Trip idea: Northern Ireland's champion courses

Royal Portrush Golf Club, County Antrim

There's a reason why Northern Ireland has produced so many legendary golfers; just look at where they grew up playing!

Where courses worthy of kings meet the coast of giants, some of the world's greatest greens are played by its most gifted golfers. Before they travelled far and wide with the sport that’s made them household names, Rory McIlroy, Graeme McDowell and Darren Clarke were all reared right here in Northern Ireland – and their love for their home courses, including Royal Portrush, home of The 148th Open in 2019, is easy to share.

Northern Ireland's champion courses

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Rory McIlroy

The wunderkind known as Wee Mac had big dreams when he first picked up a golf club in County Down...

A driving 16 mins
Holywood Golf Club, County Down
Holywood Golf Club

Where it all began: Holywood

You can’t escape the McIlroy buzz that surrounds his home club of Holywood. McIlroy's legacy is everywhere – not just on the walls, but on the greens too. After becoming Holywood's youngest ever member at the age of seven, the four-time major champion and world #6 developed a real love for the club and returns to play here whenever he can. Along with its 18 holes, sweeping views out over Belfast Lough and the promise of a full game in under three hours, Holywood also remains a lovely course for younger golfers, hosting the Irish Junior Open Ulster Series. If you're seeking to inspire your kids, this is the course for a family trip.

B driving 11 mins
Bevloir Golf Club, County Antrim
Belvoir Golf Club

Beautiful Belvoir Park

A little less known than some, but no less lovely, McIlroy rates Belvoir highly as a "great parkland course...ideally located": somewhere he'll play a round in the morning with his friends, before relaxing in the beautiful surrounds over a bite to eat. Coming up on a century old, Belvoir was designed by legendary course designer, Harry Colt – who also designed courses at Royal Portrush and Royal County Down – and his expertise certainly shows in the club's selection of challenging par 4s. Set on 163 acres, Belvoir has already hosted the Irish Open, Irish PGA and Irish Close to date. Will it host you next?

C
Black Taxi in Belfast, County Antrim
Black Taxi in Belfast

Buzzing Belfast

No trip to Northern Ireland is complete without a bit of Belfast: loud, proud and buzzing with energy. Bedecked in colourful street art and history-laden murals, it’s equal parts arty and honest. A Black Taxi Tour is one of the best ways to get to know Belfast’s storied past, as told by the local drivers who know it best. But it’s not all heavy-hitting stuff – the people here are dry-witted and fun loving, with an enthusiasm that spills into everything from their food to their comedy. Don’t believe us? Catch a gig at The Black Box, before trying the Michelin-rated eats of James Street South or Eipic; or spend an early morning digging into the great local grub at St George’s Market.

If you have more time

You just can’t miss Titanic Belfast, the museum set in the exact spot where the ship of dreams was built. Named the World’s Leading Tourist Attraction, this is an experience that will stay with you long after you head back to the golf course.

Port Rush Golf Club, County Antrim

Darren Clarke

It took Clarke 54 attempts before finally winning a championship in 2011, but he's since become one of golf's favourite stars. And it all began in Dungannon...


D driving 1 hr 22 mins
Dungannon Golf Club, County Tyrone
Dungannon Golf Club

Do it right at Dungannon

There are no two ways about it: Dungannon is the home of Darren Clarke, the town where he was born and raised and the club where he honed his natural skill. Established in 1890, it is one of the island's oldest courses and has undergone many a change since then, namely expanding from a 9-hole to an 18-hole course. Most recently redesigned with help of Clarke himself, after whom the par 3 9th hole is named, this has his fingerprints all over it. Friendly, welcoming and great fun, this 72 par course is the perfect spot for a relaxing round.

E driving 1 hr 25 mins
Port Rush Golf Club, County Antrim
Portrush Golf Club

Regal elegance at Royal Portrush

Fans will know Clarke loves a good links course – after all, he hails links as "the purest form of the game" – and once you lay eyes on Royal Portrush, you'll understand why. For a lot of people, it’s a toss-up between Royal Portrush and nearby Portstewart for the most beautiful course on the island – but when it comes to Clarke, there’s no denying his favourite (he even has his own labelled parking spot right outside the front entrance). And it’s not just Clarke; Rory McIlroy calls this the “best 18-hole layout in the world”, while Golf Magazine ranks it as #14 in its Top 100 Golf Courses. With 7,337 sweeping yards of course, taking in 36 holes and 62 bunkers, this 71 par course is a dream to play. In 2019, it will host The 148th Open, hailed by Clarke as "the biggest and best tournament in the world". Make sure to book your tee time before then...

F
Beaghmore Stones, County Tyrone
Beaghmore Stone Circles

Bronze Age wonders

For an up close and personal interaction with Northern Ireland's indigenous flora and fauna, you won't get much better than Oxford Island Nature Reserve. Nestled on the shores of Lough Neagh, the reserve is home to countless rare birds and animals, including buzzards, ospreys, pygmy shrews and otters, as well as enchanting wildflower meadows and dense woodland. If you want to keep up your energy levels, there's so much more to do here than simply admire nature: from walking trails and angling trips to art workshops and star-gazing nights, you'll see a whole new side to Northern Ireland. A little farther northwest, you'll find the Beaghmore Stone Circles. These megalithic cairns are definitely worth a trip if you're a history buff: there's something mind boggling about the realisation that these perfect stone circles were put in place by Bronze Age hands, up to 5,000 years ago.

Don't miss

There's nothing better after a day's golfing than a good feed – and Northern Ireland is nothing if not a foodie's paradise. Pop into Wee Paddy's, less than 10 minutes' drive from Oxford Island, for some good, honest bistro eats.

Port Rush Golf Club, County Antrim

Graeme McDowell

McDowell began golfing in his home county of Antrim before evolving into a top professional competing in tournaments across the globe.

G driving 11 mins
Rathmore Golf Club, County Antrim
Rathmore Golf Club

Rathmore in all its glory

This small, perfectly formed course sits within the the mighty Royal Portrush's Valley Links on the County Antrim coast. Rathmore was the first club McDowell ever joined and a round here will leave your heart singing: 6,304 yards of par 70 bliss, surrounded by some of the most beautiful natural landscapes anywhere on the planet. Though he spends far less time at Rathmore these days, McDowell still returns to buy a round of drinks for everyone in the clubhouse after each tour win. So if you time your visit right, you could nab a tipple with a US Open Champion!

H driving 31 mins
Portstewart Golf Club, County Londonderry
Portstewart Golf Club

Portstewart: it's pretty amazing

There’s no doubt about it: Portstewart is worth the trip even if you’ve never played a round in your life. For those with a real love of the game, they won’t be disappointed either: three unique 18-hole courses, breathtaking links views and a history of excellence make this an unforgettable spot. Host to the Irish Open in 2017, it's a tricky, exhilarating course, with one of the most famously challenging front 9 holes around. It’s no wonder McDowell has called Portstewart “a serious test of your game” – high praise from a one-time world #4!

I
Giant's Causeway, County Antrim
Giant's Causeway

In the footsteps of giants...

The Causeway Coastal Route is one of those drives that simply puts others to shame. Cruising along the stunning northern coast with mere minutes between world-class attractions like fairytale Dunluce Castle, heart-stopping Carrick-a-Rede Rope Bridge and pretty Ballintoy Harbour (of Game of Thrones® fame), you’ll wonder how this road isn’t a constant traffic jam of slack-jawed sightseers! Even the sleepy, postcard-perfect village of Cushendun is a treat to visit and a rare nod to a time and style long since passed. But it’s the Giant’s Causeway that is the stuff of legends. Debate surrounds its origins – purists say it’s a 60-million-year-old volcanic rock formation, while the locals know the 40,000 hexagonal stone columns were built by a giant – but once you set foot on this impossibly perfect landscape, all you feel is wonder.

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