Follow Lowry to the Links of Northern Ireland

Royal Portrush Golf Club. (Image: @TheOpen)

An estimated worldwide television audience of 600 million watched the Open at Royal Portrush. (Image: @TheOpen)

The call of Royal Portrush, Royal County Down and the other headline links of Northern Ireland felt stronger than ever following Shane Lowry’s triumph in the 2019 Open Championship. And now Royal Portrush is gearing up to host the Open again in 2025.

(Last updated October 2022.)

Could the 2019 Open Championship at Royal Portrush Golf Club possibly have had a more satisfying ending?

Native son Shane Lowry’s victory warmed Irish hearts everywhere and provided a watershed moment in the history of Northern Ireland. During The Troubles, when sectarian violence raged, the idea of the British province hosting the Open was regarded as little more than a pipe dream.

2019 Open Champion Sean Lowry. (Image: @TheOpen)

2019 Open Champion Sean Lowry. (Image: @TheOpen)

Northern Ireland tourism officials gleefully anticipated a flood of golf visitors to Royal Portrush, Royal County Down, Portstewart, Ardglass, Castlerock and other courses in the wake of Lowry’s victory. But then the Covid-19 pandemic all but halted tourism activity throughout the province. Now the hope is that a healthy portion of the estimated worldwide television audience of 600 million who watched the 2019 Open will still be eager to book their trips.

Also sure to drive the return of golfers was the R&A’s announcement that in 2025 Royal Portrush will host the championship for the third time since 1951, when Englishman Max Faulkner hoisted the Claret Jug at the first Open played there.

Royal County Down golf course in Northern Ireland

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

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.

The Championship Links at Royal County Down is absolutely not to be missed. Designed by Old Tom Morris, the links is 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 at a course many rate the best in the world.

Just a 30-minute drive away, Ardglass Golf Club 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 cliffs of the Irish Sea, ranks among the most thrilling in all Ireland. And looming over this idyllic setting is the world’s oldest clubhouse, an imposing Norman castle built in the 14th century.

Mussenden Links at Castlerock Golf Club is another beauty. Located in the north coast town of Castlerock, Mussenden’s massive dunes and rolling ground are typical of the best of Irish linksland. Ben Sayers, Harry Colt and Martin Hawtree all had a hand in the design of an often under-appreciated gem considered the ultimate links test when the wind howls.

And found just five miles from Royal Portrush is Portstewart Golf Club, which memorably hosted the DP World Tour’s 2017 Dubai Duty Free Irish Open on its Strand Course. Jon Rahm’s tournament-record score of 24-under came at a magnificent north coast links that twists through massive sand dunes and runs alongside a tranquil estuary of the River Bann.

Portstewart Golf Club (Image: Portstewart Golf Club)

Portstewart’s opening holes twist through majestic dunes. (Image: Portstewart Golf Club)

Despite the stiff competition, it’s Open host Royal Portrush that has naturally grabbed most of the attention. Tumbling down a hillside to seaside cliffs is an unbroken profusion of links holes as fine as any in Ireland. Some fairways are no wider than a county road, and many dogleg abruptly through dunes blanketed with whin and gorse.

Acclaimed architect Martin Ebert built two new holes (the par-five seventh and par-four eighth) at Royal Portrush’s Dunluce Links in part to accommodate the huge tournament grandstands. A total of 237,750 fans turned out in 2019, the biggest audience for any Open staged outside St. Andrews.

But the most famous hole at Royal Portrush is the 16th, Calamity Corner. The 236-yard par three demands a heroic carry to a cliff-top green at the heart of a brilliant links that will host golf’s oldest championship again in 2025.