Location: Newcastle, Northern Ireland
Course architect: Old Tom Morris
Renovated: George Combe (1900), Harry Vardon (1908), Harry Colt (1926)
Par: 71 / 76 (Women, red tees)
Tee – Yardage | Slope:
Blue – 7,186 | 142
White – 6,878 | 131
Yellow – 6,675 | 126
Green – 6,249 | 122
Red – 6,249 | 148
Weekday morning | Sunday afternoons: $$$$$ [$300, through October]
Caddie service: Yes
Walker friendly: Yes
Starter: This is currently ranked the top golf course in the world by Golf Digest, and Rory McIlroy calls Royal County Down his all-time favorite golf course. Tom Watson has said that the outward nine holes are a “tremendous test of golf and as fine a nine holes as I have ever played.” Royal County Down overtook New Jersey’s Pine Valley Golf Club in the latest 2017 ranking.
Play because …: The great memories will last a lifetime. You’ll also be walking into history, playing a golf course that was first designed by Old Tom Morris for a modest sum. The golf course was originally planned as a way to increase use of the new train service to Newcastle, a small seaside resort in Northern Ireland that today still has fewer than 10,000 residents. Instead, the golf course has become a worldwide attraction, having been host to championship golf since 1899.
Takeaway: The scenery is spectacular, especially with the Mountains of Mourne in the background on several tee shots. There are other holes that are defined by blind tee shots and views of the Irish Sea to the east. Put the ego and expectations away, and enjoy every challenging shot and moment. Don’t forget to bring plenty of layers of clothing, including the rain gear.
THE RATINGS [1 to 10 scale; 10 being the highest]
Food | Beverage: 8.0
Pro shop: 8.0
Pace of play: 6.5
THE COURSE | Scorecard
Best par 3: No 7 (144 | 135 | 125 | 113 yards)
This is the shortest hole on the course, yet it has been referred to as the shortest par 5 in golf. The only ideal landing spot is on the front right-hand portion of the green. Any place other than that will flirt with trouble. Go left and the sloping green will throw a shot into the large greenside bunker. Go long and there is a steep drop-off that will leave a difficult up-and-down. With an ever-present breeze blowing from right to left, the smart golfer will play just off the right side and allow the wind to draw the shot back.
Best par 4: No 16 (337 | 318 | 300 | 276 yards)
The ideal tee shot is in the left portion of the fairway, avoiding the three fairway bunkers on the right and leaving a short iron to a tricky green. The green slopes from front to back, so just find the front center of the green and then take aim at a birdie opportunity on this slick green. If one of the five bunkers is found on this hole, you’ll walk away shaking your head. The locals like to say this is one of the best match-play holes in golf.
Best par 5: No 12 (525 | 478 | 469 | 455 yards)
A good tee ball here can lead to a possible birdie. The hole is mostly straightforward, but the green is protected by a narrow opening with bunkers left and right, each about 30 yards from the putting surface. The conservative play is to lay-up short of the greenside bunkers. But for big hitters and skilled players, it will be hard to resist the remote possibility of eagle.
Rater: Craig Smith