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.

If the above article is inaccurate, please let us know by clicking here

Write a review

Reviews for Royal County Down (Championship)

Average Reviewers Score:
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
TaylorMade
Anthony McNamee
I've lived within 30 miles of RCD my whole life, but it was only a month ago that i finally got to visit. What put me off for so long? Well a few things; the stuffiness, the green fee, and a longstanding genuine preference for parkland golf. I'm also quite a cynical person - the sort who swears advertising doesn't work on them. All told, I should have been a candidate for hating the place. Instead, I absolutely adored it. Rarely in my life have I ever witnessed hype so justified. The course is simply magical. I don't need to do a blow by blow account of the course, that's been done a dozen times below. The best I can do for potential visitors is tell you to book a tee time as soon as possible. Amazing.
January 01, 2012
10 / 10
Reviewer Score:
TaylorMade

Respond to above review
  Was this review helpful?
0 people found this review helpful

Richard Smith
My thoughts upon arriving at Royal Country Down were along the lines of wondering if there was any way this magnificent course could live up to it's stellar reputation. To put it simply, the course did that and more. This was a great and unique experience for me. I have played all the past and present Open courses and most of the top links in the UK, and I agree with the placement of Royal County Down as the top course in the UK.So what makes this place so special? For me there are three factors. First, the setting is unparalleled. Between the mountains and the Bay runs a magnificent landscape of rolling dunes, just high enough to be spectacular without being impossible to walk or play. Second, the course was in fantastic shape with excellent greens, firm but well conditioned fairways, and difficult but playable rough. Finally, the course has 18 championship holes. For me #'s 3,4 and 9 stand out, but each hole has it's own unique character and challenge. After a birdie at 10 and eagle at 12 I was flirting with level par, but my finish left something to be desired. Regardless I loved this course.There's not much to complain about. Maybe a few too many blind shoots for the purist, and the final 4 holes may lack some of the drama of the rest of the course, but these are minor nits compared to the overall magnificence of this layout. All golfers, make your way to Newcastle at some point in your life. You won't regret it.Richard Smith, Knoxville, Tennessee
August 01, 2011
10 / 10
Reviewer Score:
TaylorMade

Respond to above review
  Was this review helpful?
0 people found this review helpful

Graham Methold
We played RCD on 27 June 2011. It was just a fantastic experience. The course itself is just stunning - layout, scenery, the lot. The conditioning is first class, down to the finest details. The greens were very true and in great condition and the service very warm and friendly. It is an extremely difficult course for any golfer, so don't go expecting to play to your handicap and if you do, then well done, you have played your socks off! If I were to highlight one feature that sets it apart from many courses I have played and puts it in the "good enough course to hold a Major" category, it is the difficulty around the greens. Whether it is an approach shot, a putt or a short chip, keeping the ball on the putting surface is a real challenge. Every hole is great, but holes 1-9 are just so good. If there is a better view than from hole 4? Hole 7 is a fiendishly hard 125 yd par 3 - my ball pitched 6 feet from the pin and ended all the way down by the bunker on the left. Hole 5 is superb and hole 9 has great views of Slieve Donard hotel and mountain. We also played Portrush (both Dunluce and Valley) and Portstewart - all first class golf courses but there really is something very unique about RCD that is difficult to define unless you've been there. Good fun to see some of the comments from other reviewers who give less than 6 stars. We are all entitled to our opinion, but for me anyone that gives this course less than 6 stars needs counselling!
June 29, 2011
10 / 10
Reviewer Score:
TaylorMade

Respond to above review
  Was this review helpful?
0 people found this review helpful

Francois Keiorkian
My friends and I played Royal County Down in May. Very hard golf course, but very good. Lots of wind. We liked Dunluce in Portrush, but Royal County Down was also very good. Maybe Portrush is in better condition, but Royal County Down is more difficult. 9eme is a splendide. We loved the hotel as well. Great experience. Superb Royal County Down. François K, Paris
June 06, 2011
10 / 10
Reviewer Score:
TaylorMade

Respond to above review
  Was this review helpful?
0 people found this review helpful

Kevin
Possibly the best course I will ever play seeing as the only three that seem to be considered to be better are all private clubs in the US!It really is an absolute gem of a golf course and if you get to play it on a good day then you are in for one of the very best golfing experiences.
April 04, 2011
10 / 10
Reviewer Score:
TaylorMade

Respond to above review
  Was this review helpful?
0 people found this review helpful

Ivan
Excellent - we played the course in the end of March and had an super day, right from the warm welcome to the drive back to Belfast airport. The course just has stinning hole after stunning hole. A pure joy to play and thank god I had a good driving day as the fairway bunkers and rough are penal. Admittedly with the T's slightly up one of our party Mr Meek managed an excellent 42 pionts of a 6 handicap not bad.The lunch was also excellent the only small piont is the greens were a little bumpy - but it is March !The big grip though is the course not being on Skycaddie and no markings. This is fine for top amatour competitions but we can all get the yardage with much pacing out and carefull checking of course planners. It just takes time which would be much better spent taking in the views and enjoying the course. So please can you get the course mapped and speed up play, knowing you have 125 yards to carry a bunker is one this as a 14 handicapper hitting the shot is another !
March 29, 2011
10 / 10
Reviewer Score:
TaylorMade

Respond to above review
  Was this review helpful?
0 people found this review helpful

Ivan Lipko
As some very knowledgeable person said - "the finest combination of beauty and challenge in golf"No way this course could deserve less than a 6-ball mark.
January 09, 2011
10 / 10
Reviewer Score:
TaylorMade

Respond to above review
  Was this review helpful?
0 people found this review helpful

Response
John
January 25, 2011
From the first minute you arrive at RCD, you know you're at the best! I'm an 11 handicap and played to it! Including birdies on the 8th and 13th. Yes some holes scare the living daylights out o you and some are blind....but buy a course planner at the cheapest option for £5 and you give yourself a fighting chance. Greens are the best you'll ever putt on! The bunkers are a tourist attraction. To start your round,go to the visitors locker room and admire the memorabilia and pictures of the golfing greats to get the nerves going. If you love golf....you'll never ever find a better experience. Best holes for me are 8 and 16 for pure breath taking spectacularness (if that's a word??)
DF
January 27, 2011
Good post John. Have to agree with you about the 8th - it's my favuorite par 4 in the world. The 9th gets all the accolades and rightly so but the 8th is the highlight for me. 3rd is an exceptionally good par 4 also.
Adrian Walker
Wow. Visually, this is as stimulating as some of the stunning courses on the Monterey Peninsula and in terms of design it offers variety that is rarely found elsewhere. In terms of condition this is the finest links course I have ever played and not far off the very best inland courses which might usually have the edge in the middle of the summer. I can imagine this course would be immaculate all year round! If I was being picky I could agree with some that perhaps there are a few too many forced carries and blind shots. Holes 14 and 17 don’t really do it for me as they feel slightly out of place. I realise the water on 17 is natural but it just seemed faux. This doesn’t detract from what is an incredible piece of design, but just stops it from getting top marks in my scribble book. The green complexes are not particularly undulating compared to the Colt greens at Portrush but they can be commended for being lightening fast and as true as you like. Bunkers- awesome. Fine course, great design, will be back!! Adrian W
January 08, 2011
8 / 10
Reviewer Score:
TaylorMade

Respond to above review
  Was this review helpful?
0 people found this review helpful

Jeff Kimbro
An incredible 1st trip to RCD with my father last year. The front nine is better than any front nine that I've ever played (have played at least 30 courses in the top 100). Friendliness of our caddie added to our delight. Highlite of our trip was a left handed shot (by my right handed father) from 100 yards that ended up 3 feet from the hole at #11. Can't tell you if its the best that I've ever played, but definitely in the top 3.
January 04, 2011
10 / 10
Reviewer Score:
TaylorMade

Respond to above review
  Was this review helpful?
0 people found this review helpful

Clayto Jones
For the middle handicapper, RCD is not reasonably playable. In fairness, the Club suggests it is for low handicappers. A major criterion for me for a truly top course is tjhe balance of risk-reward for a range of players from scratch to mid-20s. RCD had very friendly staff when I played with five others in July 2010 and is in a beautiful location. Some of the holes are just plain silly. Even our six-handicapper found it very frustrating to lose balls for shots very close to being well struck. The lady in our two groups was expected to hit 150m carries off the tee. How many women do you know who can do that? Why the fixation on punishment? Royal Melbourne (West) remains my benchmark for a great course for players of all abilities. I rank RCD well below many other Irish courses. A glorious walk; a most enjoyable day (and I did play quite well off 13) but as a (members') course it ranks well below Portstewart, Old Ballybunion, RDGC, Tralee (Barrow), Co Louth (Baltray) and a personal nostalgic funny favourite, Laytown and Bettystown. RCD has the scenic "wow" but I won't return on my biennial Irish pilgrimages.
November 28, 2010
4 / 10
Reviewer Score:
TaylorMade

Respond to above review
  Was this review helpful?
0 people found this review helpful

Response
Nick
November 29, 2010
I find this review extremely hard to fathom and seriously question its credibility. RCD is consistently ranked among the world's best courses and to compare it to an extremely average course such as Laytown is in my opinion borderline blasphemous.

The point which you make in relation to the ladies tees is completely mis-informed. At RCD unlike many other courses, they have tried to maintain the core aspects of the design in their addition of forward teeing grounds, this is an admirable practice, as it would completely ruin the design if a tee were placed at the foot of the 11th or second fairway, women in so many places don't play a course that resembles that from the whites or blue and as such great credit must be given for their efforts to maintain the challange while shortening the course, I believe it is also noted that unless a woman is of a certain standard(below 14 h/cap I think) then the course really isnt suitable.

On you point in relation to good shots being lost, I must ask you did you take a caddy? The only way a well hit ball can be lost at county Down is if an incorrect line is taken from the tee on a blind hole. Even though this is an old school design, with only minor tweaking over the years, you point about lack of risk reward is laughable.

First off this is a links course, at how many links courses do you see the out and out risk reward that the mis-guided/average punter speaks of? answer very few. At RCD there are more than enough holes where the golfer can take a shot on in the hope of obtaining a reward. At The second he is rewarded with a much clearer and easier shot into the green if he takes the brave route down the right side, on the 5th the player can bite off the corner with the result of a straighter shorter shot into the green. On the 12th, the player is presented with a genuine eagle opportunity should he take the green on in two, but touble lurks left and right. On 13 (one of the best par 4's on the planet) the usual shot is an iron or fairway wood which leaves an extremely difficult shot, blind and across the angle of the green, if the golfer choses driver this becomes considerably easier. the 16th, can this be more a blatant example of risk/reward,one can ply to the left with an iron, or choose to take on the green by carrying the scrub down the right.

Yes the course is punishing, especially if you get on the wrong side of some of the greens, but it is a much fairer test than the monotonous Royal Dublin (if not under par through 9, you may as well walk in). I respect the fact you have played Royal Melbourne,one of the greats, but from your review I get the picture, you have no real understanding of architecture. This is a course much from the punitive school, similar to Pine Valley or Carnoustie, just because it is difficult, doesn't mean its a poor course.

If you played it from the correct set of tees it should have been more than playable, but I will admit on a first visit it can seem daunting, especially if the weather is poor, but your opinion of the course is quite frankly way off the mark, how can so many others be so wrong?
Joey
November 29, 2010
I must completely agree with Nick on this one. To say any of the courses you've listed are even in the conversation is a bit silly. There is but one course that can compare truly in Ireland and that's the Dunluce course at Portrush. Not to take anything away from any of the courses you've listed but come on! Please give it another go and keep it straight. It is among the very best!
Thomas
August 29, 2014
The fairway markers (White Stones in the fairway ) are set for the PRO TEES ,very few people play from them ,therefore from the vistors tees you can hit a great drive clean over the stone and never see your ball again as it is the WRONG LINE. This is seldom pointed out to anyone unless they have a caddie. Not very fair to visitors .