Royal County Down (Championship) - Down - Northern Ireland

Royal County Down Golf Club,
Newcastle,
County Down,
BT33 0AN,
Northern Ireland


  • +44 (0) 28 4372 3314


According to the results of a Top 100 survey, Royal County Down is the most scenic golf course in Britain & Ireland.

There is always lively discussion about which golf course is better than another, but none is more passionate than the debate over the relative merits of Royal County Down and Royal Portrush. If you haven’t played either of them yet, we recommend a golf trip to Northern Ireland; you certainly won’t be disappointed by Royal County Down.

Royal County Down Golf Club is at Newcastle, a little holiday town nestling at the feet of the majestic Mountains of Mourne. It’s an exhilarating location for a classic links golf course where the Bay of Dundrum sweeps out into the Irish Sea and where the mighty peak of Slieve Donard (3,000 ft.) casts its shadow over the town.

A Scottish schoolteacher called George L. Baillie, who was on a personal mission to establish golf courses, originally laid out the first nine holes at Newcastle and they opened for play in 1889. Later that year, Old Tom Morris was paid the modest sum of four guineas to extend the course and 18 holes were ready for play in 1890. Harry Vardon modified the course in 1908, the same year King Edward VII bestowed royal patronage on the club.

Royal County Down maintains tradition; the “Hat Man” still mixes the pairings for the Saturday matches (foursomes in the winter and four-balls in the summer) as he did around 100 years earlier.

Bernard Darwin commented that the greens “lie, moreover, in a good many instances, in those pleasing little hollows which are the most adroit flatterers in the whole world of golf.” In 1926 Harry Colt was commissioned to make further alterations to the course which included addressing the gathering nature of the original greens and reducing the number of blind drives.

Old Tom however deserves most credit for the layout and he was presented with an idyllic piece of ground on which to design a golf course. The sand dunes are rugged but beautifully clad in purple heather and yellow gorse, the fairways are naturally undulating, shaped by the hands of time. The greens are small and full of wicked borrows.

Measuring nearly 7,200 yards from the back tees, Royal County Down is a brute. It’s a mystery that this fantastic course, with one of the finest outward nine holes in golf, has never hosted an Open. Factor in the ever-changing wind and you have as stern a test as any Open Championship venue.

The 4th and 9th holes are both universally admired. The 4th must be one of the most scenic long par threes in golf described as follows by one commentator: “Innumerable gorse bushes, ten bunkers, three mountain peaks, and one spire equal the most magnificent view in British golf”. The 9th, a long par four, is perhaps one of the world’s most photographed holes, the line from the elevated tee is directly at the Slieve Donard peak and the sweeping fairway lies eighty feet below—magnifique.

Sure, the course has a level of eccentricity; there are still a number of blind drives and some of the bunkers are fringed with coarse grass, which gathers the ball with alarming regularity, but this simply adds to the charm. If a measure of a great golf course is the number of holes that you can remember, then Royal County Down is one of the greatest courses of them all.

Architect Martin Ebert kindly supplied the following short update at the start of 2017:

Already in play are changes to the 17th on the Championship course made by Mackenzie & Ebert. We created a practice ground to the right of the hole but have built a line of screening rough-covered dunes along the right of the hole.

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Reviews for Royal County Down (Championship)

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Description: Royal County Down Golf Club is at Newcastle, a little holiday town nestling at the feet of the majestic Mountains of Mourne. It’s an exhilarating location for a classic links golf course... Rating: 9.6 out of 10 Reviews: 127
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faisal
I played Royal Portrush and RCD on alternate days and while RCD was definitely up there, I preferred Royal Portrush both for the views and as a test of golf (even though I shot a better score on RCD). Having said that RCD has a certain magic and anyone who is in London can make an overnight trip to Belfast and play both courses. It really should be resurrected in the British open rota. Once the wind gets going, those pros won't know what hit them. The greens were some of the fastest I've played.
July 17, 2008
8 / 10
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stephen voce
This is it - The Holy grail! Nothing compares, played Pine Valley a few years ago, not in the same league. RCD has the lot, to not stage The Open here is a disgrace.
June 13, 2008
10 / 10
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jeff brown
Had the pleasure of playing RCD on May 26 after playing European on the 25th and Portmarnock the 27th. Conditions were not the best on any day, but RCD at least was dry. As a California native, having played most of the best here and up to Bandon Dunes a number of times, and with the Old Course, Carnoustie and Kingsbarns under my belt last year - RCD is simply the best course I have seen. I absolutely loved it (despite playing horribly). There is only one hole that I would describe as ordinary (the final par 3, before the turn for home), the balance were memorable in their own rights. I loved the mix of holes, routing, views, bunkering, etc. Simply a magical experience. My playing partner mentioned Muirfield and Royal Dornoch as competition, so we will have to see.
May 29, 2008
10 / 10
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Tim Gorman
February 24, 2009
Dornoch is worth the effort and definitely shares a 'special' feel a la RCD. Muirfield however, is overrated and certainly is no better than Gullane 1 or the west Links at North Berwick - very fine courses all!
Jim McCann

Yellow gorse is only seen for a few weeks in the early part of the year and it was in full bloom when I played here in late April, adding a wonderful extra dimension to the RCD experience. Royal County Down - Photo by Jim McCannUnlike my previous visit when portakabins were in use during refurbishment and I could not even get a packet of nuts or crisps to eat after my round, the clubhouse was now fully refurbished and the pro shop staff extended me a very warm welcome as a visitor.

I could hardly blame the wind for not scoring well this time as it was a dull, calm day but those fearsome bearded bunkers (which I described last time as “fairly straightforward and not too deep” – was I drunk when I wrote that?) and aforementioned gorse conspired to punish each and every shot that strayed from the fairway or missed the intended target around the green.

I agree with other reviewers who mention the dunes that could have been incorporated into the original design and the relatively weak closing holes. but if you have been badly beaten up on the earlier part of the course (like me, for the second time) then you need a little respite before you finish the round.

The fantastic view from half way along the elevated 9th fairway, the intimidating drive on the 11th tee and the lovely short par four 16th hole are all golfing highlights on a course that isn't just magical, it’s positively spellbinding!

Jim McCann

May 05, 2008
10 / 10
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kahty
As a local golfer I think you cannot underestimate rcd - it's the best front nine I have ever played. In my experience, I have played Cypress Point and Torrey Pines and none of these are up to rcd. Many a round have been ended at the tricky 13th as I know all too well playing off 7 round this course. It's a course well worth playing at least once - enjoy it even if the price is a bit steep.
April 29, 2008
10 / 10
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Cédric
This is simply my favorite course on earth! Not the fairest test on the links planet due to all the blind shots (Pros might prefer Portmarnock or the Ailsa regarding that matter) but nonetheless a course that every golfer should play at least once. For it is absolutely unique! The front 9 must be the best on the planet, if not tell me please where that would be! If I’d want to be picky, I’d say that 17th is the weakest hole and that both 17th and 18th would gain a lot if gorse was set on the alongside the fairways to isolate it from the Annesley course. Guys in the Pro shop are wonderfully welcoming and the newly refurbished club house is really classy. A delightful experience, rare enough to be said, played with almost no wind! But I’d go out in any weather and surely will repeat the pilgrimage to Ulster regularly. Cedric
April 28, 2008
10 / 10
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RJ Thompson
Played before the 2007 Walker Cup so the condition was amazing, with the greens cut short and rolled daily. I grew up on a US Open course so not afraid of quick greens but my 30ft eagle putt on the first only to be overshadowed by my 25ft birdie putt and 18ft par putt...on the same hole. The best opening 9 holes is golf anywhere. Having now played much of the Irish circuit, this is a cut above the rest. Looking forward to another test this summer.
April 12, 2008
10 / 10
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SLS
Had the great pleasure of playing RCD in 60 mph gales last week, and I must say it was the most fun I have had on a golf course. The front nine is extremely dramatic - certainly the finest front nine of any course I have played (and I have played a good chunk of the Top 100). Set amongst hauntingly beautiful dunes, there is real atmosphere from the very first hole. Some slight criticisms: the back nine are inevitably weaker then the front nine (but are by no means weak); perhaps too many blind tee shots for the purists; and poor warm up facilities (nice practice greens but no range).
October 19, 2007
10 / 10
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d justice
Not sure how this golf course has such a high ranking. It is a good golf course and it is a good test of golf but for me and my three playing partners it has something lacking. Some good holes and original bunkering but having traveled from Scotland to play it I was left wondering what all the fuss is about. Hope I don't upset anyone with my comments but for me RCD has no magic.
October 10, 2007
6 / 10
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Chris Jones
October 11, 2007
Wow...all about opinions I know but no magic? Difficult to relate to this review ....
RCD Fan
October 19, 2007
Having played a few times, this review is lost on me!
Jacko
July 23, 2010
Are you sure you were at the right course?????
Gregor Chapman
July 17, 2011
Yes, I was left rather underwhelmed. I think the hype of recent years is due to Tiger's patronage.Gimmicky but not a championship links
Nick
July 17, 2011
Did the above reviewer even play the golf course? Are you sure you didnt play the Annesley course, which even at that contains some magical holes? Is the view from the first fairway out towards dundrum bay not majestic? Is the sense of excitement one feels as you come down off the blind tee shot not magical? How about the view from the 4th tee? is this not magical? The bearded bunkers? The bowling green like fairways? How can so many of my fellow scribes be so wrong when they describe the view from the 9th tee as being one of the most special on any golf course in the world? I havent even spoken spoken about the actual strength of the golf course, which is without doubt one of the finest layouts on the planet. The 3rd, 4th, 8th, 9th, 13,15th consistently creep into any collection of ther world's best holes. I am all for free speech and am an advocate of the very particular subjective nature of opinions on golf course, as so many factors can influence the golfer's opinion. But the words used above to describe one of the world's greatest courses that is consistently ranked in the world top 10, is pure golfing ignorance.
paul turner
I’ve played Pine Valley (world #1) and Royal County Down beats it. The terrain is a perfect mix of spectacular with smaller scale undulation and the holes have both tactical interest and quirk: twisting and turning, going up over ridges and along valleys. The bunkers are peerless in links golf, each one a fearsome hazard and beautiful too.
August 31, 2007
10 / 10
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