an unusually high number of blind shots, something many golfers loathe, but they always forgive Royal County Down because it is not a good test, but an undisputed great one.

Royal County Down Fast Facts

Par: 71

Yardage: 7,186 yards

Rating: 75

Royal County Down designer: Old Tom Morris, George Combe, Harry Vardon, Harry Colt

Royal County Down course record: 65, Maximilian Kieffer

Past Championships at Royal County Down GC

2015 Irish Open

A welcome and exciting course debut for the European Tour. There was disappointment that Rory McIlroy and Sergio Garcia missed the cut, but in brutal conditions there was a grandstand finish, with Soren Kjeldsen overcoming Eddie Pepperell and Bernd Wiesberger in a play-off.

2012 Palmer Cup

The annual match between the best of America and Europe’s college golfers witnessed a stunning comeback by the home team. Trailing 10-6 heading into the final eight singles they won 7.5 points to win by three. Thomas Pieters starred for Europe whilst Justin Thomas earned two and a half points for the visitors.

2007 Walker Cup

A star-studded match was tied six points apiece after the first day only for the Americans, with Dustin Johnson, Rickie Fowler, Webb Simpson and Billy Horschel among them, to take control in the Sunday foursomes, winning all four. Led by Rory McIlroy and Danny Willett GB&I fought back, but eventually lost by one point.

2000 Senior British Open Championship

An emotional victory for Christy O’Connor Jr. The Irishman remains most famous for his crucial victory over Fred Couples in the 1989 Ryder Cup, but this was a highlight of his individual career, not only successfully defending the title, but doing so on home soil exactly 25 years after winning the Irish Open.

1999 Amateur Championship

Six-time European Tour winner Simon Dyson led the field during the strokeplay rounds, but it was his fellow Englishman Graeme Storm, a two-time victor on tour, who prevailed in the matchplay section.

1970 Amateur Championship

The first time the course hosted Britain and Ireland’s leading amateur event and a fifth and final victory for the dominant Michael Bonnallack. He chose not to turn professional, instead becoming secretary of the Royal and Ancient from 1983 to 1999.

1899 British Ladies Amateur Championship

The first major event to be played at the course and victory for 17-year-old May Hezlet, still famed as Ireland’s greatest female golfer.

Key Holes

Hole 2

Par 4, 444 yards: The first hole is, weather-dependent, a cosy start, a par-5 that offers a birdie chance, but the second tee introduces the golfer to the reality of the course. After the majesty of the beach views from the elevated tee box in the dunes, it is vital to find the fairway ahead of threading an approach over a wall of dunes and between the bunkers and grassy hollows that surround the green.

Hole 4

Par 3, 229 yards: The first three holes play along the line of the beach, but the fourth turns full circle. Suddenly the awe-inspiring backdrop of the Mourne Mountains reveals itself and so does a potentially treacherous tee shot to a distant green. Any shot missing it is threatened by craggy bunkers.

Hole 12

Par 5, 525 yards: If the wind is with the player this hole represents a golden opportunity for birdie and even eagle. But if the wind is hurting then the challenge becomes acute. A narrow fairway immediately becomes harder to hit.

Hole 18

Par 5, 548 yards: The last half dozen holes are routed on flatter terrain and it is most obvious on the final challenge. The Mourne Mountains are again prominent, as is the clubhouse and a distant spire. But concentration is essential with the fairway and green peppered by yet more gnarly sand-traps.

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Royal County Down Golf Club – What Famous Players Say

Ernie Els:

As pros we talk about our list of best links golf courses and County Down is always in the top three. It’s just the most unbelievable layout, so natural. It’s unbelievable land for a golf course, the dunes are unreal.

Rory McIlroy:

If you play for the front half of the greens, you’re going to have a chance. If you short-side yourself there is trouble from run-offs and fall-offs around the greens. If you make par on the difficult holes, 50% of the time you’d win the hole.

Darren Clarke:

It’s still a sensational test, irrelevant of technology and how far it’s moved on. It’s draws, fades, hold it against the wind, use the ground; that’s what it’s all about here.

Graeme McDowell:

There’s obviously a lot of talk about whether here or Royal Portrush is the best in Northern Ireland. For obvious reasons I say Portrush, my home. But this is a tougher golf course. I love the elevation changes. I love the bunkering.

Martin Kaymer:

To play well here you have to be very, very creative. You have to expand your mindset. You have to be very open.

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Matt Cooper

Expert on Golf

Matt Cooper has been a sports journalist since 2009 with his work appearing at ESPN, Sky Sports, NBC, Sporting Life and the Planet Sport Network among many others, in addition to guest appearances on the BBC and CNN. Although a specialist in golf, who has traveled the world to cover the sport, Matt has also covered rugby, cricket, football and the Olympics. Email: [email protected]