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THE photograph on a wall in the clubhouse at Royal County Down encapsulates both the allure of the course and the game of golf itself.
It shows Rory McIlroy and Graeme McDowell, European Ryder Cup heroes and both former US Open champions, striding down the first fairway for an impromptu round in their native Northern Ireland.
Royal County Down is the jewel in the crown of the Heart of Down tournament, an annual event open to all golfers – not just major title winners, you will be glad to hear – whose essence is the same as that which drew Messrs McIlroy and McDowell to the course on that day.
Great craic while playing great courses in great company – plus the Heart of Down championship offers prizes, too, both daily and for overall winners across its three days.
Two of three courses are used on a rota basis – Ardglass, Spa and Downpatrick – with Royal County Down at its apex each year.
Competitors come from all parts of the UK, the Republic of Ireland, Continental Europe and from the other side of the Atlantic.
There are many such tournaments for the golfer with a 'have clubs, will travel' attitude, but it is Royal County Down which elevates the Heart of Down competition to a plateau above so many. Old Tom Morris was responsible for its original layout among the heather-
Harry Vardon, Ben Sayers and Harry S Colt all made subsequent adjustments to a track which has been the venue for the Walker Cup, the Curtis Cup, the Amateur Championship, the Home Internationals and, on eight occasions, the Ladies’ British Open Amateur Championship.
Small wonder, then, that Heart of Down competitors fight hard to be among the top 148 who qualify from the first two days for a round over these links. The remainder get the opportunity to play Royal County Down's Annsley Links.
All of this is not to say that Ardglass, Spa and Downpatrick are mere warm-
Ardglass, like Royal County Down, provides a superb links challenge, hugging close to a rugged coastline whose natural savagery is visually captivating while its holes assault the golfing senses.
The layout here places a variety of demands on the golfer, especially the eight on which the coastline of the Irish Sea comes into play where accurate tee shots are a must.
Moving inland to Ballynahinch, Spa has an altogether different visual appeal and golfing aspect, being a par-
As with Ardglass, though, the A-
The 17th tee, it is said, affords panoramic views of the Mourne Mountains although on the day of my visit severely bad weather drove me to the sanctuary of the clubhouse before reaching this stage, where a warm welcome was offered in every sense of the expression. Next year, Spa will step down temporarily from the Heart of Down roster to be replaced by Downpatrick.
Royal County Down's standing in the golfing world is perfectly complemented by the Slieve Donard Resort and Spa, which borders it and offers golfers the opportunity of four-
Built by the Belfast and County Down Railway as a luxury end-
Famous golfing guests have included Gary Player, Jack Nicklaus, Arnold Palmer and Tiger Woods.
Even though my golf for the week came nowhere close to their standards – indeed it was more a case of causing mirth in the vein of another of Slieve Donard's guests, Charlie Chaplin – I still finished the week with a big smile on my face.
On these courses, in this setting, how could I not?
Heart of Down event, Northern Ireland
Published: December 21, 2013
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