[by Karin Barnhoorn]
Northern Ireland has been on our (links golf) travel list for quite some time. First and foremost because of stunning championship links golf courses like Royal County Down and Royal Portrush. The latter this years host of The Open.
After golfing our way through the links courses of Scotland and Ireland, the time has come to step on the tee box along the Northern Irish coast.
This small country certainly has a lot of quality (links) golf to offer. Apart from 3 proud ambassadors – Darren Clarke, Graeme McDowell and Rory McIlroy, Northern Ireland has some of the world’s best seaside courses. Bring them on!
I love being from Northern Ireland, and I never get tired of telling people how great it is. I’m delighted to support our golfing heritage wherever I am in the world.
__ Rory McIllroy
Royal County Down links golf
This rugged, natural links course is all about meeting expectations, being ranked the world’s top golf course. It did meet ours since we played it under perfect conditions. Hardly any wind, Irish sunshine and helpful local caddies. (tnx, Eamon!)
Located along the Irish Sea with the Mourne Moutains as backdrop the course mostly as it is designed in 1889.
Everything is so well organised by friendly – another NI characteristic – staff and the course is in immaculate condition. But oh my, if you don’t drive onto the fairway you’re in deep trouble. The rough is tough and the bunkers are embedded in the rough with tail grass all around, adding some extra inches to the already high bunker walls. With about six blind holes you might understand that playing this course without a caddy equals golfers suicide.
The first holes are parallel to the sea and from the 4th teebox we’re treated with stunning (sea) views. But don’t look to long, all concentration is needed on the course and even more so on the fast, undulated greens. This is about golf in every sense of the sports word. Be prepared for a testing round.
Ladies, just fyi: the red teeboxes are placed on championship distance, hit that driver well.
Royal County Down
18 holes – Championship Links – 7186 yards – par 71 – green fees from £ 70 (May-Oct £ 200)
stay at next door neighbor Slieve Donard Hotel & Spa
Ballycastle Golf Club
They’ve just celebrated their 125th anniversary, founded in 1890, love the idea of walking in old – spike – footsteps on the fairway. You’ll meet more history on this seaside course. The first 5 holes are gentle parkland holes along the river and the ancient Bonamargy Abbey ruins. Warm up holes to get the game going, because all attention and strength is required for the remaining 13 seaside holes.
Rolling coastal fairways, yellow rough and undulated greens which outstanding panoramic views of the Antrim Coast. Including Rathlin Island just in front and Mull of Kintyre in the distance. Need a clear day for the latter.
The (blind) green of the 9th is halfway on the clifftop, and the walk up is rewarded with some stunning views! After the teebox of hole 10 – 360 C view of Ballycastle village, wild Atlantic ocean and green patched hinterland – the holes wind around the cliff top until hole 17 – ‘the Pitch’ – where the green lies about 90 meter below.
Make sure to reserve an electric trolley at booking with the friendly staff in the pro shop. Unless you’re a mountaineer.
Ballycastle Golf Club
18 holes – Parkland / Seaside course – 5876 yards – par 71 – green fees from £ 30
Royal Portrush Links Golf
From Ballycastle it is only half an hour drive along the dramatic Causeway Coastal route. As soon as you pass the Dunluce castle ruin, this seaside gem dooms up.
Posh Portrush – heli car park included – is host to The Open 2019 and all in full preparation. This course is ranked ‘one of the. most challenging links courses in the world’. I say, understatement. Facing challenges is what we encountered, 18 holes long. The fairways are narrow and every miss hit (as in a good enough shot but not on the fairway) is merciless punished by unplayable rough.
Because of the 2019 Open, some alterations are made to the course lay-out. Like the new par-5 seventh hole. As if it always has been there. The elevated tee stares down at the new bunker on the right, named Big Nellie. The fairway narrows down towards the green, defended by three deep bunkers. Can’t wait to watch the pro’s play this one and manage to score a birdie…
Royal Portrush Golf Club
18 holes – Links course – 6658 yards – par 72 – green fees from £ 200
Castlerock Links Golf Club
This charming links course in the seaside village of Castlerock is a fabulous one! Set amongst rolling sand dunes, the Mussenden championship course is a joy to play. Connected within the landscape, more forgiven rough than Portrush and RCD, and with firm and fast greens. Not leading international golf lists but leaving Northern Ireland without playing here is a golfing shame.
Hole 4, a 220 yard par 3, is stunning. Out of bounds railway on the right, a stream with steep borders on the left and a raised green. (photo left bottom). Again we joined playing our round with the help of two professional and friendly caddies. Local knowledge makes your game much more enjoyable. And lost balls easier to find.
Castlerock has an extensive Caddy Programme, better to book 48 hours in advance of tee-time. Ask for the Ashley (and Wallis) brothers and say hi to them from us.
Castlerock Golf Club
18 holes – Links course – 6805 yards – par 73 – green fees from £ 80 (in winter £35)
Portstewart Golf club
Located in between Royal Portrush and Castlerock, this well-known course was not available for visitors during our trip. With good reason: being host for the Irish Open 2017 just a week after our trip.
We went for a tea at the clubhouse, overlooking the 18th green while massive preparations where going on. Building stands, tv towers and the tented village.
Portstewart Golf Club
18 holes – Links course – 7004 yards – par 72 – green fees from £ 150 (in winter from £60)
This trip asks for a sequel, not only because we couldn’t play at Portstewart Links but because of the stunning nature, friendly people and slow pace. I love the saying: a day on the course, is a day well spent.