Memories of Rory McIlroy at Northern Ireland’s Portstewart and Lough Erne

Rory McIlroy at 2011 PGA Grand Slam (Image: PGA Grand Slam of Golf)

Rory McIlroy (Image: PGA Grand Slam of Golf)

(Last updated December 2020.)

Like Tiger Woods before him, Rory McIlroy was heralded as the game’s next great star almost from the moment he first swung a club. The hype had already reached fever pitch when I toured Northern Ireland in the early 2000s. At Portstewart Golf Club, a fabulous links about a 90-minute drive from McIlroy’s home in Belfast, the membership was still abuzz about a recent visit by the phenom. Though pint-sized and barely into his teens, McIlroy had brought their treacherously difficult links to its knees.

Lough Erne Resort, Northern Ireland (Image: Lough Erne Resort)

Lough Erne Resort, Northern Ireland (Image: Lough Erne)

I had the opportunity to meet McIlroy a few years later during a springtime visit to Lough Erne Resort, a posh 120-room retreat opened in 2007 that had been one of his sponsors since he turned pro. Set on a scenic peninsula between two loughs just outside the town of Enniskillen, Lough Erne Resort was Northern Ireland’s first five-star hotel. For golfers, the prime attraction is the Faldo Championship Course, a challenging 7,167-yard parkland-style design by Nick Faldo that brings the waters of the loughs into play on 11 holes.

McIlroy was there with his mother and father, an unassuming but engaging couple who made regular use of the holiday home they owned on the 600-acre property. Their son had joined them to recuperate from an apparently serious back injury that had golf publications around the world fretting for his future in the game. Despite his worries, McIlroy spent an agreeable half-hour or so talking with me and fellow golf writer Ian Cruickshank about his passion for the game, and his pride in representing Northern Ireland.

I came away thoroughly charmed by McIlroy, thinking that any father would be proud to have him as a son.