For information about our top 100 list panellists CLICK HERE
To find how how we conducted the test CLICK HERE

1. Royal County Down (Championship)
County Down, Northern Ireland

Fact File:
Yards: 7,065
Par: 71
Designer: Old Tom Morris
Address: Royal County Down Golf Club, Golf Links, Newcastle, Co. Down, BT33 0AN

Royal County Down is the greatest links course in the world because it uniquely combines a setting as spectacular as Turnberry’s with a golfing challenge to equal that of Muirfield or Carnoustie. 
An hour’s drive south from Belfast, this Old Tom Morris design simultaneously sits alongside Dundrum Bay and underneath the Mountains of Mourne. 
This makes the front nine in particular an assault on the senses: everywhere you turn are sensational vistas. More importantly, the golf is also off the scale. 
On first visit, most are intimidated by the whitewashed stones that give the line on around half a dozen blind tee shots. Eventually, you come to realise that the fairways are actually generous and that this is really a second-shot golf course. Typically, the greens are raised, domed even. Invariably, they are firm and very, very fast. 
Smart approach shots are often the ones played cautiously for the front aprons, from where the easiest putts are left. Err left or right and your ball will be shed, sometimes cruelly, always inexorably. 

Just like at Dornoch, greenside shots are a matter of great skill. You can use any club in the bag but the most effective, especially given the tightness of the lies, is often the putter. You need enough pace to climb on to the putting surface but not so much that your ball rolls off the other side. 
Both nines finish in front of the clubhouse and most critics agree that the front half is the better, if only because it is nearer to the sea. 
This is almost certainly true but the only hole where the back nine truly lapses is at the 17th, where a natural pond, unseen from the tee, sits in the middle of the fairway at driving distance. 
You could argue that the best hole on the property is the 13th, a dramatic dogleg right over a heather-clad hill. 
Next summer will see the Irish Open head to Royal County Down, where Rory McIlroy is still a regular visitor. You will not see tournament golf played on a better course all year.

What our panellists said:

KE: There is just nothing much better than this. Not only in golf, but in anything in life. If a couple of holes were redesigned on the back nine this would be the greatest course on earth.

JN: Challenging, yes, but so, so beautiful.

LS: The finest golf challenge in GB&I.

CH: Great views, like Royal Birkdale there are no weak holes here.

DJ: My favourite.

MM: Exhilarating challenge and a great examination.

JM: Royal County Down embodies links golf. You need to be able to hit all the different shots, the course plays firm and fast and it is dominated by fine grass species. This is the No 1 course in Europe for me.

CC: Good but for me not as great as touted.

For information about our top 100 list panellists CLICK HERE
To find how how we conducted the test CLICK HERE

For more golf news, discussion and videos follow @NCGmagazine on Twitter, like us on Facebook, subscribe to our YouTube video channel, and sign up to our newsletter