How to plan a golf trip to Northern Ireland

Royal Portrush, Dunluce
Royal Portrush, Dunluce

With The Open Championship returning to Royal Portrush, Northern Ireland is gearing up to be the hottest golf destination in the world in 2025. The region is seeing large investments in the form of new hotels, hotel renovations and major architectural changes at the top golf courses.

Northern Ireland boasts some of the best golf courses in the world, as well as some of the most beautiful natural sightseeing and captivating cultural experiences in the whole of Europe. To really get the most out of your golf trip, you’ll have to carefully consider travel logistics and also be organised with your tee time bookings; the top courses sell their visitor tee times very fast! For the best possible golf experience you should also consider golfing in County Donegal which has 5 UK & Ireland top100 courses. Although County Donegal is actually in the Republic of Ireland (different country), this shouldn’t put you off. There are no physical borders to cross, plus it makes sense logistically to combine these courses in the same trip, if you have the desire to play them all. 

For those of you not aware, this article explains the differences between The Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland. 

Pro Tip: The best way to learn about the history of Ireland, the division of the two countries and “The Troubles”  is by doing a Black Cab political murals tour in Belfast. It’s honestly one of the best tours I’ve ever done.

Read on for the step by step guide on how to plan your Northern Ireland Golf Trip, plus some example itineraries that just make sense. 

– Travel Logistics

– Booking Tee Times

– Choosing Hotels

– Sightseeing

– Example Itineraries

1. Consider travel logistics

This will determine the golf courses you play and what towns you stay in.

Before you rush into booking your tee times and hotels, you must consider the logistics of travelling around the country and the location of the courses on your wish list.

The two most popular golf courses in Northern Ireland, Royal Portrush and Royal County Down, are a 2 hour drive apart. Add in the likes of Ballyliffin (County Donegal) and you’re up to a 3 hour drive. If you don’t mind spending a couple of hours a day driving (or being chauffeured), then picking a central base and driving from there each day is the way to go.

The alternative option is to change hotels along the way. This significantly reduces your overall time spent on the road and also allows you to experience different towns and nightlife in the region. The downside to this strategy is the hassle of moving hotels and re-packing your luggage every couple of days.

I should also point out that it’s possible to have the best of both worlds by staying in 1 hotel and being within 20mins of the golf courses each day. However, this option means you won’t play all of the best courses in the region.

To help you make a more informed decision on where to stay and play during your golf trip to Northern Ireland, here’s a table and map outlining the locations and drive times between some of our favourite hotels, golf courses and towns. For the table: X axis = Golf Course, Y axis = Town / hotel. 

2. Book your golf tee times

Now you’ve considered the logistics of your Northern Ireland golf tour, it’s time to get the golf locked in. To play the likes of Royal Portrush (Dunluce) and Royal County Down (Championship) you need to be booking these tee times at least 12 months in advance, ideally more. Royal Portrush are already taking pre-bookings for 2025 (blog written in Nov ’23) and Royal County Down open their diary in May for the following year. Royal County Down usually book all of their visitor tee times for the Championship course within 2 weeks of opening their diary, so it’s important to be on the ball and book tee times as soon as you can.

After these giants are taken care of ( if you want to play them), you can start booking the rest of the golf courses around them. These courses should still be booked well in advance (up to 12 months, depending on the course and time of year), but aren’t as urgent as The Royals.


UK & Ireland top 100 courses in Northern Ireland and County Donegal


#1 Royal County Down (Championship)

#6 Royal Portrush (Dunluce)

#17, Rosapenna (St Patricks Links)

#61 Rosapenna (Sandy Hills)

#63 Ballyliffin (Glashedy)

#74 Nairn & Portnoo

#80 Portstewart (Strand)

#99 Ballyliffin (Old)


Special shoutout to Portstewart who are currently undergoing a multi million £ renovation of the back 9 of the Strand course. I’d already consider this course a must play, the front 9 is right up there with the best in the world. If this investment brings the back 9 up a couple of notches within touching distance of the quality of the front 9, you’ll see this course FLY up the world rankings.

Portstewart (Strand)


Still worthy of a game…

Castlerock (Mussenden)

Castlerock (Dunn)


Royal County Down (Annesley)

Royal Portrush (Valley)

Portstewart (Old)


Cruit Island


Just like the rest of Ireland and the British Isles, you’ll be pleasantly surprised by some of the lesser known courses in Northern Ireland and County Donegal. These hidden gems are a delight to play, can be booked with far less notice and for a much lower price. For example, the 9 hole Bann Course at Castlerock is arguably more dramatic and fun to play than it’s better known sister (Castlerock Mussenden), and comes in at just £40.

The second courses at both the Royals (“Valley” at Portrush and “Annesley” at County Down) are just a fraction of the price of their more famous siblings and are still amazing courses in their own right. If you’re feeling energetic, these are perfect for 36 hole days.

One of the best “off the beaten track” experiences in Northern Ireland is Portstewart Old Course. Within its 18holes we recommend an 8 hole loop (1-5, then 16-18) which is wedged between the main road and some of the most beautiful coastline in Ireland. The first tee is situated just next to Amichi’s which is a fantastic Italian restaurant, so on a sunny evening you can squeeze in some spontaneous golf just before you enjoy dinner. This 8 hole loop, consisting of 6 par 3’s and 2 par 4’s shouldn’t take more than an hour to play, and you can play them carrying just 3 clubs. The cherry on the cake…. the green fee is £10! This is up there with the best value green fees in the world.


Pro Tip: Play Golf in Scotland! From Ballycastle (25 mins from Portrush) you can catch a short ferry to Campbelltown, where you’ll find the legendary Machrihanish & Machrihanish Dunes. Talk about an epic day trip!

Unmatched views for £10 on the Old Course at Portstewart

3. Decide where to stay

There is a wide offering of towns and accommodation classes in Northern Ireland, each with a unique offering. The main “bases” we recommend are Portrush, Belfast and Derry. The smaller towns of Ballyliffin, Rosapenna, Galgorm and Newcastle (Slieve Donard) may also suit some parties. We’ve quickly summarised all these places below. Refer to the map if it helps!




  • Beautiful coastal views
  • Great location for outdoor cultural activities (Dunluce Castle, Giants Causeway, Carrick-a-rede)
  • Within 15 mins of Royal Portrush & Portstewart


  • >1hr30 from 6/8 of the UK&I Top100 courses
  • Mediocre dining options compared to Belfast / Derry

It’s a harsh comment regarding Portrush’s dining, but it has stiff competition in the area. Shoutout to The Harbour Bar / area in Portrush, it gets very lively  and is popular with golfers in the summer. 


Luxury : Bushmills Inn (15 mins away)

Value: Craignamara

Best Location: Portrush Atlantic

Notable mention: Adelphi Hotel has been purchased by Marine & Lawn (owner of The Rusacks in St Andrews) and is undergoing a serious renovation, set to be finished early 2025. This could be the place to stay from 2025 onwards, but we’ll see what the prices are when they’re released…

Notable mention #2: Dunluce Lodge- Set for completion Summer 2024 and overlooking Royal Portrush, this will be a super deluxe 5* property coming in at over £1000 per night.

Portrush Harbour



  • Exceptional nightlife and dining options; it has something for everyone. The Cathedral Quarter is up there with one of the best spots in the UK&I for food, drink and live music.
  • Great for cultural sightseeing- (Titanic Belfast, Black Cab Political Murals Tour, Crumlin Road Gaol etc)
  • Within 15 mins of Belfast City and Belfast International Airport.
  • Within 1hr10mins of Royal Portrush and 50 mins of Royal County Down.


  • >1hr20 away from 6/8 UK&I top100 courses in the area
  • Most hotels don’t have onsite parking


  • 10 Square: Best selection of room and suite classes and excellent Value for Money. Central location.
  • Belfast Grand Central: Modern bedrooms and the best views in the city from the rooftop cocktail bar. Central location.
  • Fitzwilliam: Luxurious bedrooms and central location. Valet parking available.
Belfast's Cathedral Quarter- buzzing every night!



  • Great nightlife and food scene- Waterloo Street is probably one of the easiest bar crawls in the world with around a dozen quality traditional Irish pubs lined in a row.
  • Excellent central location; within 1hr 10min of 6/8  UK&I Top100 Courses
  • Hotels have on site parking and everything is walking distance.


  • Not as visually appealing as Portrush or Belfast
  • Minimum 45min drive to any UK&I Top100 golf course


City Hotel Derry: Fantastic location and is receiving a huge makeover before the 2024 season.

Ebrington Hotel: Brand new deluxe 4* hotel & Spa. Good location for driving out the city, and just 10 mins walk from Waterloo St.

Waterloo St, Derry

Special mentions

Ballyliffin Townhouse: Comfortable hotel with a brand new spa, serving superb hospitality in the town of Ballyliffin. Out of the 3 hotels in town, this is the only one that doesn’t do weddings; far better suited to golf groups. If you stay in Ballyliffin, make sure to take advantage of the par 3 course at Ballyliffin in the evening and check out Nancys Barn for the best seafood chowder.


Galgorm Resort: Exceptional hotel with one of the best spa’s in Ireland. Just 40 mins from Portstewart and Royal Portrush, and 1hr20 from Royal County Down. The food and drink offering here is excellent (1 bar and 3 restaurants), however there isn’t many options for evening entertainment outside the resort. For any couples golf trip, I highly recommend this hotel.


Rosapenna Resort: Nestled in one of the most picturesque bays in Ireland, Rosapenna has been put back on the map with the completion of Tom Doak’s “St Patricks Links”, which has shot straight into the World top100 golf courses. This 4* hotel is remote, but with 3 excellent links courses on sight there’s little need to leave.


Slieve Donard: An exceptional 5* hotel owned by the Marine & Lawn group. This impressive property overlooks Royal County Down, perfectly placed for anyone looking to maximise their time on site after a special day playing a world top 5 golf course.

4. Fill in the gaps with amazing sightseeing and cultural experiences

Stuffing your face with Guinness definitely counts as a cultural experience!

Northern Ireland has an exceptional sightseeing and “off the course” offering, making it great for couples and family golf trips, as well as guys golf trips. 

A lot of these activities only take an hour, perfect for filling time before or after a round of golf. Leaving a rest day for sightseeing is also a great idea, especially if you’re here for more than a week; playing golf for 10 consecutive days gets tiring on the Links!

I could write a totally separate blog on what there is to do in Northern Ireland, but I don’t have time. Instead, I’ll let you explore for yourself. Follow the links in this list to learn more about each activity, and see where they’re all located by referencing the map.


Political Mural Tour (“The Troubles”)

Titanic Experience

St Georges Market

Galgorm Castle Spa

Crumlin Road Jail

Carrickfergus Castle

Blacksmith experience

Causeway Coast (Portrush area)

The Dark Hedges

Game of Thrones Tour

Giants Causeway

Carrick – a – rede

Dunluce Castle

Bushmills Distillery


The Craft Village

The City Walls

Waterloo St

Mourne Mountains (Near Royal County Down)

Irish Bread Making with Mrs C

Killowen Distillery


In summary, there is no clear winning itinerary for a Northern Ireland golf trip. It’s not a destination where a “one size fits all” package works, it simply depends on your groups preferences.

If you’ve read this article and still don’t know where to start, we’ve done some of the heavy lifting for you and designed 4 very different example 7 night itineraries for you to take inspiration from.

If after reading this article you trust Halcyon Golf Travel to book your Northern Ireland golf tour, we’ll work with you to tailor these itineraries (or build a new one) so that it’s a perfect fit for you. Whether that be extending your golf trip to include other areas in Ireland or Scotland, upgrading your hotel or adding in extra sightseeing, we always have you covered. 

Contact us today today to begin booking your dream golf trip to Northern Ireland. Royal Portrush still have a couple of tee times left for 2024, but you’ll have to act fast…

Note- Dublin Flights:  If it suits you better to fly to Dublin rather than Belfast, this still works. Just add +2hrs to the drive time on arrival and departure day. It’s also possible to add extra days at the beginning or end of your trip to stay in Dublin and play the likes of Portmarnock, The Island, Jameson Links, County Louth and Seapoint.

Example 1

Location: Derry.


  • No hotel changes required
  • 2 x World top 100 courses
  • 5 x UK & Ireland Top 100 courses, plus 2 x “hidden gem” 9 holers.
  • All golf courses are between 45-65 min drive from Ebrington Hotel, Derry

Price: £3400 – £5000 per person

Day 1: Arrive, Belfast Airport
Overnight- Ebrington Hotel, Derry. This will be your hotel for the duration of your trip.
Day 2: Ballyliffin (Glashedy)
Make the most of the 9 hole par 3 course (complimentary) to sharpen your game before your first Links experience in Ireland.
Day 3: Ballyliffin (Old)
Stop by at Nancys Barn (5 mins from the golf club) for someo f the best Seafood Chowder in Ireland.
Day 4: St Patricks Links
World top 100 course, brace yourselves for this one!
Day 5: Castlerock (Bann- 9 holes)
9 holes on this fun yet demanding course should take max 2 hrs. You have the rest of the day to visit Bushmills distillery, the Giants Causeway, Carrick-a-rede rope bridge or to do some sightseeing / drinking in Derry!
Day 6: Portstewart (Strand)
Playing the 8 coastal holes at Portstewart Old Course, followed by dinner at Amichi’s is the perfect way to round off a day on the links.
Day 7: Portrush (Dunluce)
A visit to Dunluce Castle takes around 60min
Day 8: Depart, Belfast Airport
If you have an afternoon flight, I’d highly recommend a Black Cab Political Tour of Belfast, or a tour of the Titanic Museum. Both take 1.5-2 hrs and are within 15 mins of Belfast Airport.
Example 2

Location: Rosapenna, Bushmills & Slieve Donard


  • Never more than 15 mins from the golf course, but 3 different hotels are required
  • 3 x World Top100 courses

Price: £4300 – £6800 per person

Day 1: Arrive, Belfast Airport
Overnight- Rosapenna Resort
Day 2: Rosapenna- Sandy Hills
Overnight, Rosapenna Resort
Day 3: Rosapenna- St Patricks Links
Overnight, Bushmills Inn.
Day 4: Portstewart (Strand)
Playing the 8 coastal holes at Portstewart Old Course, followed by dinner at Amichi’s is the perfect way to round off a day on the links. Overnight- Bushmills Inn.
Day 5: Royal Portrush (Dunluce)
Today is a good opportunity to do some off course activities, such at Bushmills Distillery or The Giants Causeway. Overnight, Bushmills Inn
Day 6: Ardglass
Overnight, Slieve Donard
Day 7: Royal County Down (Championship)
Overnight, Slieve Donard
Day 8: Depart, Belfast Airport
If you have an afternoon flight, I’d highly recommend a Black Cab Political Tour of Belfast, or a tour of the Titanic Museum. Both take 1.5-2 hrs and are within 15 mins of Belfast Airport.
Example 3

Location: Belfast & Derry


  • Best nightlife options (Waterloo St and The Cathedral Quarter)
  • 3 x World Top100 courses
  • All golf courses roughly 1hr from the hotel

Price: £3900 – £5500 per person

Day 1: Arrive, Belfast
Overnight, Ebrington Hotel (Derry)
Day 2: Ballyliffin (Glashedy)
Make the most of the 9 hole par 3 course (complimentary) to sharpen your game before your first Links experience in Ireland. Overnight, Ebrington Hotel (Derry)
Day 3: Portstewart (Strand)
Playing the 8 coastal holes at Portstewart Old Course, followed by dinner at Amichi’s is the perfect way to round off a day on the links. Overnight- Ebrington Hotel (Derry)
Day 4: St Patricks Links
Overnight: Ebrington Hotel
Day 5: Royal Portrush (Dunluce)
Overnight: 10 Square Hotel (Belfast)
Day 6: Ardglass
Overnight, 10 Square (Belfast)
Day 7: Royal County Down (Championship)
Since it’s your last night a visit to the Cathedral Quarter in Belfast is a must. You cant miss for quality food and drink around here, plus lots of live music. Overnight, 10 Square (Belfast)
Day 8: Depart, Belfast Airport
If you have an afternoon flight, I’d highly recommend a Black Cab Political Tour of Belfast, or a tour of the Titanic Museum. Both take 1.5-2 hrs and are within 15 mins of Belfast Airport.
Example 4

Location: Portrush

  • No hotel changes required
  • Very little travel required for golf and sightseeing (all within 20 mins)
  • Golf offering not as strong as the other itineraries

Price: £3200 – £5000 per person

Day 1: Arrive, Belfast Airport
Transfer to Craignamara Guest House, Portrush. You will stay here for the duration of your trip. Tip: There’s plenty of hotel options in Portrush, we’ll work with you to find the one that’s right for you.
Day 2: Royal Portrush (Valley)
Take a visit to Bushmills Distillery- The oldest Whisky Distillery in the British Isles.
Day 3: Castlerock (Mussenden)
Day 4: Portstewart (Strand)
Playing the 8 coastal holes at Portstewart Old Course, followed by dinner at Amichi’s is the perfect way to round off a day on the links.
Day 5: Castlerock (Bann)
The Bann is just a 9 hole course. Play it twice, or spend the afternoon sightseeing along the Causeway Coast.
Day 6: Portstewart (Riverside)
Lunch or Dinner at Harry’s shack after you play golf is a must. Expect high quality seafood, overlooking The Strand Beach, which is a National trust heritage site.
Day 7: Royal Portrush (Dunluce)
The Dunluce Castle is nearby and a tour takes 60 mins max.
Day 8: Depart, Belfast Airport
If you have an afternoon flight, I’d highly recommend a Black Cab Political Tour of Belfast, or a tour of the Titanic Museum. Both take 1.5-2 hrs and are within 15 mins of Belfast Airport.
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