No one missed super swinger Rory McIlroy from County Down lift the US Open trophy in Maryland last year.
Of course, the trophy didn’t have far to travel, since it was in Northern Ireland until last week in the safe custody of defending champion Graeme McDowell. Do we see a pattern here?
Indeed we do. As Northern Irish golfers McIlroy, McDowell and Darren Clarke raise trophies they’re also raising the profile of their native courses that they learned on, grew up on, and still return to play on. While the apple does not fall far from the tree – the talent does not flourish far from the fairway.
McIlroy is certainly proud of his roots, telling the media lately “I love being from Northern Ireland. I tell everyone how great it is. For me, it’s the best place on earth.” And who could forget him as a youngster on TV practicing his putt on his mother’s washing machine.
Most recently, hosted the Irish Open, bringing local superstars McIlroy, McDowell and Clarke to the green, as well as Padraig Harrington and, eh, Bill Murray!
So we picked six of these world-class courses to survey here, for their firm greens, stunning views, champion credentials and ever-challenging holes.
, County Antrim
Host of the Irish Open 2012, a links course hugging the spectacular Causeway Coast was always going to be a looker. Indeed, the views from these wild greens include the crumbling, cliff-perched Dunluce Castle, roaring Atlantic ocean and the mountains of Donegal.
The course is a masterpiece of architect Harry Colt, who snaked the narrow fairways around dunes, ravines and cliffs. Despite all its credentials (i.e. the only course on the island to have hosted the Open Championship, ranked 12 in the world by Golf Magazine, and members including Clarke and McDowell), the atmosphere remains refreshingly unpretentious and ever-welcoming to visitors. A must-play.
, County Down
A setting in a nature reserve, a backdrop of majestic Mourne Mountains, and a course lapped by sandy beaches: just the ingredients of one of the most beautiful links in the world. It is also one of the most challenging, with narrow fairways flanked by vast dunes, ‘bearded’ bunkers with overhanging lips of marram, and heather and gorse fringing tightly contoured greens.
Bernard Darwin wrote that Royal County Down was “the kind of golf that people play in their most ecstatic dreams.”
The perfect excuse to get Down here and follow your dreams.
Lough Erne Resort, County Fermanagh
The base for the man of the moment, Lough Erne Golf Resort is only delighted to count McIlroy as its touring professional. In the heart of Ireland’s Lakelands, the Nick Faldo-designed championship course is his first golf course design in Ireland.
Its list of awards runs too long for this blog (Golf Resort of the Year 2010, 7th in Golfweek’s Best Great Britain and Ireland Modern Classic Courses 2011) but you can watch a personal endorsement for the course by McIlroy himself on this video, complete with footage of his famous drive – listen to that whack!
, County Londonderry
If Royal Portrush and County Down are considered to be among the jewels of links golf, late sports writer Jack Magowan figured that that made Castlerock and Portstewart semi-precious stones.
Tucked between a railroad and a river, Castlerock displays a collection of interesting vantage points. With eye-catching views of Donegal, the Atlantic and the Isle of Islay (on a clear day), it’s a wonder you’ll manage to keep your eye on the ball at all. Famed for its firm and speedy greens, it’s also fantastic value for a course of its calibre.
, County Londonderry
The New York Times mused that Portstewart’s first hole – a dogleg with a beach, ocean and river Bann view–
is often said to be the prettiest opener in Europe.
No small praise for a beachside Championship Strand Course that was in fact designed by local school teacher Des Giffin. The addition of his Strand Course in 1986 defied the general consensus that armchair architects can’t design a great course, and elevated the club to its must-play status.
, County Down
The sea views from every hole, and a castle (“started in the 13th Century and still not finished”) that surely earns it title of oldest clubhouse in the world, certainly impressed Michael Hiller from AvidGolfer:
The first five-hole stretch starts beside the wall of a 13th Century castle, then snakes out along cliffside links edging the Irish Sea. They may be among the best five opening holes in the world.
This hidden gem costs from just £43 for a visitor, and makes the perfect evening tee-off after a play in Royal County Down, 40 minutes down the road.
That’s not to imply that the Republic doesn’t have its fair(way) share of world-renowned greens. The K Club’s Palmer Course hosted the Ryder Cup in 2006, Mount Juliet twice hosted the WGC-American Express Championship, while Killeen Castle was the the center of Ladies’ Golf when the was fought for in 2011. Being ideally rugged little island, the coastline of the West harbours some jaw-dropping links – take a bow Old Head, Lahinch, and Tralee.
So next time you see Rory McIlory or Darren Clarke’s wide smile in the reflection of a shiny trophy, remember you’ve been told what home turf these boys practice their swing on.
Sometimes it seems our whole island is just one big course. Here’s .
There’s great value to match these great courses too: check out our special Northern Ireland golf vacation offers.