Saturday, November 1, 2014

Royal County Down's New Holes

Royal County Down
Views over Royal County Down, the new Annesley links
9th green at the foot of the dune. 
Given the state of the country today, there are not many Irish golf courses investing in new holes.

Carne completed the Kilmore nine last year – for the remarkable cost of just €200,000. Rossmore added two new holes and a reworked routing. Roe Park, outside Limavady, has added three new holes – although ultimately, these will be for practice purposes. Rathfarnham is busy revamping three of its existing 15 holes, while also building three new holes to bring it from a 15 to an 18 hole course. South Meath has added nine new holes, as has Mountbellew, but both of these courses are on a lower tier to the ones mentioned above and the ‘attention to detail’ is not so precise.

That cannot be said of Royal County Down (RCD). 

Yes, the new holes may ‘only’ be for the second course (Annesley/Mourne) but this is a sparkling par 66 course that should never be ignored. Trust me, the greens here are probably the best I've seen anywhere this year, including County Sligo. They are just as good as the big course, through which the Annesley weaves.

Royal County Down
The new 9th hole drives straight at the Mourne Mountains
Two weeks ago, I found myself standing on a dune top with Lenny, Royal County Down’s course marshal, being shown the layout of the three new holes. The sun was out, the day was warm and the entire RCD golf course stretched into the distance, streaking towards the Mourne Mountains. It was a glorious place to be with a camera in hand, and I would never have dreamed of climbing up the dunes if Lenny had not decided to become my guide. He suggested that I (carefully) walk the par four by the sea before heading back down to his buggy, sinking deep into the sand as he went. He was wearing a pair of loafers that I imagine must have needed emptying by the time he reached his ride. From my position on the dune top I could survey the two par fours (holes 9 and 10) that squeeze RCD’s biggest dune between them. The new par three (the 11th to be) was out of sight at the rear of the dune, but I'd get there soon enough.

The par three 11th (shot from the 8th green), green to tee.
The 10th and 11th look almost ready to play - everything is green and wonderful. The 9th still has plenty of bare earth and the green looks cast adrift… but all three holes will be a magnificent addition. They won’t make the headlines – can you imagine if the new holes were for the big course – but they emphasise that the Annesley links is a beautiful and rewarding test of golf. If nothing else, it is the perfect warm up for the main event.

Hole Descriptions

The 9th is a short par four, dropping down between the dunes to a fairway that curves ever left. The hole doglegs late into a green, protected in front by a solitary bunker. There is little forgiveness around the green (which is separated from the big course’s 3rd green by impenetrable gorse).

What looks like an 'island' green - the new 9th on Annesley.
The 10th is a straight par four, between the steep dune and the beach. The tee sits up, offering a spectacular view of the hole and green. The fairway is generous, but big hitters will be curtailed by a gully of rough farther up the hole. It all fits with the vibe of the Annesley links, where nothing can be taken for granted.

Royal County Down
The new 10th hole beside the sea - a glorious sight.

Royal County Down
Photo taken from up in the dunes - it shows the gully of rough running
60-80 yards short of the green (which is to the left).
The 11th is a par three, heading straight away from the sea. The main dune, on the left, again dominates your thoughts. The green has tricky fall-offs to the right but it is – relatively – an easy hole.
The par three 11th
These new golf holes in Northern Ireland will allow three of the existing holes (3, 4 and 16) to be taken out of play to make way for a proper practice area – something that RCD lacks. And with the Irish Open taking place in Newcastle next year, that practice area will be much needed. Perhaps, fortuitously, the par four 3rd and 4th holes are/were two of the least interesting on the course. The par three 16th was actually rather sweet.

And if you want to play the Annesley Links - you'll have to fork out the bargain basement price of £30.

For more photographs of Royal County Down's Annesley Links, click here.


  1. Actually 3 and 4 are two of the best and longest holes on the course! We were originally going to lose these holes to the redevelopment. They have been retained for a reaaon.. Your description of the course as Annesley/Mourne is also slightly inaccurate. Mourne Golf Club members play the Championship RCD course. I will look forward to playing these new holes come spring/summer 2015.

    1. Thanks for the comment... but consider me confused. Are you saying that holes 3 and 4 are not being removed to make way for a practice range? David Wilson informed me that these - and hole 16 - were being lost... as did a member I met on the course.

      We'll have to disagree on how good the holes are, or aren't. I much prefer the holes caught up in the rolling dunes.

      As for Annesley/Mourne - this is typically how I hear the course being referred to, so I'm including both names. Should it only be called 'Annesley'?