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Royal County Down Golf Club,
Designer: Old Tom Morris
Championship Length: 7,037 yards
SSS (Course Rating): 74
Royal County Down the very words are enough to send a shiver up your spine. Laid out beneath the imperious gaze of the Mountains of Mourne and enjoying a magnificent setting along the shores of Dundrum Bay, Royal County Down is truly one of the world's finest links golf courses. Designed by Old Tom Morris for the princely sum of four guineas back in 1889, Royal County Down, as well as being one of the most beautiful courses in the world, is also one of the most challenging. And those who argue that there are too many blind shots should note Tommy Armour's observation that "there is no such thing as a blind shot to any player with a memory".
It may be a well worn cliché, but if ever there existed a natural piece of land upon which to build a golf course, then the links turf of Newcastle was it. This strip of dune land was 90% along the road to being a golf course before the hand of man made some adjustments in the leveling of teeing grounds, moulding of greens and digging of bunkers. It's no surprise that within four years, Royal County Down was considered good enough to stage the Irish Open Amateur Championship and by the dawning of the 20th century, the course was rated as the finest course in all of Ireland.
Unlike many of the great natural links courses, Royal County Down doesn't have the traditional out and back layout; rather there are two distinct loops of nine holes. The outward half is closer to the sea, more sandy in nature and offers consistently larger dunes than on the homeward loop. Walking down the first fairway with the sound of breaking waves in your ears is a truly memorable occasion and it is said that you can always spot the first time visitor to Newcastle as they can be seen walking up the first fairway backwards, so enchanting is the beauty behind.
Among the finest holes on the front nine are the par four 3rd, with its split level fairway; the par three 4th, measuring over 200 yards; the doglegged 5th and the long 9th where an uphill drive (assuming it has flown the hill and descended into the valley below) is followed by a long second shot to a well guarded plateau green. This is a memorable climax to what many people consider as the finest nine holes in golf. The back nine may not have so many enormous dunes but there is an overgenerous supply of heather and gorse. Of the more memorable holes, perhaps the par four 13th, where the fairway curves its way through a beautiful heather lined valley, the difficult 15th and the recently remodeled and re bunkered par five finishing hole, stand out from the rest.