Royal Portrush vs. Royal County Down: Which iconic Northern Ireland course reigns supreme?

July 16, 2019

GOLF’s Top 100 course panelists are among the most respected and well-traveled course evaluators in the game. They’re also keen to share their opinions. In this new GOLF.com series, we’ll be granting them anonymity and turning to them for their unvarnished views on all questions course-related. The goal is not only to entertain you but also to give you a better understanding of how GOLF’s panelists assess courses.

In this edition, with a nod to The Open, we’ve asked our experts to settle a classic 19th-hole debate: Which legendary Northern Ireland course has the edge — Royal Portrush or Royal County Down?

Meet our panel:

Panelist 1: Panelist since 2009; has played 80 of the Top 100

Panelist 2: Panelist since 2007; has played 70 of the Top 100    

Panelist 3: Panelist since 2008, has played 84 of the Top 100    

Panelist 4: Panelist since 2015; has played all of the Top 100

Panelist 5: Panelist since 2016; has played 70 of the Top 100

When people talk of golf in Northern Ireland, Royal Portrush is often mentioned in the same breath (or at least the same few sentences) as Royal County Down. If someone had a chance to play just one of the two, which would you recommend and why?

Panelist 1: County Down is still the big brother here. The front nine at County Down is perhaps the best front side in all of golf. Definitely debatable vs. other stalwarts like NGLA or Royal Melbourne. Portrush is fabulous but still a half notch behind.

Panelist 2:  I am of the opposite view and always favor Royal Portrush over RCD. I believe that there are more “weaker” holes at RCD (2, 6, 7, 11, 16 and 17) than at RP (11 and 17). If it weren’t for the backdrop of the Mountains of Mourne, especially playing 8 and 9, I don’t believe RCD would be so highly ranked. There are also too many blind shots at RCD for my liking!

Panelist 3: Royal County Down is undeniably a gem, but it may no longer be as complete a set of holes as Royal Portrush. Both are 18 holes of unrelenting links golf, but seeing a picture of the new holes at Royal Portrush and re-configuring its finale may just tip the hat past the genius of Country Down’s front nine.

Panelist 4: Having played both courses countless times, if I was to play just one of them, I would choose Royal Portrush. For a “newbie” on either course, there are fewer blind tee shots at Royal Portrush and the journey around the routing is more visually intuitive. First-timers at Royal County Down sometimes struggle with the number of blind shots, but such first-world problems are short lived. The atmosphere at each club is different. Still, over time as you get to know both courses from an architecture perspective, it’s essentially impossible to pick a favorite given their respective splendor. Royal Portrush also has a second course onsite, known as the Valley course, which is an enjoyable compliment also designed by Colt if you have time during the visit.

Panelist 5: Royal County Down by a nose. The front nine is one of the best in golf and there is an elegance about its overall design that barely outdoes the more varied and demanding Portrush.


It was a barnburner, but in the eyes of our esteemed panel Royal County Down ekes out Royal Portrush, 3-2. The takeaway for you: If you find yourself in Northern Ireland, do whatever you have to do to play them both.

To receive GOLF’s all-new newsletters, subscribe for free here.