My sincere hope is that you tuned into the Irish Open this week and either introduced yourself to — or renewed your relationship with — Royal County Down Golf Club in Newcastle, Northern Ireland. The winner of the tournament was Soren Kjedlsen, surviving a two-hole playoff over Eddie Pepperell and Bernd Wiesberger. The star, however, was the Royal County Down links.
The beauty of this part of the British Isles was highlighted throughout the week: dramatic dunes, distant mountain ranges, proximity to the Irish Sea, and dramatic changes in weather throughout the day. Links golf is a thrilling experience; no two rounds are ever the same.
Often included in the top five courses in the World, and considered by many as the best golf course in Europe, Royal County Down was founded in 1889 by a group of Irish businessmen from Belfast. The course was formed when the Irish railway was extended to Newcastle, already known as a wonderful seaside resort town. The original 9-hole layout was designed by George L. Baillie, a Scottish schoolteacher, who was determined to establish more golf courses in Northern Ireland. It was opened March 23, 1889. Shortly after opening the legendary Old Tom Morris was commissioned to visit County Down from St. Andrews, “for a sum not to exceed £4,” to analyze the original nine holes, and lay out a second nine. Old Tom spent two days at County Down in July 1889, adding three new holes immediately and adding the remaining six between the fall of 1889 and the spring of 1890. The full course was ready for play in July 1890. Royal County Down is a classic example of how golf course design was executed at that time. Designers followed the natural layout of the dunes and moved minimal amounts of earth, creating courses that seemed as if they had grown from the land.
In subsequent years recommendations and small changes were made by some of the era’s best golfers, including James Braid and Harry Vardon. In 1925 Harry Colt was asked to propose changes to the course. His significant additions to the club included the designs of the current 4th and 9th holes, two of the most recognized and widely photographed holes on the course.
Royal County Down has hosted many national and international championships, including the Irish Amateur, British Amateur, Walker Cup, and Curtis Cup, along with this year’s Irish Open.
Like most of the famed courses in Ireland and Scotland, Royal County Down is open to play for visitors. Newcastle boasts a wide variety of accommodations, from the five-star Slieve Donard Resort & Spa to the quaint bed and breakfasts located throughout the town.
Adding to the lure of Northern Ireland are the other world class golf links located near Royal County Down. Courses include Portstewart Golf Club, Castlerock Golf Club, Ardglass Golf Club, and Royal Portrush Golf Club, which will soon host the British Open.
A few hundred square miles smaller than the state of Connecticut, Northern Ireland offers world class golf on courses all within a few hours drive of each other. With non-stop flights from the east coast under seven hours, a week’s trip will offer an unforgettable golf experience.