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 excitement growing for the 2019 Open Championship at Royal Portrush, record numbers of golfers are booking tee times at Northern Ireland’s famous links.

(Last updated January 2019.)

“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, including Royal County Down, Portstewart, Ardglass and Castlerock. 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 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.

Jon Rahm’s thrilling victory at the European Tour’s 2017 Dubai Duty Free Irish Open at Portstewart Golf Club helped set the stage for this summer’s Open and focus the attention of golfers on Northern Ireland. 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 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.

Another Northern Ireland beauty is Mussenden Links at Castlerock Golf Club, in the north coast town of Castlerock. The site’s massive dunes and rolling ground are typical of the best of Irish linksland.

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 have been 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.