A little over a year ago, I traveled to Northern Ireland on assignment for Golf Digest. My account of that trip, called The Adventure of a Lifetime, was mostly about Royal County Down, in Newcastle -- the golf course that, if I really and truly had to pick just one, would probably get my vote as the world's greatest.
As terrific as R.C.D. is, though, it's not the only golf course in County Down, or even in Newcastle. There's a second course on the same property, called Annesley Links, and, although visiting Americans seldom play it, it has plenty of charms. It's only 4,500 yards from the men's medal tees, but if you can play it without losing more balls than you did on the championship course you'll have something to brag about.
I played the Annesley with Shaun Killough and Andy Murphy, whom I met on the first tee. Killough is a retired bank manager, and Murphy is a retired electrician. Murphy was a good friend of Killough's predecessor at the bank, and, when Killough got the job, Murphy, in effect, came with it. They've been golf buddies ever since. That's Murphy on the left in the photo below, and Killough on the right.
Killough is a member and a past president of Mourne Golf Club, whose clubhouse stands between the Slieve Donard Hotel (whose spire you see in the distance in the first photo in this post) and the first tee of the championship course.
Mourne was established in the 1940s for residents of Newcastle, whom Royal County Down members generally consider to be less clubbable than residents of Belfast. It has 350 members, who can play the Annesley course whenever they like and the championship course on any day but Saturday -- and all for a little over 800 pounds a year. "It's the best golf deal in the world," Killough told me.
Killough, Murphy, and I spent most of our round debating our wager. Murphy got so far ahead that on the tenth tee Killough ruled that the first nine holes had been practice only, and that the real match would begin now. But then he and I both lost our tee shots on the tenth, so that hole became a practice hole, too. Murphy got far ahead again. Then I made a birdie on a hole where Killough and Murphy both made net birdies, and I said, "That squares the match, I believe." Killough agreed, so he and I kept our losses to a minimum.
Mourne, like Royal County Down, is men only. They had advertised a Ladies' Night not long before, but only nine people signed up so they canceled it.
Killough told me that during his presidency he established a mixed foursomes tournament, which was called the Sorry Trophy because foursomes partners are always apologizing to each other. I saw the trophy, in a case in the clubhouse, where we stopped for a beer after our round. The tournament lasted just a couple of years, he said, but someone, somewhere, should revive the name.
There's also a Royal County Down Ladies Golf Club, which has a small clubhouse of its own, near the first tee of the Annesley course.
Women are welcome on the championship course, but even from the forward tees some of the carries and elevations can be daunting for shorter hitters, and members of the ladies' club, Killough said, play the Annesley course almost exclusively. He also told me, with incredulity, that the women's clubhouse is alcohol-free.
Forty or fifty years ago, there was talk at Mourne of acquiring land north of Newcastle, in Dundrum, and building a golf course that would belong exclusively to Mourne Golf Club. In the end, though, only three members subscribed. After all, who in his right mind would give up the best golf deal in the world?