|The first hole at Ardglass plays uphill around the sea and is one of Northern Ireland's finest. (Courtesy Ardglass G.C.)|
COUNTY DOWN, Northern Ireland -- Northern Ireland has two renowned giants in links golf: Royal County Down and, at its northernmost part, Royal Portrush, the isle's only British Open venue (1951).
But just north of Newcastle, where Royal County Down draws in full tee sheets and £125-150 green fees, sits a can't-miss hidden gem: Ardglass Golf Club. If you leave Northern Ireland without seeing this unique links course, you haven't really seen all the north has to offer.
The golf course doesn't wind through seaside dunes like most links courses in the isles. Instead, it sits on a rocky perch overlooking the Irish Sea at every turn, with the mountains of Mourn as a backdrop.
"We get Americans out here and after 10 minutes, their camera becomes more important than their clubs," said Kevin Carville, treasurer at Ardglass. "Here, you have a panoramic view on almost every hole. You can see their jaw drop."
When the Senior British Open was hosted at Royal County Down several years ago, Ian Baker Finch, who was a TV commentator for the event, was one of many pros who drove down the road to play Ardglass during the week.
"He and all his fellow commentators couldn't play Newcastle, so they came out here to play, and they were dumbstruck," Carville said. "It's not the standard of golf as RCD. You're not going to lose 20 golf balls (like at Royal County Down). But they loved it."
Ardglass is full of its own unique history. The club originally opened nine holes 1901 and the additional nine were added in the 1960s.
Ardglass' clubhouse is an old 13th century castle ruin that is the oldest known building in the world used for that purpose. The town of Ardglass is also home to Ireland's oldest seaside trading street next to where the course sits today.
There are many beautiful, almost shocking, holes here, but Ardglass' most stunning hole is its first: a dogleg left, uphill run over black, rocky cliffs. It's a sight that won't leave your memory anytime soon. Members will tell you as you tee off, "You've got the coast to the left and the whole of Ireland to the right of you."
The 18th fairway plays to the right of the hole, so you couldn't go out of bounds if you tried from the tee. However, either the black cliffs or crashing waves act as a magnet, and watching your ball sail left and get knocked around before sinking into the abyss is certainly worth the penalty stroke.
Things don't settle down much from there. The first eight holes here are at least partially on the brink of the sea. On No. 2, you're teeing off right on the edge, looking down at jagged rocks that as recently as last year claimed a three-man ship and the lives of two sailors on board.
But the club doesn't even consider any of the front nine to be their "feature hole." Instead, they point to the par-5 11th, which plays down at sea level, not above it. A steep hill filled with gorse sits to the left and across the bay is the village of Coney Island, which Irish songwriter Van Morrison famously sang about.
If you're golfing in Northern Ireland, Royal County Down and Royal Portrush are surely on your radar, but try and squeeze Ardglass Golf Club in between.
Located just 30 minutes north of Royal County Down, it's a unique golf course that is loads of fun to play. This is more of a local favorite and you're bound to meet some great Irish characters here. The restaurant on the first floor of the castle clubhouse is bustling with activity on the right day.
The first hole will be one of the most memorable ones you play in the British Isle and the rest of the course is a great play as well. It's also a fraction of the cost of its neighboring heavyweights (£37-50).
The four-star Slieve Donard sits overlooking Royal County Down in the town of Newcastle. In fact, the course used to sit on this property before the town decided a world class hotel was needed to house the growing number of visitors coming in off the railway at the turn of the 20th century.
Today, the Slieve Donard is a relaxing retreat, home to a spa and six acres of private grounds. You can walk right to the first tee of the course as well.
There's a lively pub and restaurant on the second floor of the castle at Ardglass. It's small but has been renovated and is very light, comfortable and friendly.
The Ardglass town itself doesn't have a whole lot going on. Newcastle down the road is a bit bigger and has more pubs and restaurants.
If you're staying at the Slieve Donard, there are a variety of fine dining options, or head into Newcastle where a variety of pubs and restaurants are on the main strip overlooking the water.
Ardglass' clubhouse is an old 13th century castle ruin that is the oldest known building in the world used for that purpose.
July 11, 2007
Brandon Tucker is the Managing Editor for Golf Channel Courses & Travel. To date, his golf travels have taken him to over two dozen countries and over 500 golf courses worldwide. While he's played some of the most prestigious courses in the world, Tucker's favorite way to play the game is on a great muni in under three hours.
Any opinions expressed above are those of the writer and do not necessarily represent the views of the management.
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