For a relatively small patch of land, Northern Ireland is home to an inordinate amount of top class golf courses – and an inordinate amount of recent major champions for that matter – which, when combined with stunning natural beauty and a warm Irish welcome, make it a perfect fit for a golf holiday.
Whether it be a weekend break to a stay and play resort, or a more thorough golf tour of the age old links masterpieces that straddle the country’s rugged coastline the undoubted quality and abundance of variety on offer in Northern Ireland is almost too good to be true. Throw in the added bonus of FREE golf club carriage with Aer Lingus and you have the perfect choice for your next UK golf break.
Travelling to Northern Ireland couldn’t be simpler. Fly into Belfast City Airport and you’ll have Royal Belfast Golf Club just a few miles up the road.
The course at Royal Belfast is based on the 1925 layout conceived by Harry S. Colt, and is set in a fantastic location, with unrivalled views of Belfast Lough and the Antrim plateau above. One of only four clubs in Ireland to be honoured with the Royal moniker, this inland gem is a great starting point for a tour towards the world famous stretch of coastline further to the North.
Although not as famous as Royal County Down or Portstewart, Castlerock offers as good a test of golf as any course in Ireland.
A couple of hours in the car will take you all the way to the County Antrim coastline, home to the holy trinity of the Causeway Coast, Castlerock, Portstewart and the one and only Royal Portrush. These are three of the greatest golf courses on the planet and with only 14 miles between Castlerock and Portrush – Portstewart sits smack bang in the middle of them – there are few places in the world that can offer such quality in such close proximity and if you have a soft spot for links golf, this is the place to be!
Castlerock isn’t quite as well known as its illustrious neighbours but this links gem, shaped largely by the esteemed Harry Colt, is a cracker. Crafted through the beautiful rolling sand dunes with the River Bann flowing alongside, the course is dominated by great banks of rough and whins that are abetted by hidden burns and all the humps and hillocks that are so characteristic of seaside golf. Castlerock asks plenty of questions of your game and with tremendous views of the Isle of Islay, there is plenty of natural beauty to complement the Castlerock beast.
Portstewart is defined by the monstrous dunes that dominate this stretch of Causweay coastline and they create a sense of drama and isolation from start to finish.
Portstewart is seen by many as a mini Royal Portrush but that might do this age old classic an injustice as it is without doubt an amazing layout in its own right. Boasting views across the Atlantic mouth of Lough Foyle and the Inishowen peninsula, Portstewart wriggles its way through some of the most monstrous dunes you can imagine. This particular web of dunes is called ‘Thirsty Hollow’ and there is drama at every turn. Although picking a signature hole is a tough task, of any, the most fascinating hole is arguably par 4 1st. This daunting downhill beauty immediately gives the golfer an insight into the immense character of the rest of the course.
Once you have ticked off Castlerock and Portstewart, it’s hard to imagine how the golf along the Causeway Coast could get any better but in the Dunluce Links at Royal Portrush, you have a course that sits at the top end of any list of the world’s greatest courses.
Originally conceived and realised in 1888, the Dunluce Links, in its present state, owes thanks to the 1947 redesign completed by Harry S. Colt. The renowned course architect certainly seems to have done his bit for golf in this part of the world! The most spectacular parts of the course lie down by the shore. The 5th hole, aptly named “White Rocks” due to the stunning view from the tee, is a real corker. It’s a short, doglegging, downhill par four that’s played from the elevated tee which provides a great platform to soak up the views. With a green that is perched seemingly on the edge of the world, some 50 feet above the seashore this hole perfectly sums up Royal Portrush. Beautiful, daunting and endlessly entertaining, the Dunluce Links will live long in the memory.
Of the Holy Trinity on the Causeway Coastline, Royal Portrush, home to former Open Champion Darren Clarke, is the pick of the bunch; a true bucket list golf course.
A trip to the Giant’s Causeway will provide some respite after a gruelling round at any of the Causeway Coast’s holy trinity. Followed by wee dram at the nearby Bushmills Inn Hotel, which shares the town with the world’s oldest distillery – producing the world famous Bushmills Irish whisky –; this is a must for anyone visiting this part of Northern Ireland.
Of course Northern Ireland isn’t just one bog links course; there are more golfing treasures to be enjoyed further inland.
The Hilton Templepatrick offers the perfect combination of the comforts of a modern hotel, complete with a fantastic spa, with the challenge of a championship golf course set within the picturesque Castle Upton Estate which is within easy driving distance of Belfast.
Further to the North lies the Galgorm Resort & Spa which is also a great place to enjoy a more relaxing, slow paced weekend away. Galgorm Castle Golf Club is on the doorstep and, As well as golf, why not experience fishing on the River Maine, clay pigeon shooting, horse riding, or relaxing in the luxury new Spa facility which features wet and dry treatment rooms, thermal suites, hydro pool and outdoor hot tub.
Of course we would be remiss not to mention the amazing Lough Erne Resort as this is arguably the finest in the country. The lakes of County Fermanagh sets a stunning scene and an outstanding hotel, replete with modern amenities and amazing leisure facilities, is firmly backed up by a truly amazing golf course. Designed by six-time major champion, Sir Nick Faldo, Lough Erne carves its way through ancient, majestic woodland before it weaves its way toward the shores of the lake. Lough Erne’s inauguration was crowned by an amazing high stakes exhibition match between Padraig Harrington and Rory McIlroy and now it awaits the travelling golfer, who no doubt will fall in love with its endless charms.
Away from the rugged beauty of the Northern Irish links courses lies Lough Erne which offers an altogether different test of golf.
While any of the courses above would qualify as key ingredients to a memorable Northern Ireland Golf Tour, there is one course that sits head and shoulders above the rest. In fact, this course sits head and shoulders above almost every other golf course in the world and with a history spanning over a century is now widely regarded as the world’s second best golf course.
Set against the backdrop of the spellbinding Mountains of Mourne, the links land at Royal County Down, which is ably supported in the local area by the likes of Ardglass, seems heaven sent for golf; there are few more incredible places to enjoy a game. The sand dunes are rugged but beautifully clad in purple heather and yellow gorse. Fairways feature all the humps and bumps you’d expect of an age old links that has been shaped by the hands of time and the small greens are strewn with devilish breaks that will keep even the finest wielders of the flat stick on their toes from start to finish.
Royal County Down is bested by perhaps only one or two golf courses on the planet and is an absolute must for any golfing aficionado.
Considering Royal Portrush has hosted the Open Championship – the only course outside of Scotland and England to have done so – it is baffling as to why County Down has not been bestowed the same honour. Measuring more than 7,000 yards from the back tees, it is more than capable of hosting the world’s best players and thankfully, the forward tees mean we weekend warriors can also enjoy everything this eccentric, beautiful and downright fascinating course has to throw at us.
For adventurous golfers looking to sample the best of the best, there are few places that can top Northern Ireland.