Royal County Down
Designers: Old Tom Morris, George Combe, & H. S. Colt
There are few places in the world where natural beauty and golf come together in more stunning and dramatic fashion than Royal County Down. The looming Mountains of Mourne, the peak of Slieve Donard, and the spires of the hotel that shares its name come together to form a magnificent canvas along the sands of Dundrum Bay. When combined with the rolling terrain and gorse covered dunes, it’s little wonder that here we find one golf’s most celebrated masterpieces.
Through the years, multiple artists have signed their name to the layout of Royal County Down, and each owes a piece of their legacy to these venerable links. It began with Old Tom Morris, who extended the club’s original 9-hole course for the princely sum of £4. Old Tom’s work remained in play for nearly a decade before George Combe, the club’s authoritarian “Convenor of The Green,” made significant alterations to the links. Combe was a well known figure in the Irish game, and is largely credited with forming the Golfing Union of Ireland, as well as golf’s first handicap system. In his quest for perfection at Royal County Down, however, his role was absolute and no hole was left untouched.
After the Great War, the club brought in Harry Colt to help eliminate many of the blind shots throughout the course that had suddenly become out of fashion. Colt was largely successful with the task at hand, yet half a dozen blind tee shots remain in place to this day, along with the uncertainty that comes with them. Also intact are the two holes that Colt introduced largely from scratch, which are comfortably seated among the finest in all of golf.
The first of these is the par-3 4th, played over a sea of gorse to a green protected by severe run-offs and a variety of thorny vegetation. As best as possible, avoid being transfixed by the spectacular backdrop, or else a five may find its way on the card in very short order. Meanwhile, ahead on the 9th, Colt combined two holes into one outstanding par-4. After striking the tee shot over the ridge and seemingly into oblivion, the anticipation grows as we climb the hill and reveal one of golf’s truly unforgettable panoramas. We suggest you have the camera ready.
And therein lies the true beauty of Royal County Down. The site is so tremendous and the course is so naturally electrifying that we hardly notice it is making a mockery of our supposed handicap. Even the bunkers are enchanting, with their notorious beards of long native grasses. If you happen to find one, find your way out quickly and at all costs.
In the hair-splitting business of anointing the best golf courses in the world, Royal County Down is one of roughly half a dozen names that are sure to lead the conversation. In fact, depending on whose list you’re reading, it may very well hold the top spot. But to compare this course to any other is a disservice to one and a losing battle for the other, for there is only one Royal County Down.
Major Basil Haversham, OBE
More on Royal County Down
Independent Travellers: The course is located at the north end of the business district on Links Road near the spire of the Slieve Donard Hotel. (Look for an entrance through a hedge.) Report to the professional’s shop at the far end of the car park. See Brian for your caddies and remind him you are travelling with H&B. After the round, share a jar with the local lads in the Mourne Golf Club adjacent to the first tee. Friendly chaps. Or, retire to the second floor of the RCD clubhouse (no golf shoes).