Royal County Down Golf Club (Championship Links)

Golf Course Review by: Billy Satterfield

The Takeaway:  An elite level links with few peers and consistently recognized as one of the top ten golf courses in the world. No British Isles golfing resumé is complete devoid of teeing it up on this treasure. A beautiful seaside setting, gorse and heather laden terrain, some blind shots, and incredible variety rolled up into one marvelous masterpiece.   Grade A+

Quick Facts

Designer:  Old Tom Morris in 1890

Cost:  £60 - £220 (£45 for a senior caddie, £30 for a standard caddie, £60 for a forecaddie for the group) Click for current rates

Course Website:  Royal County Down Golf Club's official website    Phone Number:  +44 28 4372 3314

Directions:  Get here! - 36 Golf Links Rd, Newcastle BT33 0AN, UK

Signature Hole:  9th - 483 Yard Par 4 - One of the most famous golf holes in the world and the most dramatic found at Royal County Down. If you've read much about Royal County Down then you know that there are some blind shots to contend with throughout the round and you have a blind landing area here. The tee box sits below the crest of the fairway and requires a carry over the gnarly grasses located between you and the fairway. Upon reaching the crest of the fairway players are afforded a spectacular view of the entire golf course with the ocean off to the left, the back nine to the right, and the 9th fairway ahead and below as it travels from the base of the large dune you are standing on out to the green. From the back tee a 250 yard poke is required to carry the grassy waste area that links the initial fairway to the descending fairway ahead. 35 yards shy of the green are two bunkers that pinch the fairway to an extremely tight window as the large dunes on the right loom in. Reaching this green in regulation is a feat few players manage while playing Royal County Down, but after playing such a remarkable hole, you don't really care about your score.

9th Hole at Royal County Down Golf Club (Championship Links) (483 Yard Par 4)
9th Hole at Royal County Down Golf Club (Championship Links) (483 Yard Par 4)

Photos:  See additional photos of Royal County Down Golf Club (Championship Links)

Accolades:  Ranked 1st on Golf Digest Ireland's 2016 Top 100 list and 1st in the world. Ranked 1st on Golf magazine's Top 18 course in Ireland list and 5th in the world.

What to Expect:  Long heralded as one of the finest golf courses in the world, if not the absolute finest, Royal County Down is a seaside links experience that every dedicated golfer should embark on. The walking-only course has a whimsical setting with the links connecting the town to the sea and players being afforded views of the ocean, hillside, and the famous Slieve Donard hotel. While some links courses can get a bit of a monochrome look when the fescue takes on a similar tint as the fairways, Royal County Down boasts a variety of foliage (mainly heather and gorse) outside the short grass which delivers contrast and color throughout the year. In fact, the coloring and way the course played felt like Merion in a better setting and on steroids. A handful of blind shots exist throughout the course which are often marked with a painted stone or a towering target to give players an indication of the safest line to take. While some players don't enjoy blind shots, I find them to be an intriguing element to be uncovered throughout a round and Royal County Down's are a true pleasure. Conditioning at the course is a near perfect blend of firm, fast fairways while still delivering greens that are receptive to both aerial and ground game shots. Long considered one of the most difficult tests in the British Isles, RCD's location logistics is the only thing that holds it back from being on the British Open rota. In addition, Royal County Down is one of the oldest and most revered clubs in Ireland with tradition abounding as can be experienced through the plethora of photos and historic documents found on the clubhouse walls. Caddies and pull carts are available for hire as you embark on one of the world's finest links courses.

By the Numbers:

Tees Par Yardage SSS Slope
Championship (Blue) 71 7186 75.0 142
Medal (White) 71 6878 74.0 131
Yellow (Stableford) 71 6675 73.0 126
Ladies (Red) 77 6249 77.0 148


Individual Hole Analysis

Best Par 3:  4th - 229 Yards - Rory McIlroy's favorite hole at Royal County Down is this impressive one-shotter that descends nearly 20 feet from tee to green. From the highpoint of the golf course you can't help but stand in awe as you take in your surroundings at the one of the finest and most historic courses the world has ever known. Seven bunkers stand between you and the green while an additional pair of bunkers and rough mounds beleaguer the putting surface. It is a challenging and stirring hole that you won't soon forget.

4th Hole at Royal County Down Golf Club (Championship Links) (229 Yard Par 3)
4th Hole at Royal County Down Golf Club (Championship Links) (229 Yard Par 3)

Best Par 4:  15th - 468 Yards - A testing two-shotter awaits you at the 15th as you begin to traverse your way back to the clubhouse from the furthest point away from the starting hole. From the back tee you have 285 yards of room to hit out to until the fairway is pinched in from each side and creates nothing more than a walkway of short grass to go through before widening again enroute to the green. A trio of bunkers look back at your from your approach shot and give the deceptive look of being near the green yet they are all 20 - 45 yards short of it. While it may seem those bunkers aren't in play, they really are brilliantly placed. The green falls off on all sides and thus creates a tiny target to hit with a long iron in your hand and nearly impossible when the wind is up. Players that elect to lay up short of the green in an effort to get up and down from the front quickly bring the bunkering into play. For a hole that isn't often reached in regulation, the thought process of this hole is brilliant.

15th Hole at Royal County Down Golf Club (Championship Links) (468 Yard Par 4)
15th Hole at Royal County Down Golf Club (Championship Links) (468 Yard Par 4)

Best Par 5:  1st - 539 Yards - Among the best opening holes in the world, especially for a par five, RCD starts off with a quality three-shotter that quickly sets the tone for your round. Players gaze down the first fairway as they survey the surrounding moonscape terrain and listen to the waves rolling in on the coastline of Dundrum Bay that frames the right side of the hole. If you are going for the green in two then you'll need to thread your approach through the 14 yard wide entrance to this deep, but narrow, putting surface. Carding an early birdie here is the type of insurance you'll need for the rest of your round at one of the world's best golf skill examinations.

1st Hole at Royal County Down Golf Club (Championship Links) (539 Yard Par 5)
1st Hole at Royal County Down Golf Club (Championship Links) (539 Yard Par 5)

Birdie Time:  16th - 337 Yard Par 4 - The only driveable par four at Royal County Down comes late in the routing with an opportunity to put a bandaid on the wounds suffered earlier in the round. The tee shot plays slightly downhill which should help generate some extra distance, especially when played downwind. Players coming up short of the putting surface will have a modified wedge shot to a green that features small, deep bunkers on either side of the green's front edge. There aren't a lot of generous birdie opportunities at RCD, so taking advantage of this one is a must.

16th Hole at Royal County Down Golf Club (Championship Links) (337 Yard Par 4)
16th Hole at Royal County Down Golf Club (Championship Links) (337 Yard Par 4)

Bogey Beware:  13th - 446 Yard Par 4 - The most celebrated hole on the back nine and an exemplary display of how Mother Nature is golf's best designer if you will let her reign supreme; even if it means the occasional blind shot as is found at the 13th. From the tee the play would see to be up the left side where the fairway travels to its longest point, or perhaps laying up short of the crater bunker impending on the right side. From the right you have a blind approach but are afforded a large area short of the green to miss to while coming in from the left leaves a longer approach with a greenside bunker to contend with and gorse gobbling anything that tails left of the putting surface. The green features the nastiest putting surface on the property with more 3-putts occurring here than anywhere else at Royal County Down. An unforgiving tee shot, blind approach, gorse surrounded amphitheater green, and an incredibly difficult putting surface add up to the one of the best, and certainly the most difficult, holes at RCD.

13th Hole at Royal County Down Golf Club (Championship Links) (446 Yard Par 4)
13th Hole at Royal County Down Golf Club (Championship Links) (446 Yard Par 4)