Royal county down golf club -
If there's one course I need to go back to play again, this is it. You see I played it a few years ago, during a rather high-octane golf trip. We had bitten off more than we could chew - Lytham, Hoylake and Portrush were the warm up rounds and nights out in Blackpool, Liverpool and Portrush had left us a little jaded. As such, my memories of Royal County Down don't chime with most of what I had heard before or have since.
This is ranked as the third best golf course in the world. In the top 10 courses in the world it is tucked behind Pine Valley and Cypress Point. According to the experts this is better than Augusta, looks down on the Old Course at St Andrews and leaves Shinnecock in its wake. While I would concur this was a mightily impressive golf course, I have it some way off the top of the list of courses I have played.
I won't attempt to do a hole by hole run-down of the course - if that's what you are after I would point you to the excellent run-down by Tim Gallant over at Graylyn Loomis' site. Instead I will give you some of my lingering memories of the club and course:
Blind shots. Everywhere. Now, this is a very well known feature of RCD. The first tee shot is a blind one and you better get used to it as you have a lot more to come. I think if you were swinging it well, and took a caddie, this wouldn't be a problem. We were doing neither. As a result it made for an incredible amount of head scratching.
Amazing views. Alas we played the course pre-iPhone so I don't have lots of photos. Any google search will take you to some pretty great pictures though and they aren't exaggerating - this is picture postcard stuff.
Penal rough. And Gorse. And Heather. The blind tee shots are definitely made that much harder by the very deep rough and abundant gorse and heather that cover the course. Beautiful to look at, hell to be in.
Fantastic condition. We played it in the middle of June and the course was in tremendous shape. The greens were superb and the 'bearded' bunkers quite unlike anything you will see elsewhere.
A course to play again. Next time I play at Royal County Down I will book for 36 holes in one day, and probably take a caddy for the first one at least. If there has ever been a course that you could use the inside track on, then this is it.
So there you have it. I know this is a great course, I just didn't get as much pleasure from it as others have. It's in a wonderful setting and was in great condition, but it beat me up relentlessly which has coloured my view too much. I will return!
BOOKING THE COURSE
There is no online booking for RCD, instead you are asked to go 'through the secretary's office' but there is plenty of information on the Royal County Down website. Play is available at various times on every day bar Saturday but it is a very expensive tee time - up to £240 for a Sunday afternoon slot between May and October. If you are willing to risk a trip between November and February though, it drops to just £70 a round and there are deals to be had in March and April too.
As I said, this is one of the few courses where I would definitely think about taking a caddy and they come in from a very reasonable £35 - a very useful investment I imagine!
We didn't spend any time in the town of Newcastle itself so I can't really give recommendations. You are an hour here from Belfast and the George Best airport. However, the Slieve Donard hotel is just next door and looks to be a very handy spot to stay in if you are looking for somewhere to rest your head before or after a 36 hole day.