7 golf courses in Northern Ireland that every golfer should play
With The 148th Open set to make an historic return to Royal Portrush, golf fans all over the world will get to see the best golfers take on one of Northern Ireland’s finest golf courses.
The last time The Open was held outside of Scotland and England was when this venue hosted golf’s original championship back in 1951. Almost 70 years later, the focus is once again on Northern Ireland and on its unique golf offering.
Royal Portrush may be a spectacular links but it’s just one of the many incredible courses that are dotted throughout the region. From sprawling links to testing championship courses, golfers can choose from over 90 courses in Northern Ireland alone.
Ahead of The Open, we’ve picked out some of the best golf courses to play in Northern Ireland.
1. Royal Portrush, Co Antrim
Royal Portrush is one of the gems in Northern Ireland’s golfing crown, with two championship courses to enjoy. The Valley Course is smaller than the renowned Dunluce Course but they both offer spectacular coastal views of Donegal and Scotland.
Famous hole: The 16th hole, appropriately known as Calamity Corner, challenges you to clear a massive ravine with your tee shot. Wayward shots will be rewarded with the prospect of trying to hit the green from 15m below.
Where to stay: The Golflinks Hotel in the seaside resort of Portrush is conveniently located beside Royal Portrush.
2. Royal County Down, Co Down
Recently voted number one in Golf Digest’s World 100 Great Courses, Royal County Down is arguably Royal Portrush’s biggest rival for the title of best course in Northern Ireland. This beautiful links stretches out to Dundrum Bay and is overlooked by the Mourne Mountains. It recently hosted the Irish Open and its famous “bearded bunkers” have broken many a golfer’s heart.
Famous hole: The 9th hole is one of the most photographed holes in the world. This par 4’s physical beauty disguises the difficulty involved in taking a blind tea shot and then trying to avoid the well-placed bunkers that guard the approach to the green.
Where to stay: The Slieve Donard Resort & Spa in Newcastle is a luxury hotel that’s located just beside the course.
What to do: If you aren’t too tired from all that golf, you won’t regret going for a walk on the boardwalks that crisscross the beautiful Murlough Nature Reserve.
3. Portstewart, Co Derry
If you like the sound of 54 holes set among sprawling sand dunes and offering spectacular views, then this is for you. With its sweeping landscape and Atlantic views, the Strand Course is the standout option but the Riverside Course and the Old Course are also amazing to play.
Famous hole: The 1st has been called the best opening hole in Ireland, asking you to drive off an elevated tee and negotiate a left-to-right dogleg to the green.
What to do: If you want to splash out, the Cutting Edge Helicopters Game of Thrones Air Tours is a great way to see locations from everyone’s favourite show. Alternatively, try a bit of coastal walking on the Port Path.
4. Malone, Belfast
Located just outside Belfast, this 27-hole parkland course has a trout lake as its centrepiece. The Ballydrain, Dumbridge course’s tree-lined fairways and water hazards will test any golfer’s accuracy and leave you regretting any wayward shots. Its proximity to Belfast also makes it a great option if you want to combine a city break with some golf.
Famous hole: The signature 15th is a short par 3. The catch? There’s just the small matter of the lake that you have to clear to get to the green!
Where to stay: Belfast has something for every taste but the Europa Hotel is one of the city’s most famous places to stay and its central location is ideal.
What to do: Belfast is a buzzing food capital with a healthy nightlife so the options are endless. A black taxi tour is a great way to discover more about the city’s history and culture.
4. Ardglass, Co Down
Straddling the coastal cliffs of Down, this dramatic links course is regularly included on best Irish golf course lists. Golfers can enjoy spectacular ocean views and its layout and rugged scenery make for some unique hazards that will test even the best golfers. Bring plenty of balls if you’re going!
Famous hole: The 2nd hole may be short but there’s the small matter of a rocky inlet that you have to clear with your tee shot. That green can look very small when you’re on the tee, facing into a strong sea breeze and looking at the rocks below.
Where to stay: Margaret’s Cottage B&B has its own unique style and it’s located opposite the gates to the golf course.
What to do: If you enjoy a gin, sample the famous Shortcross Gin with a tour of the Rademon Estate Distillery.
6. Ballycastle, Co Antrim
The design of this 18-hole course has remained largely unchanged for the last 100 years, proving the old adage about not fixing something that isn’t broken. The first five holes are in parkland and the remaining holes follow the coast. You might find yourself a bit distracted by views of Rathlin Island and the coast, with the Mull of Kintyre also visible on a good day.
Famous hole: The Bonamargy Friary on the second hole gives this par 4 an atmospheric setting, and a unique hazard. The trick is to avoid hitting it into the graveyard to the left of the fairway and ending up out of bounds.
Where to stay: For something a bit different, The Tower in Ballycastle is a former Coastguards’ watch tower that offers panoramic views of the coast.
What to do: The Carrick-A-Rede rope bridge is just up the road and it’s a must see for first time visitors. Alternatively, take a ferry out to the populated island of Rathlin to explore this quaint beauty spot.
7. Lough Erne Resort, Co Fermanagh
You can enjoy a memorable 36-hole golf experience on the banks of Lough Erne by playing two 18-hole championship courses - the award winning Faldo Course designed by Nick Faldo and the Castle Hume Course. As you’d expect, there are plenty of water hazards to negotiate and the lake comes into play on no less than 11 holes on the Faldo course. Visiting golfers will get to take on two challenging championship courses that serve up a huge variety of golf.
Famous hole: The 10th hole on the Faldo Course is a short par 4 with a green that juts out into the lake. Hit it too far or wide of the mark and your ball is guaranteed to find a watery grave.
Where to stay: The award-winning Lough Erne Resort boasts five star accommodation so it’s an obvious place to stay.
What to do: The Erne Water Taxi is an ideal way to see Enniskillen from the water, explore the Erne in a chauffeur-driven water taxi and island-hop at will. You can book a tour for up to eight people and there are a variety of tours on offer.
To find out more, or to begin planning your next golf break, visit the Northern Ireland - Made for Golf website.