European Tour confirms Irish Open for Royal County Down
The ninth fairway at Royal County Down. 

The ninth fairway at Royal County Down. 

Eight weeks after Rory McIlroy let the cat out of the bag, the European Tour has confirmed that the Irish Open will be heading for Royal County Down.

We can only presume that an invitation to "an Irish Open press conference" at the Newcastle venue on Thursday will be to confirm a 2015 staging given the recent confirmation of this year's edition for Fota Island Resort in Co Cork.

While it remains to be seen how the European Tour plans to deal with crowds and the difficulty of the terrain, the news is certainly welcome given the quality and the prestige of the venue — it's ranked the  best course on the planet outside the United States by Golf Digest and fourth in that publication's list of the World's 100 Greatest Courses behind Pine Valley, Cypress Point and Augusta National.

It will be just the fourth staging of the Irish Open at Royal County Down and the first for 75 years. Ernest Whitcombe won the second and ninth stagings of the Championship in 1928 and 1935 while Sunningdale professional Arthur Lees triumphed in 1939.

The course has also staged a wealth of championships and major events, which include two (British) Amateurs, 10 Irish Amateur Close Championships, 15 Irish Amateur Opens, four Irish Professional Championships, 10 Irish Ladies' Close Championships, eight Ladies' British Open Amateur Championships, three Senior Open Championships, two Irish Seniors' Open Amateur Championships, three Home International matches, the 1968 Curtis Cup and the 2007 Walker Cup. 

The list of title winners at Newcastle features John Ball, Harold Hilton, Jimmy Bruen, Cecil Ewing, JB Carr, Ronan Rafferty, Peter Lawrie, Ernest Whitcombe, Michael Moran, Harry Bradshaw, May Hezlet and Christy O'Connor Jnr to name but a handful while the 2007 Walker Cup matches featured the likes of two-time major winner Rory McIlroy, 2012 US Open champion Webb Simpson, US Tour winners Dustin Johnson, Kyle Stanley, Billy Horschel, Chris Kirk and Rickie Fowler and European Tour winners David Horsey, Rhys Davies, John Parry and Danny Willett.

Jack Nicklaus, Tom Watson, Gary Player and Arnold Palmer all competed in Senior Opens there.

“You may as well go to the clubhouse or the airline booth and get a ticket home because you just can't hit it there,”  Nicklaus said on the perils of going left at the 18th at Royal County Down. 

Famed for its fringe-topped bunkers and its magnificent views of the Mourne Mountains, Royal County Down was founded in 1889 by a group of influential business and professional men from Belfast.

Scottish school teacher George L. Baillie was mainly responsible for the original nine-hole layout before Old Tom Morris was then commissioned to travel over from St. Andrews “for a sum not to exceed £4” to advise on a second nine.  

The full course was ready for play in July 1890 and from 1900 to 1913 George Combe began the remodelling of the course in 1900 and legendary figures James Braid, J. H. Taylor, Harry Vardon and Ben Sayers all visited and made recommendations, many of which were adopted.

In 1925, Harry Colt was asked to advise on further improvements to the course, leading to the creation of the present fourth and ninth holes, which were to become two of the most photographed holes in world golf.

In 1997, the 17th and 18th holes were strengthened by Donald Steel and in 2004, an entirely new 16th hole was created. 

The arrival of the Irish Open has been hailed as great news by the likes of McIlroy and Graeme McDowell, who are two regular visitors. But it will also be widely acclaimed by the likes of Pádraig Harrington and Darren Clarke, who join McIlroy at this week's Shell Houston Open.

Harrington must win the title in Texas if he is avoid missing the Masters for the first time since he first qualified in 2000. But after missing the cut by two shots in the Valero Texas Open last week, the three-time major winner admitted that his putting needs some serious work if he is to turn what has been a horrific season around.

"Overall, for the two rounds I just didn't chip or putt well enough," Harrington wrote on his blog. "My putting while it doesn't feel too bad is not good and I am languishing in the statistics. I spent the weekend mainly working on this and my chipping; I did hit some shots but not too many as my long game is fine, there is not much to do on this, but the main area that I have to sort out is my putting."

Clarke, meanwhile, has joined Lee Westwood in confirming that he will play the Aberdeen Asset Management Scottish Open at Royal Aberdeen Golf Club from July 10-13.

"It is no secret that I love links golf,” Clarke said . “So to have a new links course on the European Tour’s International Schedule is very exciting for me, and especially at an event with which I feel I have a real affinity.

“The Scottish golf fans are some of the most knowledgeable in the world so it is always a pleasure to return to this event and I hope that I can give them something to shout about.”

As for Royal County Down, McIlroy is a huge fan, as he explained in this hole by hole guide for the 2007 Walker Cup.


The course is less than an hour's drive from where he grew up

1st 539 yards Par 5
It is a driver and that leaves you anything from 250 to 200 yards to a narrow entrance and a long narrow green. The best way in is from the left. It is a driver and anything between a three and a five iron.

2nd 444 yards Par 4
You have to hit the driver up the right side of the fairway to give yourself a good look at the green. From there it is only a short iron in - a nine iron or a wedge.

3rd 477 yards par 4
I'll probably hit a three-wood up the left hand side to fly the trap to get another good look at the green and a six iron to a nine iron. The green kicks from left to right as well so you have to keep that in mind when you are coming in there.

4th 213 yards Par 3
It's a beautiful par three from an elevated tee. Depending on the wind and where the pin is, it can play anything from a three iron to a six iron. It's a tough hole and you just can't miss it right. The best miss is left if you want to get it up and down for par.

5th 440 yards Par 4
It's another blind tee shot and I'll probably hit a three-wood here and that will leave me a seven or an eight iron to a pretty flat green. Again, it is probably best to miss it left in a little hollow.

6th 398 yards Par 4
A two-iron or a three-wood off the tee leaves you short iron to a very tricky green. The green falls off on every side and while it is one of the shortest par-fours on the course you just have to get it on the green and take you chances from there.

7th 145 yards Par 3
The seventh is one of the great short par threes. You can't go left at all or you are down in a deep bunker. It is anything from a seven iron to a wedge, depending on the wind. The right side of the green is the target and you can miss it right there.

8th 430 yards Par 4
It's not as bad as you might think. You just have to hit your drive up towards the bunker on the right which is around 350 yards away and you have a short iron in there. The problem is the green because you just have to play to the middle of the green there. There are fall offs on either side and you just MUST hit that 20 foot wide strip up the middle of the green.

9th 486 yards Par 4
It's a great hole. You just take aim at the little white cottage on the mountain and let rip. If you get a good drive away you could have a five-iron to an elevated green. If the wind is against or with you, it could be a two-iron or a seven-iron. And it's a tricky one to read.

Out 3572 yards Par 35

10th 197 yards Par 3
It's another great par-three and you just have to make sure you land it at the front of the green because it all feeds in from the left. It can play as much as a four-iron but it comes at an important time in the round. If they put the pin somewhere in the back right it is accessible. But

11th 440 yards Par 4
This is all about position off the tee on his blind dogleg right hole. It is a three-wood to come in from the left side of the fairway and then you are hitting straight up the green. It slopes from right to left and there is a big knuckle on the front right of the green. The main thing is to hit the fairway and it is a big green, so middle of the green is fine.

12th 527 yards Par 5
It's a real birdie hole. I hit a drive and a five iron in there the other day. You just hit your drive straight at the green and then come in from the left hand side. You can run something in or even fly it all the way.

13th 444 yards Par 4
It all depends how you are feeling. You can lay it back in the fairway or try and and hit a three-wood over the corner on the right and I'll probably try and do that to give myself a good look at the green. Everything feeds in from right to left so it can be just a wedge in there. But you can't come up short with the bunker there.

14th 212 yards Par 3
Another good par three. I hit a four-iron into the wind. But it can be a two iron or a seven iron. The front of the green is not a bad spot to be with the surface sloping from back to front you will have an uphill putt.

15th 467 yards Par 4
A great par four. I hit a three wood up the right so I don't run out of fairway. From there it is a five or a six iron but you have to be careful not to miss it right because there is a big fall off there and it is very difficult to get it up and down. You just have to hit the green. No messing. There is a fall off to the left as well. A great hole and hole you just have to make four. It is pivotal.

16th 337 yards Par 4
I love this new hole. It looks as though it has been there forever. I hit driver on the green the other day and made a two. If you lay back it is a very fiddly shot and the green has a lot of subtle borrows on it as well. It is another pivotal hole and one you are looking to birdie.

17th 435 yards Par 4
There are some dangerous bunkers down the right so you hit three-wood down the left and make sure you don't run down into the pond in the middle of the fairway. Just get to the top of the hill and then it is only a short iron in there. The green is a bowl so everything feeds into the middle of the green there. It's another good chance. Short is not bad because there are bunkers, left, right and long.

18th 550 yard Par 5
It's a great finishing hole and you have to make sure you hit the fairway. The bunkers on the right don't come into play any more but there is some rough further down there that is long and thick and that has to be avoided. If you are going to go for the green, you have to miss it short. Going right or left you can be short-sided. If you lay up and leave yourself 100 yards it is a tough shot. A very demanding hole.

In 3609 yards Par 35
Total 7181 yards Par 71