Royal County Down

Royal County Down

Royal County Down Golf Club

Royal County Down Golf Club | NCG Top 100s: GB&I Golf Courses

Beauty, thy name is Royal County Down. The Championship Course is as good as it gets. A course that can melt the imagination in photographs. Take one peek at the Mourne Mountains, the Murlough Nature Reserve and the Irish Sea and try to stop yourself from immediately adding it to the bucket list.  

On arrival, it is everything you hoped and more. Though it might be a cliché to say it, Royal County Down simply takes your breath away – stretching along the shores of Dundrum Bay, zigzagging back and forth with incredible vistas that assault the senses. 

Situated in the town of Newcastle, some 35 miles south of Belfast, Northern Ireland’s finest course is a dreamy, awe-inspiring layout. If you do not immediately fall in love with it then you should never waste your time playing links golf again.

And while it looks the part, it most certainly plays it too. The narrowest ribbons of fairways thread their way through as impressive a set of sand dunes as could be imagined. The fairways are surrounded by purple heather and golden gorse, so beautiful to look at but so punishing for any who may stray from the prescribed path.

The ‘bearded’ bunkers are world famous and feature overhanging lips of marram, red fescue and heather. The greens are fast and many are domed, rejecting any shot lacking conviction and gently shedding approaches not sent into the very heart of the large greens. This is a true test of any player’s command of the traditional bump and run, the preferred way to play any links.


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A Brief History of Royal County Down Golf Club

The Royal County Down Golf Club was founded in 1889. It was initially established as a nine-hole course designed by Old Tom Morris, The following year, Morris oversaw an expansion to 18-holes, creating the routing that still exists to this day. 

Harry Colt visited the course in 1908 to further the pedigree of the layout, adding an additional layer of strategy, and elevating it to one of the most lauded courses of the day. 

The club received its 'Royal' designation when the Prince of Wales (later King Edward VIII) became its patron. Since then, it has been officially known as the Royal County Down Golf Club, and has been frequently seen as the best course in Ireland, as well as being one of the best golf courses in the world.

Royal County Down Golf Club Review | NCG Top 100s: GB&I Golf Courses

Welcome to Royal County Down

You may think an opening par 5 would ease you into your round at the world's best golf course. But the opener at Royal County Down sets the tone for the rest of your day; asking difficult questions from the moment you step onto the tee. Can you keep it between the dunes, allowing your second shot to be played along some of the finest links turf on the planet? If so, feel free to have a crack at this green – although any wind whipping across the fairway from the Irish Sea will complicate matters.

With the opening three holes all heading in the same direction (away from the clubhouse), a wind blown from the north can require several long approaches. The Par 4 2nd and 3rd holes combine to stretch out to well over 900-yards from the back tees.

Poor shots will be punished, as will some good ones too. But keep patient, as many a good round has started with three fives on the scorecard here.

The Postcard Picture

Royal County Down's position as one of the best golf courses in the world lends itself to being photographed regularly. The picture that will be most familiar is taken from the tee on the long par-3 4th. With the Mourne Mountains dominating the view back towards the clubhouse, and the whole course laid out in front of you, there are few more picturesque spots in world golf.

Once you've taken in the view, it's just a simple matter of navigating this 200-yard-plus par 3. 

If needing to remove a headcover isn't your idea of a fun 'short' hole, it isn't long before something a little more comfortable comes along... at least in terms of length. Reach it you must at the 7th. Despite only stretching to 144 yards from even the Championship tees, the green falls off on all sides, making a dropped shot – or worse –inevitable.

Blind Ambition

The 9th hole at Royal County Down is another jaw-dropper. The tee shot is hugely elevated and yet blind, with the fairway hidden way below, beyond another imposing mound. 

Send your tee shot over the marker post and savour the sight of your ball framed against the backdrop of the mountains. This hole features one of the best reveals in golf. Upon reaching the top of the hill following your tee shot, the famous white clubhouse comes into view, contrasting brilliantly against the darkness of the mountains in the distance. From here, the hole becomes obvious, and leaves you questioning why you had any fear on your previous shot.

It's a difficult end to the front nine, but as the saying goes, "the hole is only blind the first time you play it" , giving you the perfect excuse to book a return visit to Royal County Down following the day's play. 

The Inward Nine

The back nine at Royal County Down starts with a par 3, and ends with a par 5.

There are a couple more scorable holes on the inward holes, with the drivable par-4 16th a particularly obvious opportunity. 

The only real water hazard on the course (other than the Irish Sea!) comes into play in the middle of the 17th hole, demanding an element of strategy as you come towards the end of your round.

And before you know it, you're standing on the 18th hole, a par 5 that winds to the left and is flanked by more than a dozen bunkers along the fairway.

Much like the 1st, a ball on the fairway will allow for a crack at the green, although you'll need a following breeze to get home, let alone your most accurate fairway wood, if you are dreaming of a closing attempt at an eagle.

Where is Royal County Down Golf Club located?

Royal County Down is located in County Down in Northern Ireland, in the town of Newcastle. It is easily reached from Belfast, and is bordered by the Irish Sea.

Is Royal County Down Open To Non-Members?

In a word; yes. However, tee times can be hard to obtain due to the club's international appeal. We'd recommend looking to make a booking as far as possible in advance to increase your likelihood of finding availability.

A round at Royal County Down will set you back £325 throughout the summer months, with availability coming through the week and on Sunday afternoons. An extra £100 on top of that allows two rounds in a day.

Is There A Pro Shop At Royal County Down?

Yes - and it is fantastic! The shop is run by the Royal County Down Professional Team and features all the latest equipment and apparel; ensuring you needn't head out on to the course unprepared.

Is There A Choice Of Tee Boxes At Royal County Down?

Fear not, Royal County Down offers no less than five separate teeing options on each hole, meaning that the course can be enjoyed, whatever your level.

In addition to the Championship Links, Royal County Down is also home to the Annesley Links. The latter also has 18 holes but is much shorter, albeit with some tiny green sites.

Visit Royal County Down's website here.
Go back to the NCG Top 100s Homepage.