Being an American with limited access to true, oceanside, links-style golf courses obviously made me excited to come overseas to the Mecca of the golfing world. Golf most likely (no one really knows) started in Scotland, and it caught on so intensely that James II, the King of Scots, banned golf in Scotland three times in the 1400s because all the soldiers were spending their free time golfing instead of practicing archery and other military activities. It soon spread to the rest of the British Isles and Ireland, despite what I would assume to be the best efforts of James II.
Today, the UK & Ireland sport many of the world’s best – and oldest – courses. The links in Great Britain are generally flatter and wider with more rolling mounds, and the links on the island of Ireland are generally hillier and more dramatic, as well as greener due to the rain. Most publications rank Royal County Down as the best golf course on the island, many as the best in Europe, and some even rank it as the best course in the world. I have noticed that the residents of Northern Ireland are very split on whether Royal County Down (RCD) or Royal Portrush (RPGC), the site of the 2019 Open Championship, deserves the top spot. Our university golf team grants us free membership at RPGC (which is incredible) and my teammate Niamh is a member at RCD, meaning I have had the recent fortune of being able to play both courses.
Royal Portrush is a true championship test and is in as beautiful of an environment as any course in the world, nestled up against the north coast of Northern Ireland, brutally exposed to the wrath of the ocean. Despite the extreme location, RPGC is generally more fair than RCD, and for that reason, I would rather play at tournament at Portrush.
HOWEVER – and there isn’t an easy way to put this – if I had one more round of golf to play before I died, it would be at Royal County Down. The experience of playing RCD – wedged between the Mourne mountains and the ocean – is surreal. The feeling transcends golf or sport or anything else going on that day. No, I am not just saying that because I played it on Ryder Cup Sunday and the US got trounced and RCD was my escape from reality. I am saying it because I played it a month ago now and I can still remember every hole and every shot I hit on a course I’ve only seen once. I am saying it because it was a windy day, the course was tougher than I expected, my score was disturbingly poor, and I still walked off the course with a massive smile on my face, already grieving at the thought of not walking those fairways again in the near future, and already harboring a feeling of pity for those golfers who may never be able to make the trip across the ocean to play a course I now feel is a rite of passage to enter golf heaven.