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2 Royal County Down
Architect: T Morris Stats: 6,902 yds, par 71, SSS 74 GF: £50-£180 Visitor information: Visitors welcome on Mondays, Tuesdays, Thursday mornings, Fridays and Sunday afternoons W: royalcountydown.org 2008 Ranking: 4 (Up 2) Improvements since 2008 Rankings: Course: Much of the course work during last winter focused on renovating, and improving the playability of, a number of bunkers on the links Clubhouse: None Gallery: Royal County Down pictures
For some, a visit to the hallowed turf of Royal County Down in Newcastle is nearly as spiritual a journey as a pilgrimage to the Home of Golf. Few walk off 18 anything less than effusive about this magnificent links and most are more than a little envious of the local members.
Old Tom Morris oversaw the extension from nine to 18 in 1889, but little now remains of his handiwork. Many great names have added personal touches over the years, among them Harry Colt who created one of the main talking points - the splendid 9th, whose blind drive plunges over a crest to a fairway below from where you hope to hit your last full blow of the front nine.
This is far from the only blind shot. Several times - more if you stray offline - you'll be placing your trust in something other than sight. Some may baulk at the idea, but it's a wonderful reminder that golf holes can and should come in all shapes and guises from the apparently obvious to the brazenly devious.
The test is immense with a series of big par 4s, well-protected par 3s and wonderfully natural bunkers. It's little wonder that pretty much every big event save for The Open has visited, including the Walker Cup in 2007. Despite its rich history, the club has not been afraid to move with the times. The 17th and 18th were strengthened by Donald Steel in the 1990s, while 2004 saw the birth of his brand new 16th hole - a short par 4 fraught with danger for aggressive miscues, no doubt designed to cultivate a little late-round matchplay drama in that Walker Cup.
With the inspiring backdrop of mighty Slieve Donard, not to mention the sheer splendour of the course itself, surely no true golfer could fail to be anything other than entranced by this beguiling links.
Quality of test and design: With several blind shots and much scope to get out of position, the links frequently serves up the classic dilemma of bold recovery or ‘medicine time'.
Presentation: With natural-looking ‘bearded' bunkers, vibrant gorse, heather and majestic dunes framing the fairways, plus fast, sloping greens, the course is always a joy to behold.
Visual appeal and enjoyment: The combination of abundant gorse, the Newcastle town skyline and Mountains of Mourne beyond imbue County Down with one of golf's most stunning settings.
Ambience: Captivating and magical sum it up. From the moment you arrive there's a buzz factor to rival anywhere outside St Andrews.
Panellists' comments: "The front nine is without question one of the greatest stretches of links golf in the world"; "County Down is at the same time both devilishly hard and jaw-droppingly beautiful"
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