Royal County Down Golf Club
Co Down., Northern Ireland

Twelfth hole, 525/470 yards; As witnessed each spring at Augusta National Golf Club, give and take is crucial to good golf architecture. The golfer has tohave theopportunity to make upsome lost ground. Otherwise, the round becomes one of attrition, which is not golf at its exhilarating best.Far more interesting to present the golfer with chances for heroic deeds and put the pressure on the golfer to recognize when he should best strike. The 12th and the new 16th are both such holes. As they play in opposite directions, one generallyaffords thechance to play aggressively and reach the green ahead of regulation.

The bunkers at County Down are generally considered the most handsome in the game due to their variety, both in size and in the unkempt vegetation that grows on their faces. More importantly, the bunkers are well placed. This one at the 12th is 90 yards from the green and makes laying up problematic when the hole is played into the wind.

 

A view just over the bunker pictured above, looking back down the graceful twelft fairway. The fairway steps down 165 yards from the green. Such is the wind and firm playing conditions at County Down that a drive downwind might take that slope and leave the golfer with but a short iron into this three shotter.

 

Thirteenth hole, 445/420 yards; The favorite hole of many a member, this natural hole twists its way through a gorse covered valley. The approach shot is deceiving. Playing over the gorse and bunker infested ridge, the player may be able to just see the left edge of the green or at least the left greenside bunker. For fear of the unknown, the golfer is tempted to play toward what he can see. This tendency steers him toward the trouble on the left. However, there is a good amount of fairway short and well right of the green. Only after many rounds does the golfer trust his memory and play his approach down the right side over the most fearsome trouble. The green is severely sloped and makes par a struggle to the very end. A decade after Royal County Down opened, Garden G. Smith penned his wonderful (but hard to find) book, The World of Golf. He observed that ‘A hole should always give one the impression that it owes its existence to its own intrinsic merits, to its individuality and character, and not, as too often happens, to the fact that it had to be there because, foresooth, there was no other place to put it.’ He may well have been thinking of County Down when he wrote this as so many of its holes are absolutely unique unto themselves with the 13th being a particular highlight.

A view from the seventh tee shows the thirteenth fairway running through a valley between hills covered in weather and gorse. Can the golfer on the tee go long left with his tee ball to get a clear view of the green? Or is he best to lay-up near the base of the dune on the right...

A view from the seventh tee shows the thirteenth fairway running through a valley between hills covered in weather and gorse. Can the golfer on the tee go long left with his tee ball to get a clear view of the green? Or is he best to lay-up near the base of the dune on the right...

 

...and be content with this blind approach?A view from behind the 13th green shows the room to the golfer's right of the green that can be used to bounce his approach onto the sloping green.

A view from behind the 13th green shows the room to the golfers right of the green that can be used to bounce his approach onto the sloping green.

A view from behind the 13th green shows the room to the golfer's right of the green that can be used to bounce his approach onto the sloping green.

Fourteenth hole, 210/200 yards; The direction that one shot holes face only matters in windy locations. In this case, Newcastle is a windy location and this hole is the only hole/shoton the course which points away from Dundrum Bay. Following in the time honored tradition of so many of the finest, older links, the green follows the general slope of its surrounds. In this case, that’s from high front right to lower left. The golfer is free to use the short grass above the green to work the ball onto the putting surface.

The 14th hole rests easy upon the land, a great compliment.

Fifteenth hole, 465/455 yards; The author disagrees with Sir Peter Allen this one time: this two shotter is harder than the great thirteenth at Pine Valley. At Pine Valley, the approach shot is encouraged to bounce onto the green from the right. Not so at County Down with this shelf greenshrugging balls to either side.

A good drive sees the golfer reach the crest of the hill at the 15th and from there...

A good drive sees the golfer reach the crest of the hill at the 15th and from there...

...the golfer faces a long iron approach over broken ground to a green that...

...the golfer faces a long iron approach over broken ground to a green that...

...is an extension of the fairway but that falls away on both sides. Into much wind, the golfer may wisely lay-up 10 to 20 yards shy of the green and rely on a chip and a putt for par.

...is an extension of the fairway but that falls away on both sides. Into much wind, the golfer may wisely lay-up 10 to 20 yards shy of the green and rely on a chip and a putt for par.

Sixteenth hole, 335/300 yards; As one member puts it, this has all the makings of a good hole. Certainly a more handsome hole than its predecessor, Donald Steel created this hole in 2005. Played from an elevated tee, the green is still in reach for the tiger golfer, which was the lasting attribute of the old 16th. The new green slopes from front left to back right, a feature much admired by the author for a hole of this length as it means that the golfer who plays the hole with little thought or care may well find himself in the Ëœdead zone’: a fifty or sixty yard pitch with little chance of spin to a green that runs away.

A view down the new 16th from the tee.

A view down the new 16th from the tee.

Seventeenth hole, 435/405 yards; An underappreciated hole, all because there is a natural pond blind from the tee that is 100 yards from the green. Under certain wind conditions, the tiger golfer can drive into the pond. Though completely natural as it is a low point where water collects, its appearance is so unusual on this, the mightiest of all links, that the pond is ever a lighting rod for criticism. Thus, the pond takes away from the hole’s two finest playing characteristics: the approach is almost always played from a sloping stance and its gathering green complex featuring hard-to-read interior contours is among the finest on the course.

This back bunker is one of three bunkers that rings the gathering 17th green.

This back bunker is one of three bunkers that rings the gathering 17th green.

Eighteenth hole, 550 yards/530 yards; Fittingly for a course famed for its bunkers, there are eighteen of them down the Home hole. The hole is too long for the golfer to steer his ball and he needs to keep swinging out. The demands of Colt’s shelf green means that the golfer wants to advance his ball as far as possible in two shots. Colt’s green makes the hole and the course a test to the very end.

As with the 1st green at Pine Valley Golf Club, the 18th green at County Down is an extension of the fairway with sharp fall-offs on either side. Coming into this green with a long club for ones third is unlikely to end the round in a satisfactory manner.

As with the 1st green at Pine Valley Golf Club, the 18th green at County Down is an extension of the fairway with sharp fall-offs on either side. Coming into this green with a long club for one's third is unlikely to end the round in a satisfactory manner.

The front nine is either the best or among the best in the game. Detractors of County Down, of which there are but few, weakly claim the back nine is a let down. The front nine occupies the prime area by the bay and the back nine lesser so – that much is true. However, the back nine suffers only in direct comparison to the front nine. The 13th and 15th holes are among the handful of finest holes on the course. The Home hole might be the most testing three shotter in Northern Ireland. The one shotters at ~200 yards require sturdy hitting. Indeed, the back at County Down more than holds its own against the back of the Dunluce Course at Royal Portrush. Yet, no ones seems to hold the back nine at Portrush to the same impossibly high standards that they do to the back at County Down. Much has been written about the setting of Royal County Down with none doing it justice. Please note: the pictures in this course profile where taken on a cold rainy day in October – just imagine the course in the spring with the gorse in bloom and long shadows playing across the course. Peter Dobereiner may have come close to County Down’s beauty when he wrote ËœThe links of Newcastle are exhilarating even without a club in your hand’ and Bernard Darwin too when he penned that the golf at Newcastle is’ the kind of golf that people play in their most ecstatic dreams.’ Add in its unmatched challenge by any other links and one may well conclude that he has just played the finest course in the world.

The End