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)

Royal Portrush, Portstewart, Royal County Down and the other headline links of Northern Ireland are more alluring than ever following Shane Lowry’s unforgettable victory in the 2019 Open Championship.

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 through the British province, the hosting of the Open was regarded as a pipe dream.

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

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

Tourism officials anticipate a flood of golf visitors to Royal Portrush, Royal County Down, Portstewart, Ardglass, Castlerock and other top courses in the wake of Lowry’s victory. An estimated worldwide television audience of 600 million watched the largest sporting event ever staged in Northern Ireland. The Open is expected to generate more than US$100-million in terms of economic impact and destination market benefit.

Anticipation built rapidly following the R&A’s announcement in 2015 that the province would hold its first Open since Englishman Max Faulkner lifted the Claret Jug at Royal Portrush in 1951.

Helping set the stage for the big event, Portstewart Golf Club, just five miles from Royal Portrush, hosted the European Tour’s 2017 Dubai Duty Free Irish Open on its  Strand Course. John 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.

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.

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 if slightly threadbare 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.

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, 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 has twice drawn golf’s oldest championship to Northern Ireland.

 

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