We all know The Open Championship is the most historic and arguably the biggest event in golf, and while the UK is home to an embarrassment of riches when it comes to golf, The Claret Jug has only ever been contested outside of Scotland and England on two occasions…both at the same course and both in Northern Ireland!
Royal Portrush hosted The Open way back in 1951 and it wasn’t until 2019 that it muscled its way back onto The Open Rota, hosting a memorable tournament that saw Shane Lowry blow the field away with a stunning 63 (tied for the second-lowest round ever recorded in major championship golf) during Saturday’s 3rd round, before eventually going on to clinch The Claret Jug on the final day’s play.
You would think then that the Dunluce Links at Royal Portrush would be a shoo-in for the title of “best course in Northern Ireland”…surely it’s the best links course there right?!
Well before we go handing out any titles or crowns, let’s not forget just how good the links golf is in Northern Ireland. There are a handful of other courses, some of which have hosted The Irish Open on The European Tour for example, which might just have their own say on who is the lord of the links land in Northern Ireland. With that in mind, let’s take a quick look at the Top 5 Links Courses in Northern Ireland which you can play on your next golf holiday!
Royal County Down
Old Tom Morris was the original architect of Royal County Down and since it was opened in 1889 it has been modified by legends of the game including Harry Vardon and Harry Colt. The patch of land that was handed to Old Tome Morris was a thing of beauty and the course has been carved through vast, rugged dunes that are adorned with gorgeous purple heather and yellow gorse.
The fairways are set on perfect sandy links turf and the gentle undulations have been sculpted by the hands of time. Measuring more than 7000 yards from the back tees this magnificent course can be a bit of a brute and requires solid ball striking and precision from the fairways as the greens are small and feature wicked little hollows that gather errant approach shots and leave the golfer facing a tough two putt. The Slieve Donard peak casts its shadow over the course and from many of the holes golfers are treated to some dramatic views that may make concentrating on the task in hand a tough proposition!
Royal Portrush – Dunluce Links
Since 1888, Royal Portrush has been transformed from its original nine hole layout into a 18 hole links gem that has now cemented its place as one of the very best golf courses not just in Northern Ireland but in the world. Prior to the Second World War the original design was revamped by the esteemed designer Harry S Colt who claimed that Portrush was his finest ever achievement. High praise indeed considering he is responsible for the likes of Muirfield, Wentworth and Sunningdale.
The Dunluce Links was named after the castle that overlooks the course and was the scene of the very first professional golf tournament in Ireland. Portrush also has the distinction of being the only course outside of Scotland and England that has hosted the Open Championship. The Dunluce Course has been duking it out with Royal County Down for the title of Northern Ireland’s best golf course for years and it seems as if the debate is set to continue for many more.
Portstewart Golf Club – Strand Course
Portstewart dates back to 1894 and the current layout brings you the best from the past and the present. Following a drastic remodelling project in the 1980s seven new holes were constructed and in 1992 the Strand Course was opened for play. Boasting panoramic views of the Atlantic Ocean, this stunning course has been sculpted in and around giant dunes that give each hole a private and secluded feeling that adds a sense of drama to every shot you play.
Portstewart boasts one of the very best front nines in the UK and each hole with leave you completely spellbound. Des Griffin was responsible for the redesign that resulted in the Strand Course and he has done such a good job that it is impossible to tell which of the holes are younger than the others as they blend seamlessly together. A round at Portstewart will be sure to leave you wanting more.
Castlerock Golf Club – Mussenden Course
Castlerock is the only entrant on this list to have been formed during the 20th century. In 1908 Ben Sayers turned the original design into an 18 hole layout and by 1925 Harry Colt had his hands on it to make further modifications. As with many links courses the weather plays a big part in the defence of the course. When the wind blows it really blows and sound course management will serve you well. With such a vast array of spectacular holes on the Mussenden Course it is tough to pick out a signature hole.
We suggest you look out for the 4th which is called “Leg O’ Mutton”. This is a long par 3 that is played to a raised green. A railway line runs parallel to the hole and a pretty little burn snakes it way up the full length of the hole. Great dunes, humps and hillocks are abetted by sneakily placed hidden burns that may catch out golfers playing the course for the first time. An example lies in wait on the 6th where a low running shot will be gobbled up by a hidden burn that crosses the front of the green.
Ardglass Golf Club
Ardglass is one of Northern Ireland’s best kept secrets and is without doubt one of the most visually attractive links courses in the world. Golfers are treated to dramatic views of the Irish Sea on almost every hole. Ardglass was formed in 1896 and it wasn’t until 1970 that it was transformed into the stunning 18 hole links test it is today. The opening stretch of holes are perched atop the craggy cliff tops which add a sense of drama to every shot you play.
There are a number of holes that will be sure to live long in the memory including the short 2nd and the par-5 11th, while the views from the 12th tee are extraordinary. Here golfers play to a small, distant putting surface from an elevated tee. As if the stunning links course wasn’t enough, Ardglass also boasts a fantastic clubhouse that has been fashioned from a 14th century castle. As with all golf clubs in Ireland and Northern Ireland, golfers can expect a warm welcome and plenty of craic.