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Photo Aidan Bradley©

I have traveled a bit and played some golf.  I am not one of those guys (yet) who travels frequently for the express purpose of playing, but I have played in maybe 20 or so states and four foreign countries in the over thirty years I have been playing this dumb game. My travel golf has been split fairly evenly between destination golf (great courses) and convenience golf, ie golf because it was available and I was there and had time (some good courses, some goat ranches, not too many great ones.)  Of all the great courses I have played, Royal County Down is my absolute favorite.

About 30 miles (48km) south of Belfast, Northern Ireland, UK, and 88 miles (142km) north of Dublin, Royal County Down sits on the coast of the Irish Sea, in Newcastle, Northern Ireland.  Rolling dunesland covered with enormous swaths of green-black gorse, tall grasses, firm undulating fairways, gorgeous bunkers, and with (hopefully) a nice sea wind to add spice to the round, Royal County Down represents the pinnacle of my golfing experiences thus far.

I have played the Championship Links several times (there is a second course, the Annesley Links, which I have not played), always with a local caddie.  Caddies are a necessity, as there are quite a number of charming-but-daunting blind shots, marked with (when they are marked) white-painted rocks near the top of a dune, for example.  Your caddie will point at a particular cloud or clump of grass to line you up in the absence of said white rock.  Most charming.  Golf architects over here in The Colonies in the last 75 years seem to have forgotten how entertaining a good blind shot can be (along with how to build a course without moving a million tons of dirt, but I digress.)  Even more important than guiding you around the course and carrying your overstuffed bag, these magical caddie fellows are astonishingly skilled at finding balls hit into the high grasses or, worse, into the gorse.  Had I been without a caddie, most every ball I hit into the gorse would have been simply declared lost, so fearsome are the barbs on this devilish plant.  It would go like this:

I hit a ball into the gorse, then curse.
We walk silently to the general vicinity of my errant shot.
I tell the caddie “nevermind, that one’s gone,” and drop a ball.
Caddie ignores me completely, ventures into the thorn forest.
Caddie emerges a few seconds later with my ball.
Caddie pads tip.

Perhaps they each had a dozen spare Titleists in their pockets, but I remain awed nonetheless.

I’m not going to go hole-by-hole through my rounds for you (you’re welcome), but suffice it to say it is one of life’s most memorable experiences to be faced with the myriad of puzzles and riddles and vagaries of the bounces (and the occasional blind shots) around this truly gothic, epic links.  To this day the only place I have ever been forced to hit a bunker shot backwards to continue play, I cannot wait to return.

Below is a (really quite dreadfully-executed) picture of one of two caps from Royal County Down in my collection. (This post is the unofficial start of the Golf Caps series, I suppose.) While you can purchase some items online from the Royal County Down website, I highly recommend picking yours up in person. In June. Not now.




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