Golf Royalty: The revered Royal County Down Golf Club in Northern Ireland

NEWCASTLE, Northern Ireland – There are a lot of reasons why the Championship Links at Royal County Down Golf Club made the impressive leap to becoming the top-ranked course in the world in Golf Digest’s biannual ratings in 2016.

The routing – a patchwork of dynamic holes influenced by Old Tom Morris, Harry Vardon, James Braid, Harry S. Colt and Donald Steel - remains one-of-a-kind. The men's tees are a staggering 6,697 yards, and that's just playing as a par 71 with three par 5s. It is widely considered the toughest links in all of the Emerald Isle, if not the world (sorry Carnoustie Golf Links). Denmark’s Søren Kjeldsen won the 2015 Irish Open at Royal County Down with a score of 2-under-par, the highest winning score in the event since 1982.

Never before or again would an architect dare to challenge golfers with so many blind tee shots, five on par 4s in the first 11 holes. Aiming sticks and white rocks perched atop dunes are the only signs of a links hidden among all that gorse and heather.

Beyond the brutality of RCD is its beauty. Once players hit the blind tee shot at the ninth, they are treated to the best reveal in golf – the spire of the adjacent Slieve Donard Resort & Spa pointing to the majestic peaks of the Mountains of Mourne in the distance. To the left are the waves of the Irish Sea lapping Dundrum Bay beach. When the gorse goes golden and the heather blooms into a purple haze, you’ve found golf heaven … even if you can’t find your ball.

Visitors are welcome in morning and afternoon blocks Monday, Tuesday and Friday and Thursday mornings and Sunday afternoons. Plan on booking well in advance to secure one of the toughest tee times in public golf.

Staff reviews of Royal County Down: Jason Scott Deegan | Brandon Tucker | Jay Coffin | Matt Adams

A rare glimpse of Royal County Down in @northernireland - a links ranked no. 1 in the world by @golfdigest ... @golfadvisor @discoverni

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May 14, 2017

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Jason Scott Deegan

Senior Staff Writer

Jason Scott Deegan has reviewed more than 700 courses and golf destinations for some of the industry's biggest publications. His work has been honored by the Golf Writer's Association of America and the Michigan Press Association. Follow him on Twitter at @WorldGolfer.