Northern Ireland: ‘The Best & The Rest’

A golfing journey to Northern Ireland is a pilgrimage for any golfer, offering not just two iconic destinations but a myriad of reasons to prolong your stay.

In this article, we talk about the best, and the rest!

The Best


Embarking on your Northern Irish golf odyssey typically begins with a visit to Royal County Down, affectionately known as ‘RCD.’ 

Nestled in a quaint coastal town an hour south of Belfast (Newcastle), the club’s allure is immediate and enduring. Situated amidst the awe-inspiring backdrop of the Mourne Mountains, Bernard Darwin’s vivid description likened playing golf here to a scene from his most ecstatic dreams.

Our friends at Cookie Jar Golf made a podcast a few years back featuring the club’s historian, Dr. Brian Fleming, and a short film highlighting the evocative passages penned by Darwin and Frank Pennink about this legendary linksland.

Steeped in tradition, RCD has long been a bastion of golfing heritage. Originating as a Belfast club, members historically made the trip from the city on Wednesdays and Saturdays by train with the groups for the day ahead drawn from a top hat in the carriage, while drinks were enjoyed and stories shared. This tradition endures, with these days still reserved for club events known affectionately as ‘the hat’.

Looking ahead, RCD is set to host The Irish Open later this year, a departure from the less storied venues the event has been held at in recent times. With tee bookings for 2025 opening on April 30th, early registration is essential to avoid disappointment, given the expected surge in demand.


Royal Portrush

Home to two courses, The Valley and The Dunluce, Royal Portrush commands reverence in the golfing world. The Dunluce, which last hosted The Open in 2019 after a 68 year hiatus when Max Faulkner won in 1951, it offers a formidable test of skill combined with breathtaking coastal vistas.  

The dramatic short par 4 5th, with its green perched perilously above the cliff edge is quite simply as good as golf gets as you stop and look south down to the ruins of Dunluce Castle. Coupled with challenging changes in elevation, The Dunluce presents a true examination of one’s ball striking. 

H.S. Colt’s masterful design is evident in every aspect of The Dunluce’s layout, with its greens particularly lauded by course manager Graeme Beatt here. Recent enhancements by Mackenzie & Ebert have further elevated its championship pedigree, with the introduction of the 7th & 8th holes, challenging for the elite player whilst preserving the courses inherent character.

Looking forward to 2025, when The Open returns to Portrush, securing a tee time at The Dunluce is set to be the hottest ticket in golf this year!  Tee bookings for 2025 are now live and will likely sell out in a couple of weeks, so make sure to act quickly to avoid disapointment. If you want to hear more about Royal Portrush, the latest ‘Eggsplorations’ podcast by The Fried Egg with Rory Mcilroy is well worth a listen. 

The Rest

Dunluce Castle

While Royal Portrush’s Dunluce course rightfully commands attention, its sibling, The Valley, offers a distinctive charm of its own. Situated amidst the same linksland, The Valley boasts a unique layout with its exceptional par 3’s a particular standout. Significant work has been completed over the recent winter months and the reputation of the Valley is going in one direction only. It is a sensational course in its own right, which is quite simply a must play on any trip to Portrush. 

Beyond the links, the vibrant towns of Portrush, Portstewart, and Coleraine form what locals affectionately refer to as ‘The Triangle.’ Offering a plethora of culinary delights and lively Irish pubs, these towns provide the perfect backdrop for unwinding after a day on the course. However, of all the watering holes around, The Harbour Bar is the most iconic. 

What looks to be a small, quintessential Irish pub from the front grows arms and legs as you walk inside. The front bar is what you might expect from any great golf bar, and is where the greats of the game have all celebrated over time including the likes of Darren Clarke, Graeme McDowell and of course Rory. However, walk through the corridor at the back all of a sudden a huge bistro opens up, and the floors above you are home to a gin bar and a nightclub with even more live music where the party goes on until the wee hours of the morning. 

Portstewart, a mere 10-minute drive from Portrush, is home to the Strand course. Here, the rugged dunes of Northern Ireland take centre stage as the front nine weaves its way through some of the most incredible dune structures you will ever witness. Interestingly, the course was actually crafted by a local school teacher – Des Griffin – in the 1980’s, when the club purchased additional land into the dunes known as ‘Thistly Hollow’. 

Long championship courses and scaling huge dunes can be tough work though, so we highly recommend leaving space for a game on one of the shorter courses that Northern Ireland has to offer. 

A great start is the Annesley Links at Royal County Down. Often overlooked as “the second course”, The Annesley is just as enchanting and beautiful as it’s big sister and shouldn’t be overlooked. The course is a par 66 tipping out at 4500 yards and plays through the same rugged duneland as The Championship course. Leave your driver in the bag, accuracy and strategy pay dividends on this wonderful short course. 

The Old course at Portstewart is one where you can flick irons to flags along the peaceful coastline and stop for dinner and drinks at Amici’s afterwards, whilst (hopefully) enjoying a sunset. If you’re in a rush, stick to the 8 hole “coastal route”.

Even further off the beaten track is The Bann course at Castlerock. Many visitors will often play ‘the big course’ at Castlerock (The Mussenden), however The Bann offers an unrivaled short course experience in our opinion. Short reachable par 4’s, and picturesque par 3’s played across a miniature dunescape is the perfect afternoon. It’s a delightful 9-holer and the perfect accompaniment to a morning spent on one of the ‘bigger courses’, almost certain to live as long in the memory as RCD or Portrush!

With its diverse array of courses and unique charm, Northern Ireland offers something for every golfer. Whether you’re teeing off at iconic venues or exploring hidden gems, a golfing journey through Northern Ireland promises an unforgettable experience, where the best and the rest seamlessly intertwine…

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