Royal County Down

Approximately one hour south of Belfast, Royal County Down is not just Europe’s top-rated course, but at number 1 on Golf Digest’s 2016 world rankings list, it pretty well sets the global standard these days. Not surprisingly it’s a links that has attracted all the games legends at various times who have come here to pit themselves against it’s challenges

The Royal County Down Championship Course has been synonymous with the best in amateur golf. It has been the venue for the Walker Cup (2007), the Curtis Cup (1968), the Amateur Championship (twice) and, on no fewer than eight occasions, the Ladies’ British Open Amateur Championship. Not unlike Royal Dornoch (#6) for reasons of neighbouring infrastructure, the course has been less used as a major professional venue, but it has always remained a supreme challenge which attracts the best players in the world; Tiger Woods, Tom Watson and many others have played it either as part of their preparation for the Open Championship or just for sheer enjoyment. Rory McIlroy, is a frequent visitor and in 2015 he used it as the venue for the Irish Open that his foundation has helped support.



Founded 1889
Yardage Championship course 7186 yds
Par 71
Golf Digest World Ranking 4th in the world
Handicap Restrictions Players are expected to be competant


Royal County Down Championship Course

The Course itself

Royal County Down is located in one of golf’s most inspiring amphitheatres. The links are framed in the Murlough Nature Reserve in which they sit so majestically. Overseeing this picture are the magnificent thrones of the Mountains of Mourne, which look down on the course 3000ft below.

The links stretch along the shores of Dundrum Bay, but rather than follow the conventional out and back configuration, Royal County Down zigzags back and forth. Aesthetically this provides the golfer with a different vista from virtually every hole, but the more demanding implication of this is that it breaks up any rhythm that a player can establish with the wind. You’re constantly having to read and adjust; a real challenge.

The greens are comparatively small targets and reject any shot that lacks conviction. This is a brave mans course. They play fast. Many are domed with some brutal borrows, but manage to stay on the right side of being reasonable. You might be defeated by them, but you can’t honestly say you’ve been cheated by them. More often than not, they were just too trappy.

If the greens don’t permit you that many excuses, the dreaded ‘bearded’ bunkers might. These are world famous and feature overhanging lips of marram, red fescue and heather. This particularly heinous contribution is the legacy of natural growth but will have unaccustomed looking at them with a sense of mild bewilderment

The fairways are naturally undulating This is a true test of any player’s command of the traditional bump and run, the preferred way to play any links. Another characteristic of the course is the domineering dunes that support such penal vegetation. If a piece of links land was screaming out for a golf course, it was here. So many of the challenges we’ve come to associate with these beasts are to be found in one place. Most unusually though, the seventeenth even supports a water hazard

The ninth hole is often regarded as the signature hole. A 486 yard par 4, it is played from one side of a huge mound down to a fairway some 60 ft below and 260 yards from the tee. From the bottom of the slope the second shot is played over two bunkers to a raised green. The view from the third and fourth looking back towards the Mourne Mountains is also inspiring and amongst the most photogenic fairways on the planet

One of the more endearing aspects of Royal County Down is that it probably observes the traditional a bit more so than it’s rival for the Irish crown, Royal Portrush. The Royal County Down Championship Course still has the occasional blind drive.


The words of Bernard Darwin, that doyen of golf writers and no mean player himself, over seventy years ago still ring true: when he drew back the curtains of his hotel window to catch his first glimpse of the Mourne Mountains, he wrote that “to see Slieve Donard’s crest just emerging from a great sea of early mist is to taste one of the more intense joys of shaving on the morning of a workless day”. And regarding the great course which lay below the mountains, he added that it was one of “big and glorious carries, nestling greens, entertainingly blind shots, local knowledge and beautiful turf – the kind of golf that people play in their most ecstatic dreams”.


Buggy hire, Trolleys, Caddies and Clubs

Practise Area available Yes
Rental Carts Available No
Rental Trolleys Yes
Caddies Yes, but can be limited
Rental Clubs Available Yes
Pro Shop Yes

Dress Code

Players are expected to wear an acceptable standard of golfing attire when playing the Championship Course or the Annesley Links. The following examples are unacceptable at all times:

  • Denim Jeans and Jackets (ladies can seemingly wear non blue denim, but we wouldn’t advise it)
  • Sleeveless or collarless shirts (ladies can wear sleeveless shirts provided they have a collar)
  • Untailored shorts and cargo shorts (ladies are not permitted to wear very short, shorts)
  • Sweaters without shirts
  • Garments displaying slogans
  • Track or Leisure Suits (leggins for ladies)
  • Shirts hanging loose over trousers or shorts and trousers legs tucked into socks.
  • Ladies are not permitted to wear training shoes or runners
Please Note: Visitors are only allocated certain times dependent on the day of the week. Royal County Down also has a second course. The Annesley Links at Royal County Down shares the same magnificent setting as the Royal County Down Championship Course and is full of character. Although much shorter than the Championship Links, it is still a very testing course, with magnificent views of sea, mountains and duneland. It is also very inexpensive for such a magnificent piece of links land, (about $60). It would be injudicious to completely discount it from your thinking


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