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 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 belowmagnifique.

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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Another world top five course and perhaps Irelands finest. The wow factor of this course is the beautiful scenery from so many tee boxes. This course is a tough beauty - many blind and intimidating shots but actually playable. It has 120 bunkers to be avoided if possible! It is difficult to play because your mind does not get a rest—so much to take in- good scenery combined with trouble. Key is not to compound and turn trouble into double-trouble. I have seen people rack up big numbers taking on shots that Seve would not dream of even in his prime. If you can put all this aside, clear your mind and play the ball cleverly you can make a good score. I played loads of times and caddied there also, where I could see more options on many different days. Writing about it just gives me the urge and desire to take on the challenge again and again...
31 December 2015 See other reviews from this reviewer
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Simply the best. Absolutely brutal course but it beats you up with a smile on its face and a twinkle in its eye. Don't even bother keeping score and just enjoy the course for what it is. The back nine is not as good as the front - but then every other nine holes in golf are not as good as the front at RCD. 13 and 15 are still among the handful of finest holes however. Laughable comment in a previous review about the pond on 17 snaffling their "perfect" shot - there's a pond in the fairway at about 260 yards. If you hit it more than 260 yards then you need to lay up with a shorter club??? As good as golf gets and a must experience for every serious golfer.
20 August 2015 See other reviews from this reviewer
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the prices are as steep as some of the dunes, but the course is indeed a beauty. We had a wonderful day - blessed by sun and light winds, it has to be said, and took a friendly, enthusiastic, helpful and knowledgable forecaddie. We got completely beaten up by our lack of local knowledge - overclubbing onto the fiendish greens, finding far too many bunkers - but still had a great time and admired the courses and the scenery. The course is a pearl, an absolutely perfect example of links golf at it's finest. Tight lies, hard greens shaped like upturned saucers. Some of the holes blend into eachother in my memory but the 1st, 9th and 10th stand out. A "must" for golfers wanting to sample the classics.
23 June 2015 See other reviews from this reviewer
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We played RCD in March during preparation for Irish Open, so were off mats for fairways (but not semi if your ball ended up there, if you know what i mean), but this enabled us to take advantage of a great deal at the Slieve Donard Resort which for me is up with Turnberry and Glenagles as a hotel/golf combination. Friendly staff, nice day, and a great game of golf for £75. Loved the course, with the front nine a stand out. Unfortunately we caught up with a Ladies' members comp which had a slightly cavalier approach to playing through that appears to mean that running after spending 5 mins looking for a lost ball counts as "keeping up". Ah well, it was sunny and a privilege to play RCD finally. I can't however give it the time honoured 6 balls because the slow play made us more aware that the back nine loses some of the true enclosed magic of the front nine due to the sporadic development of the countryside that opens up to the West. Plus that bloody pond on the 17th that snaffled my perfect shot ! ...Would love to go back for all that, super course and great fun.
08 June 2015 See other reviews from this reviewer
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I should first come clean and admit that I was born in Northern Ireland and that although I left at the age of 13 I still spend a fair amount of time there. I learnt to play golf at Lisburn Golf Club, where my grandfather bought me some junior clubs and pretended to the course marshalls that I wasn’t actually playing and so didn’t need a green fee! It’s where my love of the game was seeded, if not exactly where it flourished. But, despite spending time in Newcastle and even on nearby Murlough Beach, which is where the dunes are located, and seeing the course, I’d never played it.

I suppose that deep in my soul I knew it was to be respected, feared even, so I wasn’t ready. You don’t rock up to one of the world’s best golf courses in jeans with a 36 handicap! It’s not for hackers. It’s not even for regular golfers if they’re not very good. It’s Royal County Down. Tiger Woods plays this course for pleasure. How many other courses around the word can say that?

It’s also hellish expensive. The kind of expensive that makes non-golfers choke on their tea.

Royal County Down Golf ClubSo, it’s only now that I’m (slightly) better that I suddenly discovered a yearning to play it. In many ways the fact that I hadn’t, and that I was from just down the road, and that I was nearby quite frequently, became a source of embarrassment on other courses. “You stay near Royal County Down all the time and haven’t played it?! What the hell is wrong with you?” was the general gist. It was a situation that had to be put right.

And so I played it.

And it is outstanding.

It is without doubt the single most unique golfing experience I’ve ever had. In fact, it was so totally extraordinary that I’ve had to take a good few days to let the experience sink in and percolate a little. I was just too confused coming out to write about it straight away like I do with other courses.

One reason why is that I have an uncanny knack for remembering every shot, on every hole of a course after I’ve played it. I can live the whole thing in my head for a good week or two afterward, and even months later can remember amazing detail of courses. But as I walked away from Royal County Down I could barely remember anything. This may sound worrying. Maybe it was so boring or awful it simply didn’t register! But the truth is the exact opposite. My head was so full of sensory memories I couldn’t process them. It took a while before the mist parted and clarity ensued.

Royal County Down Golf ClubAnd why? Because Royal County Down is so earth shatteringly different to any course I’ve ever played. Yes, it’s a links, which always feels strange unless you play them regularly. But I have played links courses before, so it wasn’t just that. It’s partly the total immersion borne of playing golf in the midst of such monumental dunes. They tower over you and cut off each hole from the other. It’s like playing golf in a canyon.

It’s also the terror of playing golf on a course that has so many blind drives. I’ve done it before, but never so many. Even the ones that aren’t blind are still imposing.

Then there is the rough, which is wild and barren and full of old gnarly gorse, which was in bloom when I was there.

Then there are the bunkers, deep and ringed by clinging heather and full of the most beautiful, powder fine silvery sand.

Then there is the backdrop of Slieve Donard, the highest mountain in Northern Ireland. I know the mountain well (I’ve climbed up it several times) but it seemed more alluring, more fascinating from the tee boxes and greens.

And the greens! A few minutes spent on the practice green absolutely terrified me, I have to admit. The first few didn’t go so well, but once I let my intuition take over and started to ignore the sensible side of my brain that said “It can’t possibly be that far out”, I started to sink some. Unlike typical American style greens that are manicured and feel like felt, these are sandy and bare, but my God are they true. And fun.

But most of all it’s the routing. As you wind through the dunes you feel like you’re in Narnia. The fairways pinch and open out. It’s cute and interesting one minute, then majestic and expansive the next. Often within the same hole.

The 13th, often regarded as one of the best golf holes in the world, was so utterly lovely it genuinely warmed my insides. After playing it I stood on the bluff behind as I made my way to the next tee box. Looking down at the little green, nestled among the dunes and the slight dogleg where the fairway is pinched by a dune behind, it made me happy. And I parred that hole! Though admittedly it was after an unexceptional drive, a terrible second shot into the rough / side of a mountain and then a complete fluke of a pitching wedge to 4 feet from the hole.

Royal County Down Golf ClubIt’s not terribly long by today’s standards, but it doesn’t need to be. This is about pure golf, about picking your way round the open spaces rather than just blasting it and hoping you’ll end up on the short stuff 315 yards away. This is about judging the wind, knowing how much it’s going to blow your shot around. This is about accepting that not every shot will find the fairway and using your creativity to get out of the hazards. Most of all it’s about enjoying the day on this pretty little corner of the world.

The back nine is famously less imposing than the front, so was I disappointed? Not really. It does lack dunes of the same size, which means you can see around you more, but some might say that is less claustrophobic and you only really notice it on holes 14 – 18. Plus, the design of these holes is perhaps more idiosyncratic than the opening ones, with changes in elevation and water hazards. And I parred the 18th, so clearly that is the best hole in the world, ever.

I was led round the course by one of the senior caddies, whose name I shall withhold just so I don’t embarrass him. Maybe part of the reason I enjoyed it so much was because of his company. He did all the usual caddy things like carry my bag and rake bunkers and give me reads on the green, but he also told me where to hit it on blind drives and, most importantly of all, regaled me with stories of the rich and famous he has looped for over the years. Tiger, O’Meara, Davis Love, Nick Price, Vijay Singh. I’ve had caddies before (mainly in Asia) but this was different. It was like playing a round with a mate full of stories and I loved the craic. I was only embarrassed that I was short of cash when I finished to give him a proper tip. Next time…

I haven’t played Ballybunion or Old Head. Nor have I played Turnberry or Bandon Dunes. Nor even Royal Portrush, yet. So I can’t say this is the best golf course in the world. I have many years to explore those other courses and so judgement will have to be postponed, but I can say that Royal County Down is a truly magnificent experience that should be enjoyed. If anyone says otherwise they have no soul. This is to golf what poetry is to the written word. Special.

And the Slieve Donard Hotel is also worth staying in. The spa is amazing. Just stay out of the town of Newcastle. It’s like Blackpool. Only worse.
30 April 2015 See other reviews from this reviewer
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JP28 May 2015
If you want to play Royal County Down at a reasonable rate, sign to play in one of two friendly tournaments in April or August You get to play two other good courses and Royal County Down for less than a green fee at RCD and it is great fun
Magnífica. Sus fairways están entre grandes dunas y en muchos hoyos no se ven desde el tee de salida, ya que hay que pegar por arriba de las dunas. Campo de golf muy exigente, hay que estar jugando muy bien para hacer un buen score. Muchos bushes y rough altos hacen que la única forma de jugarla sea por el medio del fairway, lo cual no es fácil.
05 April 2015 See other reviews from this reviewer
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Keith Baxter07 April 2015
Roughly translated... Magnificent. Its fairways are among big dunes and many holes are not visible from the tee, as they’re set over the dunes. Golf course is very demanding, you have to be playing very well to make a good score. Many bushes and tall rough make the only way to play from the middle of the fairway, which is not easy.
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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