How many of the golfers who flock every year to the magnificent links of Royal County Down are aware that there is another great Irish golfing experience to be had just a few miles along the south east coast of Down in the fishing port of Ardglass?
It is, quite simply, one of the most spectacular courses on the coastline of Ireland, with dramatic elevation changes that offer stunning views of the Irish Sea from every hole as they wind their way from the clubhouse out along the cliffs to a craggy headland then back again.
Arglass Golf Club was formed in 1896 when members fashioned a 7-hole course which was soon extended to form a 9-hole layout. It was not until 1970 that the number of holes on the course were doubled to a full 18-hole configuration. The course is kept in tiptop condition with well-tended fairways, tricky pot bunkers and fast, true greens.
Shortly after the club’s Centenary, a major decision was made to remove three holes – the back-to-back par five 5th and 6th, along with the short 17th – and replace them with three exciting new holes at the furthest point from the clubhouse, creating a wonderful new loop from the new 9th to 11th holes.
From Where Golf is Great – the finest courses
of Scotland and Ireland
, James W Finegan commented: “No more than six holes
are authentic undulating linksland; the other dozen are rather meadowy. But
virtually the entire eighteen is routed over high ground, with the result that
the views – across the Irish Sea to the Isle of Man, down over Coney Island
Bay, and south to the Mountains of Mourne – are intoxicating. Simply to be
abroad on Ardglass is a delight… Admittedly, Ardglass is not a great golf
course. But the game here is nonetheless rewarding, studded with Bernard Darwin’s
‘pleasurable excitement’ in a setting of surpassing beauty. I cannot imagine
Royal County Down and not finding the time for a game at Ardglass.”
The opening five holes at Ardglass are truly memorable as they are routed along the edge of the cliff tops. The signature hole on the course is played early – the 167-yard par three 2nd, called “Howd’s Hole” where the tee shot is played across a rocky inlet to a seemingly small, distant putting surface. Another thrilling par three is the 12th, called “Cathlin” which is played from an elevated tee way above the green located 198 yards away on the edge of the rocky headland.
The clubhouse is a bit special too – a 14th century Castle that was once the home of the Fitzgeralds, Earls of Kildare – where you find the atmosphere relaxed and friendly. And if you are in any doubt about any of the above descriptions then view the stunning aerial hole by hole photographs of the course on the club website which is a great example of how to promote a course to the golfing public.
Architect Ken Kearney was appointed in 2015 to carry out a long term, multi-phase course improvement project, concentrating primarily on the bunkers.
Many overseas visitors when coming to Northern Ireland usually have the desire to book tee times at both the Championship 18 at Royal County Down and the Dunluce Course at Royal Portrush. And for good reason. Both are world class -- rightly rated among the world's best.
The flip side is that both courses are especially demanding -- pity the hapless player unable to control one's tee shots consistently. The steady diet of looking for lost balls and then reloading time after time can be fatiguing to say the least. Amazingly, just 30 minutes from County Down is a layout blessed with stellar scenery and a worthy test without all the grueling rough to inhibit one's backswing.
Ardglass Golf Club represents the kind of "fun" golf many players need to include when in Northern Ireland.
While the course is not overly long -- make no mistake about it -- winds can whip off the Irish Sea adding a good bit more to any hole played.
The 1st tee is located immediately next to a magnificent castle structure that serves as the clubhouse. With water to one's left -- the short par-4 opener turns left then uphill to a green set in a saddle with ample rough serving to thwart the half-hearted play. The best angle is from the left side but be forewarned on the high grass that awaits. Be especially mindful if the pin is placed in the deepest area of the green. Possible birdie -- yes. Possible double-bogey too! A vintage opener to get the golf blood flowing.
The 2nd is a solid 167-yard par-3 -- again with water to the left for an engaging view with a green totally exposed to the elements. The next two holes also follow the coastline -- both are short par-4's. The 4th is particularly well done -- the preferred landing area is left center which is hard to accomplish given the proximity of the rough and coastline on that side. However, if one misses too far right there is a large grass dune blocking one's path very effectively.
At the short 5th you face a drop-shot par-3 featuring a putting surface maddeningly difficult to hold with any serious wind blowing.
Once you reach the 6th the course swings inland and the holes encountered are fairly repetitive and don't really add much to the total equation. They are sufficient -- but not especially noteworthy.
That changes with the start of the back nine -- following another downhill par-3 at the 10th -- the par-5 11th is exceptional. Lined with gorse left and a parallel sea wall to the right. Birdie is possible but not without being in play right from the start. The 12th is a quality par-3 that follows and the par-4 13th is well done -- turning left in the drive zone and ending with a subtle green that is hard to fathom.
After the 13th you play another series of holes that are fairly rudimentary -- not bad per se -- just not memorable. The concluding trio is a return to quality. The 16th slides uphill -- the green elevated above the fairway. The 17th is good short par-4 with another elevated target.
The final hole is a quality closer - presenting a slew of options -- from driving the green to possibly throwing away one's round with a foolish play. At 345 yards and going downhill - the temptation is there. Do you go for the max? Do you play conservatively? The thing about 18 is that those who bailout right will face a devilish pitch uphill to a narrow green. There is a speed slot and one an fit the tee shot to this area the reward can mean an eagle putt. It's a fascinating hole because the numbers can be so varied among all players.
Ardglass provides a design that wants players to get emotionally connected -- relishing fun shots played well. Not endless slogs with little hope for success. Too many links courses have overdosed on the inclusion of brutal rough - making holes more demanding does not add to greatness but simply shows a weak crutch unnecessarily added. Elasticity in design is not about accepting mediocre plays -- but giving players space to elevate themselves. Ardglass provides such a platform -- combining scenic vistas and enough quality holes to carry the day.
by M. James Ward
The next day after playing Royal Portrush a golf tour operator said the conditions on Sunday were the worst he has experienced in his 12 years on the job. He said his group had delays due to extremely high winds. Not only were the winds howling on this day but the rain also never stopped. Ardglass was an extremely challenging test of golf and pars were very difficult to achieve on any of the holes. Would like to play Ardlass again on a less brutal day. My son and myself virtually had the course to ourselves as I could understand why not many golfers would want to play on this day, at least the time we played.
As far as the condition of the course, I thought the greens were better than Royal Portrush and high praise to the greens crew as the tees, fairways, and bunkers were all in excellent condition. My favorite holes were the holes that hugged the Irish Sea coastline and they were certainly stunning. I especially enjoyed the first 5 holes and the par 3 12th and par 4 13th. On this day the 13th was certainly the most difficult as we played directly into the howling wind and the heavy rains almost hurt walking into it. Playing the 18th hole was a nice way to end the day. The views again were stunning highlighted by the 14th century majestic castle clubhouse, the 14 flags from various countries behind the green whipping in the wind, and of course the waves crashing into the coastline.
The Ardglass Golf Club was a pleasure to play and would highly recommend it to any golfer visiting County Down as it is truly unique and stunning. Even though it never stopped raining did take some photos and videos of Ardglass. The quality was not as good as would like and had a hard time keeping the camera dry, but click here https://www.youtube.com/playlist?list=PLdqxNFhnD0pBu02133O4c6e-IP4A7QtJt if you would like to see some pictures taken on a very difficult day. Jim Brady
What a start to the round at Ardlass! The cliff top par four 1st and par three second 2nd are as good as you will encounter anywhere, with both holes demanding nothing other than mighty heroic carries across the jagged rocky coastline to far distant greens.
Another couple of thrilling par three holes follow on the front nine: the 151-yard 5th, played downhill to a green fronted by a couple of fiendishly positioned bunkers and the 219-yard 7th, where an old cottage to the right of the green stymies pushed tee shots.
Continuing the memorable par three theme, the “Amen Corner” section of the course at holes 10 to 12 begins and ends with long one-shot holes that plunge down to the water’s edge from elevated tees benched high into the hillside above.
There’s a bit of respite to be had in the latter stages as holes are routed inland, away from the coast, before the downhill 18th returns golfers back to the seaside in front of the castellated clubhouse.
It’s hard to expect Ardglass to compete against the more salubrious world class links courses in the north of Ireland but it more than holds its own with the best of them, offering an engaging cliff top test of golf that’s guaranteed to entertain from start to finish.
Played this course yesterday and absolutely loved it. The opening hole is a real cracker which you should play from the white tees to experience it properly. You’ll find that position is everything on your approach shot, with the left hand side of the fairway being the preferred landing area, but more of the rocks have to be carried. Not a long hole, but a thinkers hole, and it sets the tone nicely for a run of beautiful cliiftop holes which are reminiscent of some of the clifftop holes at Old Head of Kinsale although not quite as dramatic. The inland holes have more of a links feel to them and reminded me a little of Baltray GC. Like some of the other posters have said, the 12th is a fabulous par 3, but I think if they could raise the tee boxes a bit, more of this fabulous hole would be visible. All in all, well worth the visit, cheap green fees also. Favourite hole was without doubt the awesome par 5 11th.