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Top 8 Golf Courses in Northern Ireland Not to Be Missed

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In geographic terms, it is easy to see that Northern Ireland is not a huge country. However, when it comes to the game of golf then this place punches well above its weight with 90 golf clubs, many of which are some of the best in the world, and has produced champions like Rory McIlroy, Darren Clarke and Graeme McDowell to reinforce this view.

For golfers, Northern Ireland is the perfect mix of Links and Parkland golf courses. The country is home to what many consider to be the Number one Golf Course in the World, Royal County Down, whilst Royal Portrush was the host of The 148th Open in 2019. Northern Ireland continues to raise the bar when it comes to standards at golf clubs, with a particular focus on customer service, and is a destination that continues to grow in popularity for golfers looking to escape the madness for a few days of fine golf and hospitality. 

So with that in mind, let us introduce you to some world-class Golf Courses and offer our thoughts on what we consider are the top 10 golf courses in Northern Ireland.

Top 8 Northern Ireland Golf Courses

Royal County Down Championship

Royal Portrush Dunluce

Portstewart Strand Course

Ardglass Golf Club

Castlerock Mussenden Course

Royal Portrush Valley Course

Royal Belfast

Galgorm Castle

Royal County Down Championship

You can’t fail to be impressed with the picturesque views of the beautiful Irish hills, and the Championship Links Golf Course is one of the finest in the area. With a pedigree heritage dating back to 1889, this course was designed by the famous Tom Morris, and has earned a reputation for its challenging holes which will find even the top players asking questions.

That said, this can be a very enjoyable round of golf with well-kept fairways which are simply a joy to play. The strategically placed bunkers and quick greens make this round both tough, but relaxing at the same time, and as you take in the fresh air, you won’t regret it.

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Royal Portrush Dunluce

Royal Portrush Golf Club is famously located on the north coast in County Antrim and is home to 36 holes of golf, which are the Valley Course and the famous Dunluce Links. The present-day links layout of the Dunluce was a result of H.S. Colt’s work in 1929 and the course gets its name from the cliffside Dunluce Ccastle ruins to the east that can be seen from the 5th green.

The Club famously hosted the Open Championship in 2019, and prior to thate even,t two new holes were created by Martin Ebert by, removing the old 17th and & 18th holes and installing a new 7th and 8th hole. The famous “Big Nellie” bunker at the 17th hole was lost in the new routing but recreated on the right side of the 7th hole. We would say that the most famous hole here is “Calamity Corner,” a long par 3 featuring a steep dropoff short and right of the green,; most golfers have heard of this special hole whether it is the making of dreams or nightmares.

With spectacular bunkers, narrow fairways and doglegs, Portrush is a supreme test especially when the wind is blowing off the northern coast, and one for most golfers’ bucket lists.

Portrush

The five-star Lough Erne Golf Club is located in County Fermanagh, and as is a common theme, it is set amongst some breathtaking scenery next to the tranquil Lough Erne; although this of course should never be taken for granted. Home to two modern championship golf courses, the Faldo Course and Castle Hume Golf Course.

As most will recognise, Tthe Faldo Course is the crown jewel here and was Nick Faldo’s first golf course design in Ireland, opening in 2009. Sheltered on a 600 acre peninsula between Lower Lough Erne and Castle Humme Lough, this parkland course is a par 72 and measures 7,167 yards from the back tees offering an excellent layout that continually changes from lowlands with dense forest to marshland and hills.

Deliberately tricky with plenty of water features including the lough which comes into play on eleven of the holes. The links-like rolling fairways are forgiving and they are designed and maintained to allow play all year round.  In short, this is, a magical place that requires you to push yourself on every hole.

Portstewart Strand Course

Portstewart Golf Club is situated close to the world-famous Open Championship course at Royal Portrush, and in particular, its Strand Course would be a high-quality selection for your next Golf Escape itinerary. The club was founded in 1894, and with 54 holes of golf, it is the Strand Course that is the must-play course at Portstewart which has evolved from an original design by Willie Park Junior and which

was given an almost- complete makeover in the late 1980s when Des Giffin did an excellent job in blending seven new holes with the existing layout to create a golf course that is both beautiful to look at and exciting to play.

Highlights here include just about all of the phenomenal front nine, starting with the excellent dogleg-right opener, where an elevated drive takes you down to a rumpled fairway with the green waiting over 400 yards away as you start your golfing adventure.

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Ardglass Golf Club

Ardglass Golf Club is the answer to a golf trivia question for those in the know, “where is the world’s oldest clubhouse structure located?” The answer, of course (or why would we mention it), is here and it dates back to the 12th century.  , Ardglass Golf Club is truly a genuine “hidden gem” just 30 minutes from Royal County Down.

Parts of the clubhouse structure comprise the ancient castle that thankfully still stands as one of the most imposing and traditional presences in golf. With the castle/clubhouse behind you, an intimidating first tee awaits as you look up the rocky 1st hole coastline, and in fact the first six holes are on top of the ocean along some of the most incredible coastline you will have seen. Previously, the remaining holes were enjoyable but easily forgettable after such a great start.

However, a remedy to this situation was found when the Club purchased new land along the sea, heading out to the distant lighthouse, and now offers an entirely new, and just as thrilling, stretch of holes as the first six. A perfect compliment to Royal County Down, no one will regret a round at Ardglass as part of their next Golf Escape.

Ardglass

Castlerock Mussenden Course

Castlerock Golf Club is best described as a classic links course with intimidating dunes and conveniently situated within minutes of Portstewart and Royal Portrush, being a worthy neighbour to both of these great Irish links. Founded in April 1901 as originally a nine holes course, Ben Sayers, professional from North Berwick, was commissioned in 1908 to design an 18-hole layout and he

produced a superb layout that is still enjoyed by so many and is rated as one of Ireland’s finest links courses.

Comprising a mixture of inland and links holes, a round at Castlerock will test every aspect of your game, with the opening hole giving you a clear indication of what lies ahead. Other excellent holes on the front nine include the 6th (par 4) and the tough 9th (par 3) with its green surrounded by dunes.

There are some equally interesting holes on the back nine and as great closing holes go, Castlerock doesn’t disappoint where a good drive on this slight dogleg could still leave you with a relatively blind approach to a plateau green.

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Royal Portrush Valley Course

Royal Portrush holds a special place in the history of Irish golf, and as many golf quiz champions will confirm, as its

Dunluce Links course is the only golf course outside Great Britain to host the Open Championship. This was in 1951 when Max Faulkner was the worthy winner. 

You would be mistaken if you regarded The Valley Links course as a warm-up course, as it is certainly not this by any means. It is a little bit shorter than the Dunluce Links, however, be under no illusions as it is just as tough and features the same tight and rolling fairways and stunning links greens. Both are a wonderful compliment to each other and we recommend you play both.

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Royal Belfast

Famous as one of only four Irish golf clubs with a ‘Royal’ prefix and founded in November 1881, Royal Belfast is Ireland’s oldest golf club. In 1885, the club became “Royal” after the Prince of Wales (subsequently King Edward VII) was invited to become its Patron during a visit to Ireland. The club has moved location no less than three times since then but since 1925 it has been found on the shores of Belfast lLough which is just minutes from Belfast city centre, The George Best City Airport and Belfast Harbour.

A tribute to the excellence of its new design, the course remains much the same today as it was then, and no matter the season, the course is meticulously maintained with impeccable greens. 

Pretty much a given in this list, but be assured that Royal Belfast provides a stern golfing challenge where accuracy rather than length will serve you well. Dodging the numerous bunkers is a skill itself and sloped greens makes a low score a difficult feat. The 9th hole, which is a relatively short pPar 4, is rated the most difficult on the course and plays beautifully alongside the shores of Belfast Lough.

Whilst the signature 11th hole is a testing par 3 especially if you miss the green. Every hole really is a pleasure to play and visitors here are assured of a warm welcome and first-class service.

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Galgorm Castle

This Par 72 Championship course is set in 220 acres of mature parkland in the grounds of one of Ireland’s most historic areas and offers a spacious 18 hole experience that will be long remembered. Galgorm Castle is consistently ranked as one of Northern Ireland’s top-3 parklands. The course is a treat for both your golf and your eyes as it offers the magnificent oxbow lake feature and five other impressive landscaped lakes, whilst the rivers Maine and Braid which border the course also come into play.

This is a very exciting course and offers both the novice and low-handicapped golfer a stimulating challenge and a memorable round. This course represents an exciting mix of the new with the old and is located in the heart of County Antrim and one we think would make an excellent addition to your golfing itinerary in Northern Ireland.

That concludes our list of what we consider to be the best courses in Northern Ireland, but what do you think? Whether you agree or disagree, there is no arguing that all the courses mentioned above are very special indeed.

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About the Author

Jon Ruben

Founder and Managing Director of Golf Escapes, I am very much a social and fair weather golfer clinging on by my fingertips to a single figure handicap. I have worked in the travel industry all my working life (too many years to count) and I love travelling to explore new places and destinations. My favourite long-haul destination is India, and in Europe I never have to be asked twice to visit Andalucia. I have recently moved to Brighton and my mission now is to explore the amazing vegan cuisine here.

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