Royal County Down (Championship), Northern Ireland
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Royal County Down Golf Club
County Down
BT33 0AN
Northern Ireland
ArchitectGeorge L. Baillie, Old Tom Morris, Harry Vardon, Harry Colt
Head Professional/Director of GolfKevan Whitson
Telephone+44 (0) 28 4372 3314
Location30 miles S of Belfast
Websites Golf Club Website
Pro Shop Website
VisitorsContact in advance - not Sat or Wed
Club Secretary/ ManagerDavid Wilson

Visit for a golf holiday at Royal County Down


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 more than 7,000 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.

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Average Reviewers Score:       
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No doubt that RCD is a very special golf course, set at an almost unparalleled scenery and most of the holes are very original. That said, I agree with a previous post that it is too complicated for any player with a handicap of more than one digit: for a weaker player such as me, I find it is all penalty. In my case, a 12 handicapper, playing in a calm and sunny day, my experience was bittersweet as I spent most of time frustrated or looking balls. May be I was ovrewhelmed by the scenery or nerves, but the truth is I really did not get or intuit the greatness of the first 9 holes, of which everyone speaks. In any case, I recognize that this is quite possibly the most spectacular golf course that I have ever faced, and that everything makes you feel special. I hope to return to enjoy it as it deserves but, for now, I can´t give RCD the albatross mark because I find it too penal for most of players.
27 November 2014 See other reviews from this reviewer
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Well … the day finally came and my round at RCD came true. Since I started to play some of the World Top Ranked courses I really wanted to be here at Newcastle and experience for myself how good RCD is, as words and text were not enough. The round came on the final day of a 24 golfers group I led to Northern Ireland after Royal County Down (Championship) Golf Course - Photo by reviewerplaying Royal Portrush (Dunluce), Portstewart (Strand), both Ballyliffin (Old & Glashedy), Ardglass and RCD. The round was held on a Friday, but as we stayed at the great Slieve Donard Hotel (adjacent to the course) I couldn’t stand and went on a walk Wednesday, Thursday and even Friday night way after the round to take some more photos in the sun.

I have played Pine Valley, Cypress Point, Shinnecock, Merion, Winged Foot and some more, and all I can say is that RCD comes very close if not better even than Pine Valley. I believe it is a greater course than Cypress and Shinnecock, not only because of design and variety, but also due to the great scenery that surrounds the course with the Ocean, the Mourne Mountains and the dunes plus colored gorse that makes it look totally natural.

Royal County Down (Championship) Golf Course - Photo by reviewerWe arrived early on the course as the Proshop is a compulsive buy attraction not only for shirts or sweaters but also every kind of souvenir you can imagine as ball markers, glasses, paintings, club covers, logo balls, etc. Many of my group spent quite a bit and will exhibit their sweaters very proudly back in Argentina. The day was not perfect and sunny, but not bad at all as we only had rain on one hole (my 15th!), just wind and not the strong wind a course by the Ocean can have.

The 4 starting holes are as great as you can imagine, regarding #1 is a gentle par 5 where a good driver can give you a birdie chance but the second shot needs to be very accurate. Then 2 and 3 are 2 great par 4s with a very challenging tee shot but as we played downwind a 3 wood was enough. Arriving to 4th hole you find the first monster, 215yds into the wind with danger all around Royal County Down (Championship) Golf Course - Photo by reviewerand all I can say is bogey was not bad! Tee shot on 5th is tough to find but once you get on the fairway most of the job is done. 7th the short par 3 is easy, but a shanked PW led me to a very disappointing double! Last 2 par 4s on the front 9 are great where the last one is maybe the nicest hole in Ireland and maybe one of the toughest. When you get over the hill, a picture there is mandatory!

Back 9 went downwind from the great par 3 10th to par 3 14th (another shank and another double!), being 13th another great hole where second blind shot is a great challenge. Last 4 holes into the wind were tough but I managed pretty well, being here finding fairway makes the difference between a par and really big numbers. In 15th, the only hole where we had some rain, I have a great story: while standing there, one of the excellent caddies said “This should be the 1 Stroke Index Hole”. 454yds into the wind was a great challenge and my low cut driver went to the fairway Royal County Down (Championship) - Photo by reviewerto 215yds to the pin. Then I hit another low cut hybrid with such a good luck that the ball went into the hole and EAGLE!! Finding the cup from that distance is 100% luck!

After finishing the round the walk discovering the Club House is mandatory, there are lots of memories and pictures including one of Rory and Gmac playing on their own carrying their bags just days after the 2010 US Open at Pebble showing great amateur spirit by both of them. A great round and better experience, a must play course, a demanding challenge and the certainty that this course should share number #1 with Pine Valley. Many people will disagree and I can stand with that, but after having walked both of them my feeling is that none of them should be #2, they are timeless and it will be a very tough job to build a course better than these too.

I am a very thankful guy about the luck and honor of having been here and my promise is I WILL BE BACK!!! There should be a seven balls rating and be called UNBEATABLE where RCD and Pine Valley should stand.
13 August 2014 See other reviews from this reviewer
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Whatever you have heard about RCD, whatever you have read about RCD and whatever you do in golf for the simply have to arrange to play at RCD.
13 August 2014 See other reviews from this reviewer
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I had the massive pleasure of playing this truly great course in April. Stunning scenery, with the Mountains of the Mourne in view throughout, massive dunes, and true linksland. I played from well forward, but found it plenty of golf course for this 8 handicapper. 8 and 9 are legendary, but too many great holes to list. I made 3 at 15, and thought I might post a score, then 16, a great risk reward short par 4, got me. Great greens, utterly fair, and beautiful, but very very tough. Two tiny criticisms: I liked 18, though many seem not to, but I thought 17 not just a bad hole, but wholly out of place with all the rest. I also thought the marvellous, rough round the edges bunkers, quite tough enough without the addition of heaps of very soft sand. All in, though, a place every golfer MUST go to.
03 August 2014 See other reviews from this reviewer
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Best golfing experience I have ever had to put it simply. There are some great deals in winter. friendly staff. I will be back every year!!
07 July 2014 See other reviews from this reviewer
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This is unquestionably the best course that I have played. I have been fortunate to play some outstanding courses, including Pine Valley, but nothing comes close to RCD, it is truly spectacular. The 9th is utterly breathtaking.
27 September 2013 See other reviews from this reviewer
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Quite simply one of the best golf experiences of my life. I am a 6 handicapper that played RCD in April 2013. It has an aura that I have felt only at St Andrews and Pinehurst previously. This is an astonishingly good golf course, which is eminently playable with room off the tee and sensible greens. Each hole is a self contained joy with no replication within the course. Views are stunning (I was hugely lucky with the weather) and the design / architecture is flawless. Even the blind shots work at RCD. The only comment from me is that apart from the existence of burns, personally I am not a fan of water on a links course. This manifested iteslf as a triangular pond on 17th fairway. Played Annesley course in the afternoon which was huge fun with a number of the middle holes using the same topograhy as the "big" course. Staff were welcoming and knowledgeable. Every golfer should play at RCD.
26 June 2013 See other reviews from this reviewer
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Very special course. Spectacular layout, excellent condition, great caddies. Really a flawless course.
14 October 2012 See other reviews from this reviewer
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I played this fabulous course three times just a few days ago. What a treat! Even in benign conditions it is quite a challenge, but always with a friendly wink in the eye. And the artistry is everywhere. Of the courses I've played it is second only to Muirfield, and that is just maybe. Drop everything and go play RCD!
15 March 2012 See other reviews from this reviewer
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Ebrahim30 May 2012
This is really a masterclass in design and beauty. Manicured and presented in superb condition. A shot makers paradise. A difficult course and managing your game is of high priority. Had services of a wonderful caddy, Tim. Made all the difference. We were fortunate to play this course on Monday, May 21, in perfect weather. What a treat. Definitely up there with the greats like Portrush and Muirfield. Its worth mentioning that if given a chance, one should venture north to Ardglass( 30 min drive) and play a wonderful hillsde and cliffhugging links.
As a native of Belfast living now in the uk, I have been so fortunate to play at RCD for many years. I played today for only £50 and in 40mph cross winds realised how beautiful this place is. It has to be the best front nine in the world and perhaps the toughest with the wind. If you are lucky for a dry day as I was today the course is a sight to behold. The clubhouse extension and a more visitor friendly environment is most welcome than days gone past. With 7 pars on the first 7 I felt invincible but then 8 & 9 bit. They have to be 2 of the toughest and stunning golf holes you will ever play. I don't like 16&17 but RCD will always be for me the purist a joy to play.
05 January 2012 See other reviews from this reviewer
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