To find a place like Ardglass Golf Club in Northern Ireland, it helps to tap into local knowledge. My brother and I received some one bright, brisk morning while playing Royal County Down. We asked our caddies where they teed it up on their days off, and they told us there was a pretty good little course about twenty miles up the coastal road. After lunch, we drove there.
The road wound through humble seaside towns and past tidy farms with stone walls until it came to a fishing village perched on a headland overlooking the Irish Sea. The golf course sits at the edge of this old port town, the holes laid out on a sheltered peninsula called Ringfad Point that was guarded, in another day, by a fourteenth-century stone fortress named Cowd's Castle.
The castle is now largely a ruin, but the golf club has renovated a piece of it, big enough for a tiny pro shop and a bar. The greens fee was about a quarter of what we'd paid at Royal County Down, and there was no need for a tee time. We stepped outside and surveyed the opening hole. Wow, was all my brother could say.
Starting from the shadow of the castle ruins, the tee shot on number one must carry a rocky inlet encroaching from the left to find an elevated fairway. From there the green is a short pitch away, but it's a blind shot over a bunker and a swale. The second hole, a 173-yard par three, plays from a clifftop tee over a cavernous indentation of the sea—into the prevailing wind.
As the course turned inland, we could see why Ardglass fails to draw the kind of attention paid to Royal County Down, Royal Portrush or even Portstewart. Some of the greens lack contour, and a number of holes merely play back and forth across flat former pasture land. But there's a fine stretch of new holes (nine through eleven) stitched along the other side of Ringfad Point.
Seventeen and eighteen are short charmers, returning home toward the castle. They were the thirty-fifth and thirty-sixth holes we'd walked that day, but despite our fatigue, my brother and I were smiling. Ardglass was just the sort of semi- precious jewel we had hoped to discover.
Ardglass Golf Club, Castle Place, Ardglass, County Down; 011-44/284-484-1022, ardglassgolfclub.com. Yardage: 6,268. Par: 70. Course Design: by the membership, 1896. Greens Fees: $55$80.
Margaret's Cottage, Ardglass; 011-44/284-484-1080. Rooms: $50.
Slieve Donard Hotel, Newcastle; 011-44/284-372-1066. Rooms: from $250. Suites: $800.
The Buck's Head Inn (Seafood), Dundrum; 011-44/284-375-1868. $$$$