The Open focus: Why Northern Ireland should be on every golfer’s bucket list
The great and the good of the golfing world are set to descend on Northern Ireland when The 148th Open comes to these shores for the first time in almost 70 years.
From July 14-21, golf’s original championship will return to Royal Portrush, which first hosted The Open back in 1951. For Irish fans, it’s a chance to see the world’s top golfers battle it out for the Claret Jug among the soaring dunes of this renowned links.
With more than 215,000 spectators coming to the north west for The 148th Open, it will also be the first time that many visitors realise just how much Northern Ireland has to offer golf fans.
This is a land steeped in golf, where you can play some of the world’s finest courses while soaking up spectacular views. From the first tee shot to the 19th hole, this golfer’s paradise won’t disappoint.
Golf in the blood
There’s a reason that a relatively small place like Northern Ireland produces so many world class golfers – golf is in the blood. With a population of less than two million people, Northern Ireland is certainly punching above its weight when it comes to producing champions.
The locals will justifiably see themselves as serious contenders for The Open when it finally returns to their home soil. Rory McIlroy recently won the RBC Canadian Open and Graeme McDowell is coming back into form just in time to impress in his home town.
The golfing world stood up and took notice when Graeme McDowell (US Open), Rory McIlroy (The Open, US Open and PGA Championship) and Darren Clarke (The Open) all became major winners between 2010 and 2014. Northern Ireland’s top players took their seats at golf’s top table and left people wondering what was in the water in this part of the world.
Perhaps it’s no surprise that a place that boasts some of the best golf courses in the world is producing elite golfers who can compete with the best in the game. With over 90 courses in Northern Ireland, it’s easy to get into the game, and its toughest courses are the perfect training ground for any top class golfer.
Northern Ireland has some of the world’s best golf courses
One of the advantages of taking a golf holiday in Northern Ireland is the sheer number of fantastic golf courses in close proximity to each other. But which courses should be on your bucket list if you’re making the trip north? Here are just a few options that won’t disappoint.
Royal Portrush is an obvious choice – who doesn’t want to test themselves on a course that’s hosted a major? With two 18-hole courses, including the notoriously challenging Dunluce Course, it’s the place to go if you want to see how you measure up to the pros.
Aside from getting a few rounds in, you can also visit local attractions like the Giant’s Causeway or enjoy a tipple at the Bushmills Distillery when you’re in the area.
Royal Portrush’s biggest competition for the title of Northern Ireland’s best golf course is arguably Royal County Down, a beautiful course that everyone should play at least once. It recently retained its number one position in Golf Digest’s World 100 Greatest Courses and it’s a regular fixture in such lists. Set against the backdrop of the Mourne Mountains, famed golf instructor David Leadbetter named it his favourite course and called it a “piece of heaven”.
Aside from the big two, there are a wealth of incredible courses to choose from.
If you’re looking for a dramatic setting and Instagram-worthy views, Ardglass Golf Club on the south east coast of Down is a unique combination of links and clifftop. The notorious par three second hole involves a daunting shot across a coastal inlet that has claimed many a golf ball in its time.
Fans of Rory McIlroy can retrace his steps by taking on his home course of Holywood. With a tricky back nine and views of Belfast’s iconic docklands, it’s an ideal option if you want to combine a golfing weekend with some nightlife in the Northern Irish capital.
Rory McIlroy once described Portstewart Golf Course as “one of Northern Ireland’s hidden gems.” It hosted the Irish Open in 2017 and has three links courses to choose from. The Strand Course is a stand out option, with imposing sand dunes, sweeping views of the Atlantic and one of the best opening holes of any Irish course.
Set on the Causeway Coastal Route, Ballycastle Golf Club offers visitors views of Donegal, Rathlin Island and – on a clear day – Scotland. It’s a combination of parkland and links but a trip to this part of the world wouldn’t be complete without a trip to see some of the area’s famous tourist attractions.
It’s a short drive to the Carrick-a-Rede Rope Bridge and fans of Game of Thrones won’t want to miss out on seeing The Dark Hedges.
Lough Erne Resort in Fermanagh has 36 holes to choose from, including a championship course designed by Nick Faldo, and the lake itself comes into play on more than one hole. Make a weekend of it by staying at the resort’s luxury guest rooms and enjoy the peaceful lakeland setting, the Thai spa and some fine dining after a day’s golfing.
The impressive Marble Arch Caves are less than a half an hour down the road or you can also hire a boat on Lough Erne if you want to get the most from your trip.
So what are you waiting for?
With over 90 golf courses to choose from, Northern Ireland really is a golfer’s dream. It’s less than two hours from Dublin so some of the finest courses in the world are just a short drive away. Whether you want to play easy links courses and soak up the coastal views or challenge yourself on one of its many championship courses, there really is something for everyone.
Isn’t it time you played the land made for golf?
To find out more, or to begin planning your next golf break, visit the Northern Ireland - Made for Golf website.