- September 8, 2020 // The Consummate Pro
Golf vacations to Northern Ireland are the most popular itineraries that we offer at The Consummate Pro. Ever since McDowell, Clarke and McIlroy’s run of Major Championship wins in the 2000’s, Northern Ireland’s popularity has skyrocketed. Golfers have always visited Northern Ireland, but during the 30-odd years of ‘The Troubles”, it was avoided by most. Slowly, as peace descended, golfers became more and more interested in taking a Northern Ireland golf trip. The south-west of Ireland was still the most popular destination for overseas golfers, but things began to change. Then came the run of major wins, and in particular, McIlroy’s growing popularity. Rory’s profile more than anything else shone a spotlight on his homeland. Golfers started to get more and more interested in where he grew up and learned the game. Then of course, there was the quality of the golf courses themselves.
In 2019, Royal Portrush hosted The Open once more. Arguably the greatest tournament in world golf, it had only once before been to Northern Ireland, 59 years prior. The political landscape had changed, and so had Northern Ireland. It was a fantastic week, culminating in Irishman Shane Lowry lifting the Claret Jug aloft on the 18th green. Portrush was a worthy host, and the people of Northern Ireland and visitors from around the world embraced the tournament warmly. Added profile for one of the best golf destination in the world.
In this article we will look at the golf courses that you really should consider playing on a golf vacation to Northern Ireland. We will discuss the golf courses and recommend accommodations, and explain why they make sense for your golf trip. Finally, we will discuss what else you should consider experiencing during your time here. First, let’s start with when you should travel.
We discuss this in more detail in our article“8 tips for when to take a Golf Vacation to Ireland”, but really anytime between the start of May and the end of October is ideal. Some months are busier than others, and the weather can be unpredictable, so it’s impossible to pinpoint a perfect time to travel. The kids are usually in school right through to late June, so domestic tourism is stronger in the summer months. Mid-July is a traditional holiday period in Northern Ireland that coincides with the traditional 12th of July Celebrations, so availability can be further stretched at this time. Once you have even some tentative dates in mind we recommend that you contact us as soon as possible and we will start to do all the heavy lifting for you.
The Golf Courses
Northern Ireland is home to two of the Top 15 golf courses in the world. This in itself, for a country so small, is quite remarkable. In Royal County Down and Royal Portrush, a little over 2hrs drive from each other, you have simply world-class golf. Royal County Down is arguably the number one golf course in the world. It is links golf at its finest, and has proven to be one of the toughest tests in the world even for the top professionals. You can read our fuller course description for Royal County Down here, but trust us, this is a bucket-list course all day long and should be included on any golf trip. The only challenge with playing Royal County Down is acquiring a tee time. Here at The Consummate Pro we have some guaranteed tee times every year, so we should be your first port of call.
You can read our Blog Post: “Royal Co. Down: A perspective” by following this link.
Royal Portrush is equally challenging. The club hosted the Open Championship in 2019 after a gap of 59 years, once again being recognised as one of the best in the world. Royal Portrush is a fabulous link golf course. Arguably not as tough as Royal County Down, it is none the less challenging, and there isn’t a weak hole on the golf course. In preparations for the Open, two new holes were added to the routing. These holes, it is generally agreed, have substantially improved the original layout. Our fuller course description for Royal Portrush can be read here. As with Royal County Down, getting a tee time at Royal Portrush can be very challenging. The demand for times since it hosted the Open, has rocketed. However, as with Royal County Down, The Consummate Pro acquires guaranteed tee times each year for Royal Portrush, so make us your first port of call when booking your Northern Ireland golf trip.
These two great golf courses will be familiar to the majority of golfers, even those based overseas. The question we often then get asked in preparing an itinerary, is where else do we play. Fortunately for visitors, Northern Ireland is blessed with many other great golf courses to play. Among them are three superb links golf courses that compliment the two ‘Royal’s’ perfectly.
Portstewart is another of Northern Ireland’s great links golf courses. The host of the Dubai Duty Free Irish Open in 2017 won by Jon Rahm, Portstewart is often mentioned as having the best opening nine holes in world golf. Situated just a 10 minute journey from Royal Portrush, Portstewart Golf Club is a fabulous test of golf. The vista from the 1st tee at Portstewart is also one of the best you will experience. The course meanders around and through some of the most impressive dues in all of Ireland. It can be played on a day to itself, or often, if scheduling allows, it can be combined as a 36-hole day with Royal Portrush.
Ardglass Golf Club on the County Down coast is just a 35 minute drive from Royal County Down Golf Club. It is one of golf’s great “experiences”. Boasting the “Oldest Clubhouse in the World” (dating from 1405 by the way), Ardglass is home to some of Northern Ireland’s most picturesque golf holes in our opinion. The pick of the bunch is the par three 12th. Played across the Irish Sea, it is reminiscent of the famous 7th at Pebble Beach. Renowned as one of the friendliest clubs in Ireland, Ardglass is one of those unexpected days out. Our clients often go there with no preconceived ideas, and leave simply blown away by the whole experience. We highly recommend that you include it on your itinerary.
Castlerock Golf Club is located on the north coast approximately 30 minutes from Royal Portrush, and is yet another fine links test. Recently renovated by Martin Hawtree, Castlerock consists of a brilliant variety of golf holes. Castlerock is a great addition to this Northern Ireland links quintette. While it doesn’t have the pedigree of the Royals, we firmly believe that it is one of the most underrated courses in Ireland. Castlerock also has one of the best Par 4 golf holes in Northern Ireland. The 8th is a blind, double dog-leg that requires the golfer to navigate their way through some of Ireland’s tallest dunes and is worth the journey to the north west alone.
The standard, and variety of accommodations in Northern Ireland is simply second to none. Belfast has the greatest choice, being the Capital, but there are some exceptional properties dotted all over this small country. It is important to be aware that if you base yourself in the city, you are no more than 90-minutes to any of the above mentioned courses, and could even make it to Lough Erne in Co. Fermanagh in the west of the country in just over 2-hours such is the compact nature of Northern Ireland. So, let’s take a look at what we recommend to our clients for their Northern Ireland golf trip.
Where to stay?
Northern Ireland is a relatively small geographical area, equivalent in fact to the State of Maine. As a result, it is very easy to get around the country, both to and from its most popular golf courses. You can travel from Belfast to Royal County Down in 1 hour, and Belfast to Royal Portrush, in 1hr 15-minutes making Belfast, as we mentioned above, the perfect hub for a Northern Ireland golf trip. Some of our favourite hotels in Ireland are located here, and we will talk you through some of these now.
As the majority of arrivals are into Dublin airport, we regularly utilise The Slieve Donard Resort & Spa (pronounced ‘sleeve’) adjacent to Royal County Down on the first, and second nights of a Northern Ireland golf trip, often having played Co. Louth golf club en route to clear some cobwebs. The hotel is a great option based on its proximity to the first tee, but also its quality. The property was recently acquired by the Marine and Lawn group who also manage Rusacks in St. Andrews and the Marine Hotel in Troon. Having witnessed the refurbishments undertaken at both of those properties in recent times, there are exciting times ahead for the Slieve.
For those clients that do not necessarily want to base themselves in Belfast all the time, a move closer to Portrush on the North Coast is often preferred and logical. The Bushmills Inn is a real client favourite. Full of character, Bushmills is the epitome of Irish hospitality. Open turf fires, great food, a traditional bar with nightly live music and fabulous rooms, the Bushmills Inn is as cozy and welcoming as they come.
In Belfast there is a great variety of properties on offer. From luxury five star hotels, to waterfront properties, to quirky boutique three star options. We especially love The Merchant Hotel in the city’s Cathedral Quarter. This former bank building, reinvented into a luxury 5* hotel, has all the opulence you would expect and more. From luxurious soft furnishings, to grandiose dining rooms and a stunning cocktail bar, the Merchant oozes class. Walk out the revolving doors and you are right in the heart of Belfast’s newest entertainment district, The Cathedral Quarter. Filled with lively pubs and great restaurants, this is the beating heart of the city.
The Grand Central Hotel is a relative newcomer to the city but has quickly made its mark. One of the tallest buildings in the city, the panoramic views from the ‘Observatory’ on the top floor, and its cocktails, are fantastic. The AC Hotel situated on Belfast’s Waterfront is a superb new addition also. Spacious rooms, a light and airy decor, great views and walking distance to the Cathedral Quarter make this a great value choice. Finally, we love the quirkiness of The Bullitt Hotel. In the heart of the commercial district, the Bullitt has one of the best restaurants and entertaining spaces in town. The rooms are minimal but extremely comfortable, and the rooftop terrace and bar is a lively place for a nightcap.
What are the “must-sees and do’s”?
Understandably, a lot of our clients’ time is taken up playing golf on a Northern Ireland golf trip! However, there is a lot to see and do, and we encourage our visitors to take time to enjoy the destination to its fullest. There is always an opportunity to squeeze in at least one ‘experience’ even in a packed itinerary, while others will plan these from the outset. So, what are the must-do’s when you visit Northern Ireland for a golf vacation?
Here are the top five most popular off-course experiences enjoyed by our clients on their Northern Ireland golf trip: –
- The Bushmills Whiskey Distillery. The opportunity to visit the oldest licensed whiskey distillery in the world, and importantly taste some of its fabulous product. The perfect stop-off either going to, or coming from a round at Royal Portrush. Spend time with the Master Distiller and learn how one of the most famous whiskey brands in the world in produced.
- A Black Taxi tour. Take a political history tour in the back of one of the Belfast’s famous Black Taxis. A qualified tour guide will bring the ‘Troubles’ in Northern Ireland to life. There is also plenty of time to show off the newly rejuvenated city and its sights. An opportunity to see the ‘Murals’, Queens University, The Titanic Quarter and Stormont.
- The Titanic Experience. Belfast was the birthplace of the most famous liner in the world. Get an insight on the ship, the people behind its construction and its untimely demise. This is arguably one of the best exhibitions of its kind in the world. Remember – “She was fine when she left here”!!
- Game of Thrones. Did you know that Northern Ireland was the location for the majority of the Game of Thrones filming? You can visit some of the beautiful set locations and get an insight on this extremely popular HBO series. Visit the Studio Tour to see many of the sets, the costumes and much, much more.
- The Antrim Coastal Route. Described by Lonely Planet as one of the 5 best drives in the world, the Antrim Coastal route takes in some of the most spectacular scenery that Northern Ireland has to offer. You will visit Dunluce Castle, the Giants Causeway and Carrick-a-Rede rope-bridge all in a half day tour.
The Best Pubs and Restaurants?
This is always a hot topic of debate. Northern Ireland has some of the best pub experiences in the world to enjoy. We’re always asked in advance of a golf trip, what are the best pubs for us to visit. Needless to say we could go on for an eternity on this one, but again, I’ll let our previous clients guide you on what their favourite pubs around the province have been, as a guide for your own future golf trip: –
Belfast: You can’t visit the city without crossing the threshold of The Crown Liquor Saloon on Great Victoria Street. One of the few gaslit pubs remaining, it is so special that it is owned (and protected) by the National Trust. Tucked away down Belfast’s famous ‘entries’ you will find some of the oldest pubs in the city. The Jailhouse, The Morning Star and Whites Tavern are all worthy of a visit. In the Cathedral Quarter, you have a series of great bars. The Duke of York is a must with its legendary trad sessions. The Dirty Onion is a lively outdoor space that regularly has live music and for a more unusual backdrop. The Spaniard is an education!
Portrush: The go-to pub in Portrush is unquestionably The Harbour Bar. Always lively, packed with locals and tourists alike, and you are guaranteed the ‘craic’. The Harbour also has one of the towns best restaurants, The Bistro, and is surrounded by 3-4 others, all family owned.
Ardglass: No visit to Ardglass Golf Club is complete without crossing the street to The Olde Commercial Bar, or Manny’s, as it is known locally. It is simply a great pub. The ‘bar’, and (separate) ‘lounge’ as was popular back in the 60’s and 70’s in Ireland, are always full of golf chat. Frequented by caddies, members and the odd member of the Professional shop(!), you are assured one of the friendliest welcomes around.
Newcastle: Home to Royal County Down, it has its fair share of pubs to wile away an afternoon or evening. Quinn’s and O’Hares on the main street are a favourite with golfers. The excellent Brunel’s restaurant, located just opposite the gates of the Slieve Donard Hotel is a must visit. A short drive out of town you come to The Maghera Inn. A very traditional pub/restaurant which provides a genuine authentic Irish pub experience, it is well worth the visit.
Enniskillen: Whether staying or passing through, no Northern Ireland golf trip is complete without a stop off at Blake’s of the Hollow. Situated in the town centre, Blake’s has been in existence for over 125 years. Grab a Guinness and a good book, and simply enjoy.
Do you want to see what a Golf Tour to Northern Ireland might look like? Then take a look at our dedicated trip itinerary page here.
Northern Ireland is simply one of the best golfing destinations in the world. Very few others can claim two courses in the world Top 10 within a 2 hour drive of each other. Combined with a plethora of over 90 great golf clubs, quality accommodations and some of the best sightseeing and bars and restaurants in the world, a Northern Ireland golf trip is an absolute must. Take a look here as to why you should use The Consummate Pro to plan your Northern Ireland gold trip.