Top quality courses, incredible scenery and a welcome so warm, you’ll never want to leave – Northern Ireland punches well above its weight when it comes to golf and its golfing greats. The secret is this: it's easy to learn to play golf in Northern Ireland, and its homegrown heroes are proof. Just ask Graeme McDowell. His home town of Portrush has two clubs – the world-famous Royal Portrush, and the smaller Rathmore golf course. The latter is his home turf, and it was here that his father trained him in the art of golf.
I love being from Northern Ireland, and I never get tired of telling people how great it is.
Then, of course, we have one of the world's top golfers, Rory McIlroy. He was introduced to the sport in Northern Ireland at the tender age of two, and he could soon hit the ball 40 yards. McIlroy then became the youngest member of Holywood Golf Club in County Down at the age of eight – and the rest, as they say, is history!
Courses with star quality
Royal Portrush Golf Club is a County Antrim beauty that stands proudly on a rocky promontory, edging out into the Atlantic. Those who know it sing its praises, including Rory McIlroy. He hails its Dunluce course as “among my favorite places to play in Northern Ireland, and one of the truly great links". We’ll see how the pros get on when The Open plays here in 2019.
Just four miles away is Portstewart: an up-and-coming golf course that’s emerged from the shadow of the mighty Royal Portrush. It’s here that Justin Rose, Rory McIlroy, Jon Rahm and Darren Clarke, amongst others, will battle it out on The Strand Course at the Irish Open.
Royal County Down – the more you play it, the more you recognize it for the class place it is.
And, naturally, there’s the course that Golf Digest saw fit to name as number one in the world: Royal County Down. Famous for its heather topped bunkers and magnificent views, it has been the venue for The Irish Open, The Walker Cup and the Curtis Cup, amongst others, and is a sublime challenge to all.
The home of champions
There’s no doubt about it, Northern Ireland is the home of champions. Three of its most famous sons hail from this small corner of the island, with arguably the most famous of all being World Number 2, Rory McIlroy. A huge advocate for Northern Ireland’s sensational golf courses, his own Rory Foundation is the key sponsor of the Irish Open.
The area is unbelievable and the people are extraordinary
Darren Clarke, meanwhile, invests his spare time in his Darren Clarke Foundation. A native of County Tyrone, Clarke began his career as a junior member of the Dungannon Golf Club. His foundation supporting junior golfers is his way of introducing his love of the game to others finding their feet on the fairway.
And finally, there’s Graeme McDowell. A native of Portrush, he learned the game at Rathmore, which plays on the Valley Links at Royal Portrush. Although already famous in the golfing world, Royal Portrush became even more of a household name when McDowell told the world he’d honed his skills here when he was crowned champion at the 2010 US Open at Pebble Beach – thus becoming the first European for 40 years to lift the title.
Get me to the tee on time
It’s not as if Northern Ireland is hard to get to! With frequent flights arriving to Belfast, Dublin and Shannon, it’s easy to plan your trip to coincide with some of the greats strutting their stuff on the greens. And as these fine courses are open to non-members, you can literally follow in their footsteps once they’ve headed home!
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