1. Royal Portrush Golf Club, County Antrim
There’s more to Royal Portrush than two exquisite courses and its notoriously challenging conditions. It’s the course that helped Ryder Cup star Darren Clarke fall madly in love with the game. And in 2019, it hosted one of golf’s biggest events, The Open.
Beyond the fairway: You’re on the Causeway Coastal Route here, so this stretch of road is full of gems. Get your camera out at Dunluce Castle, an epic cliff-side ruin five minutes away. Or keep going until you reach the Giant’s Causeway, a UNESCO World Heritage Site and an intriguing geological marvel. If you are looking for another excuse to play the Dunluce Links, then whiskey could be the answer. That's because they've been distilling Old Bushmills just four miles down the road for the last 400 years – take a tour, and maybe sample a wee dram.
Hunger may also strike, so go in search of a bite to eat at The French Rooms or the Tartine Restaurant at The Distillers Arms – both in Bushmills Village. Or pop into the eclectic Harbour Bar in Portrush, part of the Ramore complex of restaurants, which serves mouthwatering steaks on the bone beside roaring fires. Delicious!
2. Portstewart Golf Club, County Londonderry
In 2017, Portstewart hosted The Irish Open, and since then, it has definitely emerged from the shadow of its neighbor, the mighty Royal Portrush, just down the road.
Beyond the fairway: The sands of Downhill Strand are a glorious sight, with views across the sea or upwards to Mussenden Temple. Portstewart is also on the Causeway Coastal Route, so maybe rent a bike from Causeway Cycle Adventures, and aim for the Carrick-a-Rede rope bridge if you’ve got a head for heights…
After all that fresh air, eat up at Harry’s Shack in Portstewart: a fishy mecca that’s received great reviews since it first opened its beach-front doors. For a post-dinner tipple, settle down in the award-winning Anchor Bar. Or check out the Walled City of Derry — take a tour, cross the Peace Bridge or check out its historic murals.
3. Portmarnock, County Dublin
Founded in 1894 on a sandy peninsula that was once accessible only by boat, this incredible links is now a lot easier to access. A purely natural course, Portmarnock has hosted 19 Irish Opens as well as the Walker Cup and the Canada Cup — now the World Cup of Golf — and its finishing holes are regarded as some of the best to be found, well, anywhere.
Beyond the fairway: You’re really just a short train journey or drive from Dublin city center, but if you’re looking to hang out locally, head to Malahide! This coastal village is popular with day-tripping Dubliners who come to enjoy its castle, the Georgian architecture, the marina, the beach and its great little cafés and pubs.
Pop into the relaxed retro affair that is Gilbert & Wright’s Living Room, grab a coffee at The Garden House Café or take a Fish and Trips boat ride to Lambay Island, a sure way to get rid of any lingering woes that befell you on the course.
4. Waterville Golf Links, County Kerry
Set on the world-famous Ring of Kerry, Waterville Golf Links has it all: a heady combination of dunes, gorse and native grasses, sod-faced bunkers and subtle putting surfaces. Then of course, there's the ever-changing weather that rolls in from the wild Atlantic. Little wonder that it is regularly featured as one of the Top 100 Courses in the World…
Beyond the fairway: Waterville is blessed with glorious views over the Ring of Kerry, and an atmosphere adored by everyone from Charlie Chaplin to the late US Open and US PGA champion Payne Stewart. Stewart’s 19th hole was Waterville’s Butler Arms Hotel: "We get into the pub and get around a piano. I bring out my harmonica and the next thing you know it's about 4am," Stewart said of his post-round routine, usually in the company of fellow golfer, Mark O'Meara.
Nearby at Portmagee, it’s just as star-filled: this is the place where the folks filming Star Wars based themselves for Episodes VII and VIII. And you can enjoy stargazing of a different kind at the Kerry International Dark Sky Reserve. Carry on exploring Killarney National Park, relaxing in Dromquinna Manor (you can dine out at The Boathouse Bistro while there), or trying out any of the lovely old traditional pubs that line the streets of Killarney.
5. Royal County Down Golf Club
Jack Nicklaus couldn't conquer it and neither could Tom Watson. Royal County Down is a thinking person's links and even the shrewdest players can be flummoxed by the guile of what is possibly the island's finest course. Oh, and did we mention this was voted number one course in the world by Golf Digest?
Beyond the fairway: You’re in Narnia now. Or should we say in the land that inspired CS Lewis to create the world behind the wardrobe. Scale Slieve Donard or find the follies, grottos and Celtic myths that pepper its peaks and glens. This is Game of Thrones® territory, too – so check out the filming locations at nearby Castle Ward, exchanging club for broadsword and cloak!
For a gentler outing, weave your way through Castlewellan’s Peace Maze or amble around Tollymore Forest Park – the source of the wood used to build the interiors of Titanic. Browse the antique shops in Greyabbey on the shores of Strangford Lough, or head to Dundrum to enjoy oysters at Mourne Seafood Bar.
6. Lahinch Golf Course, County Clare
Part and parcel of the fabric of Irish golf for 120 years, Lahinch's Old Course has undergone many changes since Old Tom Morris came over from Scotland to create it in 1894. Keep an eye out for the goats. It’s said if they’re seen near the clubhouse, the weather prospects aren’t so good. If they're out on the dunes, the weather is sure to be fine…
Beyond the fairway: Off the greens, be sure to enjoy the laidback vibes of Lahinch by watching the surfers test their mettle along the shoreline. Or take in the views at the Cliffs of Moher – from on top or from below… cruise boats leave from the village of Doolin.
With all that fresh air, you're sure to work up an appetite, so Barrtrá Seafood Restaurant can come to the rescue with baked Doonbeg crab or fisherman’s broth. If you fancy somewhere to relax, then pop down to The Nineteenth pub for some live music, friendly conversation and a good old-fashioned welcome from the locals.