Join the Rush to the Links of Northern Ireland

Royal County Down golf course in Northern Ireland

Royal County Down is an Old Tom Morris design set on Dundrum Bay. (Image: Royal County Down)

With the Irish Open set for this summer and the Open Championship coming in 2019, Northern Ireland is suddenly one of the hottest destinations in golf.

“Don’t look up until you hear the ball dancing in the cup,” my caddy whispered. “Make this and it’ll be a fine thing to remember all your days.”

My putt for an eagle three at the par-five ninth hole at Royal Portrush Golf Club was the most thrilling moment of a week-long tour of Northern Ireland’s famous links courses, including Royal County Down, Portstewart and Ardglass. Setting up nervously over my ball, I could almost feel the crash of the Atlantic against the towering sand cliffs that define this ruggedly beautiful and windblown stretch of coastline.

Royal Portrush Golf Club (Image: Royal Portrush Golf Club)

Royal Portrush will host the Open Championship in 2019. (Image: Royal Portrush Golf Club)

Now largely free of the Troubles that once frightened tourists away, Northern Ireland is drawing record numbers of golfers to its more than 90 courses.

Anticipation is already building for the 2019 Open Championship at Royal Portrush, which will be the first Open hosted by the British province since Englishman Max Faulkner lifted the Claret Jug at this same course in 1951. As many as 200,000 visitors are expected at the biggest sporting event to ever be staged here in terms of prestige and global media exposure.

And this summer Rory McIlroy will return to his native soil to defend his title at the European Tour’s Dubai Duty Free Irish Open. Played at Portstewart Golf Club July 6 to 9, the tournament will showcase a magnificent north coast links that twists through massive sand dunes and alongside a tranquil estuary of the River Bann.

Portstewart Golf Club (Image: Portstewart Golf Club)

Portstewart’s opening holes sweep through majestic dunes on the north coast. (Image: Portstewart Golf Club)

Outside Belfast, Northern Ireland is almost all green and rolling countryside, with farms and villages linked by a spidery network of roads. Establish a base and you can reach almost any golf course within a couple of hours.

Absolutely not to be missed is Royal County Down, the iconic Old Tom Morris design set on a long sweep of Dundrum Bay, an hour’s drive down the Irish Sea coastline from Belfast. Vast swathes of gorse and heather line fairways that tumble through sand hills, while tussock-faced bunkers defend approach shots to subtly contoured greens.

Conveniently nearby is Ardglass Golf Club, a course I love more with each visit. Skirting the Irish Sea, Ardglass begins and ends in the middle of a fishing village once occupied by Vikings. The tee shot on the opening hole, a par four that hugs the craggy ocean cliffs, surely ranks among Ireland’s most thrilling. And looming over this idyllic setting is the world’s oldest clubhouse, an imposing if slightly threadbare Norman castle built in the 14th century.

Ardglass Golf Club Northern Ireland (Image: Ardglass Golf Club)

Among the attractions at Ardglass is a clubhouse built in the 14th century. (Image: Ardglass Golf Club)

Despite the stiff competition, it’s 2019 Open host Royal Portrush that has naturally grabbed most of the attention. Two new holes are being built to accommodate huge tournament grandstands on a links that spills down a hillside to seaside cliffs in the north coast town of Portrush.

Royal Portrush’s most famous hole is the 14th, Calamity Corner, a par three demanding a heroic carry to a cliff-top green.

But the defining moment of my trip came at the ninth, where not even three jittery putts that turned an eagle into a routine par could spoil a day of golf on one of the world’s outstanding links.

 

Comments

Canadian Golf Traveller does not necessarily agree with the comments posted here. We reserve the right to edit or delete comments entirely. The editors will not correct spelling, grammar or syntax. Read our full policy here: Disclosure, Privacy and Comment Policies

*

One more step! To block spam robots, please complete the following: * Time limit is exhausted. Please reload CAPTCHA.