Roderick Easdale gets an idea of the splendour as well as the toughness of the test that awaits Europe's top pros this May
Royal County Down has a reputation for beauty and toughness. Both are well merited.
It is said that you can tell the first-time visitor to Royal County Down for they walk backwards down the first fairway, so enraptured are they by the view. I did so on my second visit as well. The view is that good.
The course is laid out alongside Dundrum Bay and looked down upon by the majestic Mountains of Mourne.
The layout consists of two loops of nine, going out and back from the clubhouse. The first half has the prettier aspect as it is nearer the sea. The back tees on 2 and 3 have particularly fine views – sea to the right, glorious golfing landscape ahead and to the left.
The first time I played Royal County Down was in rain and winds gusting up to 60mph; second time it was in rain and 47mph gusts. The fairways are narrow ribbons threaded through dunes, heather and gorse.
Royal County Down is not a track for the faint-hearted, especially as there are a few blind tee shots.
If looking for somewhere to stay, the extremely comfortable and well-equipped Slieve Donard Resort & Spa is right alongside the course. It is also on the seafront. Depending on which room you get, you can have view which combines sea, golf course, and mountains.
As well as the Championship Links there is the much shorter par-66 Annesley Links at Royal County Down. This links not nearly so intimidating, but shares the same landscape.
I shall watch the Irish Open, when it comes to Royal County Down in late May, with interest to see how the top pros tackle it. Much better than we did no doubt.
Our dozen-strong media party had a Stableford competitions among ourselves and it seemed to have been won by 23pts. I say ‘seem’ as some were not declaring their score.
I do not know how Royal County Down plays on a still summer’s day. I would love to return to find out some time – and I will still walk backwards down the first fairway.