Royal County Down Golf Club
Co Down., Northern Ireland
Sixth hole, 400/360 yards; As at Pine Valley Golf Club, the golfer at some point takes for granted the number of world class holes that he is playing. Thus, a hole like the 6th rarely gets the attention that it deserves. Elsewhere, it would be a standout short/medium length hole. Though the blind drive provides no comfort, the test is the approach shot to a domed green that falls away on all sides. Already the smallest putting surface on the course, its sloping sides give the golfer an effective hitting area of little more than 2,000 square feet – and even less when it’s windy.
Seventh hole, 145/125 yards; A maddeningly hole to play, the golfer at this point in his round is thinking surely he is better than his score indicates. The short 7th is the perfect place to right the ship and yet, like the 6th, it features one of the most severe greens on the course with its left quarter sloping off and toward thedeepest greenside bunker on the course. A right to left wind can, tragically,make this one of the day’s most difficult holes.
Eighth hole, 430/415 yards; Though Colt deserves credit for keeping this hole on top of the dune, his green site was actually just past the two bunkers that are 75 yards short oftoday’s green. Wilson Smyth, the Captain of the Club, who largely took over for Combe in 1915 moved the green to its present location, thus creating one of the toughest two shotters in the world. The Centenary Book offers thissuperb quote: Smyth Ëœruled the Club with a rod of iron for the lasttwenty-five years of his life and for ten years after his death.’ (!!) The point cannot bestated clearly enough: the credit for County Down’s great design rests largely within its membership.
Ninth hole, 485/430 yards; The dramatic sixty foot drop 200 yards from the back 9th tee markers is – in theory – actually too sharp for good golf. And that makes Colt’s routing over this dramatic landscape all the more impressive as the hole works wonderfully well. Once again, the golfer is given something to accomplish that no other course does on quite the same scale – launch a tee ball over the top of a dune to a blind fairway well below. The thrill of a well struck tee ball is immense but infrequent. Indeed, the key to one’s round at County Down is often how well the player recovers from a missed tee ball. Far too often, a missed shot results in a double bogey or worse as the golfer gets greedy with his recovery shot. Interestingly enough, golfers frequently display worse judgment on harder courses than on the easier ones. County Down ruthlessly exposes such unsound and impatient course management. The 9th is a prime example: not to be on the wide fairway in two with a pitch to the green for an easy bogey is inexcusable but somehow, doubles and worse are more the norm. The 9th hole highlights a term that readily applies to County Down: ‘appropriate blindness.’ The golfer has a wider margin of error for his (blind) tee ball with tighter requirements following for the (non-blind) approach.
Tenth hole, 195/180 yards; Like the 1st, this hole was a naturalwith agreen situated in a natural amphitheatre of dunes.As such, it has remained in play forat leastone hundredyears. In fact, this green may wellhave been in useover one hundred andfifteen years as it may be the 2nd green from Old Tom
Morris’s original layout.
Eleventh hole, 440/430 yards; Modern golf course architecture has evolved into a much more strategic form than it was at the turn of the 20th century. Yet, there is too much of a good thing and today’s architects are less willing toutilize fronting hazards with which the golfer must contend. At the 11th, the golfer simply must get away one of his best drives of the day, up and over the forty foot dune directly in front of him. More so than any other course with which the author is familiar, good driving at County Down goes further to assist the golfer play to his handicap. The beautiful sweep of the fairway just over the crest of the dune is a fineexample of how Combe integrated a natural landform into the design.