Like the much underrated Valley golf course at Royal Portrush, the Annesley at Royal County Down is often overlooked by visiting golfers when they make the pilgrimage to play one of the finest links layouts in the land.
It’s a very short layout at only 4,548 yards from the back tees, which is hardly surprising when you consider there are no par five holes, only one par four measures in excess of 350 yards and six of the holes are par threes.
Nonetheless, it’s a challenging test where your driver can remain in the locker room as you negotiate your way round the heaving fairways that twist and turn in the duneland beside the Championship course.
The best holes are found between the 5th and 15th holes where short, narrow fairways play to small, undulating greens – some visible, some blind – that are firm and fast enough to ensure the par of 66 is rarely matched.
Mackenzie & Ebert carried out a significant redesign of the Annesley course in 2015, adding three new holes around the turn, with the fairways of these holes routed through the towering dunes in the northeast corner of the property.
At only 4,500 yards, this is very much the low-fat, sugar-free version of Royal County Down. The Annesley is the place where you should go to rediscover your pride and get some well earned respite after the punishment you’ve likely taken on the Championship course.
Mid-irons are the smart choice from the tee which will typically leave wedge shots into what can only be described as tiny greens. But whilst the greens are minute, all of the character from the big brother course still bleeds through to the Annesley, where bunkering styles and green surrounds are reminiscent of the Championship links.
The course starts with nothing extraordinary, a slow tease if you will, but then a run of the most amazing short holes starts at the 5th and continues through to the 13th. Here the golfer will find plenty of funk. Crooked doglegs are abundant, and there's a coastal stretch as well as the opportunity to circumvent one massive dune, but ultimately plenty of awkward shots need to be handled with care throughout due to a combination of saddleback, tucked, and raised green sites.
The Annesley will offer plenty of birdie opportunities, but there are perhaps even more opportunities to look foolish on a short course you’ll feel you should be eating up. And importantly, it’s a course you should be traversing in around 2.5 hours, so there’s no excuse to bypass it when in town. I’m not going to go as far as to say the Annesley is a must-play, but despite its shortcomings in length, if you consider yourself to be anything more than a big-game trophy hunter then it would be silly to avoid it.
I’m not really bothered if you’ve crossed an ocean, a sea or just the Irish border to make it to Royal County Down but missing a quick spin on their relief course would be a mistake. It’s a wee course full of character, contains some exceptionally good golf and is played over the same joyous terrain as its big brother.
It is a perfect introduction to golf at Newcastle, or a lively pick-me-up after a lazy lunch, and one I would urge you to take. If played before the main event, in a similar way the St. Olaf at Cruden Bay does, it gives tantalising glimpses of the real thing which simply serves to whet the appetite.
It has holes which run through dune-lined valleys in a manner that hides them away from the main course and you are therefore unknown to golfers playing the championship links. You feel part of the action going on around you but appear almost invisible, at least imperceptible to those nearby.
A new loop of holes (9, 10 & 11) has recently been added and whilst this trio don’t quite match the exquisite run of holes from three through to eight they are highly entertaining, visually satisfying and I’m told by a local caddy a huge improvement to the ones that were lost when a new practice ground was constructed wiping out some of the original holes.
In short, the Annesley course is short! Measuring just 4,594 yards at its maximum this par quirky 67, 18-hole layout places a premium on accuracy over brawn. There are a clutch of short par-fours in the range of 250 to 330 yards which offer plenty of cunning and require some significant shot-making as well as a healthy dose of luck. They are mostly played to narrow, undulating fairways before pitches to wonderful green-sites. The 4th, 5th, 6th & 8th are all brilliantly clever, mischievous two-shotters which require your full attention.
There are also five excellent short par-threes, none longer than 140-yards and all very individual. The 3rd & 7th are the pick of the bunch although the 14th is perhaps the most dramatic played over a large valley.
Ed is the founder of Golf Empire – click the link to read his full review.
Played it for the first time back in August (only because, despite our begging and pleading, we couldn't get squeezed on to the Championship course :-) The course is short, quirky and somewhat fun, especially if one is fresh to the country and looking for a challenging "warm up" round. However, off the tee, the majority present relatively blind landing areas with sever sloping; so, if you catch a windy day and have never played there before, iron shots will need to be PERFECT or you WILL lose your ball (save your Pro V1s ... and hit your Pinnacles there!)
A really enjoyable authentic links experience. This is a very different course to the Championship course but as long you don't expect the absolute topnotch and challenging golf like you would on the main course you should have a good time. This isn't an easy course just because it's short.
After a relatively unspectacular start, things get interesting on the 4th hole. From thereon in the holes may be short (par 4s are typically around 250-320 yards), but few of them are really driveable as there is so much trouble around the greens. You therefore end up playing to areas of safety , and then the fun starts. The greens are devilish, and quite small. Therefore on a windy day, target golf is usually not the best option, leaving you the chance to try and be creative, hitting bump and run shots up ridges and banks and using the slopes to bring the ball on to the green.
The stretch from holes 4-11 is great, with a driveable par 4 on the 8th, then some holes around the big dunes down by the beach.
It really is a lot of fun, and if youre coming from afar you are likely to want to play the main track next door, but if you have the time its definitely worth a round on the Annesley. It's short so you can whizz around fairly quickly and would be especially great to bring the shorter hitter who may be intimidated by the full length beast next door.
Quirky in places but 100% authentic golf. Three new holes (9,10 and 11) are nothing short of magnificent. Like playing in a Cathedral even though they measure not much more than a lay-up and a flick x2, and a flick of a Par 3. The definition and quality of presentation have to be seen to be believed and you will not see better greens anywhere in the world!!