Royal County Down Golf Club - hole 4
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Royal County Down Golf Club - hole 4
Gorse blooms on the par-3 fourth hole at the Royal County Down Golf Club. Jason Scott Deegan/GolfPass
Royal County Down Golf Club - hole 2
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Royal County Down Golf Club - hole 2
It's a blind second shot over a bunker to the second green at the Royal County Down Golf Club. Jason Scott Deegan/Golf Advisor
Royal County Down Golf Club - hole 3
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Royal County Down Golf Club - hole 3
The third green at the Royal County Down Golf Club. Jason Scott Deegan/Golf Advisor
Royal County Down Golf Club - bunkers
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Royal County Down Golf Club - bunkers
The bunkers are deadly misses at the Royal County Down Golf Club. Jason Scott Deegan/Golf Advisor
Royal County Down Golf Club - hole 7
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Royal County Down Golf Club - hole 7
No. 7 at the Royal County Down Golf Club is short at 144 yards. Jason Scott Deegan/Golf Advisor
Royal County Down Golf Club - gorse
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Royal County Down Golf Club - gorse
Watch out for gorse at the Royal County Down Golf Club. Jason Scott Deegan/Golf Advisor
Royal County Down Golf Club - sea view
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Royal County Down Golf Club - sea view
A rare sea view at the Royal County Down Golf Club. Jason Scott Deegan/Golf Advisor
Royal County Down Golf Club - hole 9
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Royal County Down Golf Club - hole 9
After the blind tee shot is the best reveal in golf - the ninth fairway beyond the dune at the Royal County Down Golf Club. Jason Scott Deegan/Golf Advisor
Royal County Down Golf Club - hole 10
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Royal County Down Golf Club - hole 10
The par-3 10th hole at the Royal County Down Golf Club. Jason Scott Deegan/Golf Advisor
Royal County Down Golf Club - hole 13
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Royal County Down Golf Club - hole 13
Follow the aiming post to the 13th green at the Royal County Down Golf Club. Jason Scott Deegan/Golf Advisor
Royal County Down Golf Club - hole 14
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Royal County Down Golf Club - hole 14
Balls kick left when running onto the 14th green at the Royal County Down Golf Club. Jason Scott Deegan/Golf Advisor
Royal County Down Golf Club - hole 16
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Royal County Down Golf Club - hole 16
It's risk-reward on the 337-yard 16th hole at the Royal County Down Golf Club. Jason Scott Deegan/GolfPass
Royal County Down Golf Club - gates
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Royal County Down Golf Club - gates
Players walk through the gates at the Slieve Donard hotel leading to the Royal County Down Golf Club. Jason Scott Deegan/Golf Advisor
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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

A post shared by Jason Scott Deegan (@jasondeegangolfadvisor) on

Jason Scott Deegan has reviewed and photographed more than 1,000 courses and written about golf destinations in 20 countries 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 Instagram at @jasondeegangolfpass and Twitter at @WorldGolfer.

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