Golf in Northern Ireland is more than just the royals

Graeme McDowell and Rory McIlroy are Northern Ireland's one-two punch on the golf course.

Similarly, the country's Royal Portrush and Royal County Down are arguably the best combination of championship links in any golf destination. Both have an illustrious history dating back to the 19th century as well as some of the world's most spectacular links holes.

Both are no-brainers as far as what to base your Northern Ireland golf holiday around. But beyond them, a full week of golf can be had. Many 19th-century clubs were founded in succession as the railway extended up north along the coast from Belfast, and there is a wealth of spectacular links land right in the heart of the towns at their disposal.

Nowadays, you'll drive the coast, not take the train, and it's one of golf's great road trips. The A2 Causeway Coastal Route is home to Giant's Causeway, Dunluce Castle, and even Bushmills Whiskey distillery, among other landmarks, so be sure to save enough time on the voyage to make a few pit stops.

Once you've booked your rounds at Portrush and Royal County Down, here are the rest of the golf courses to fill out your trip.

Portstewart Golf Club

Founded in 1894, Portstewart Golf Club now features three 18-hole golf courses. The original par-64 Old Course at Portstewart is a step back in time, but it's the Strand Course that is the must-play here. Practically 100 years in the making, the Strand is a mix of older holes from 1908, redesigned holes by Willie Park in the 1920s and seven new holes built in the most striking dunes in 1986. The links are now worthy of hosting some of the country's top competitions.

Castlerock Golf Club

Just west of Portrush, Castlerock Golf Club may play second fiddle to the royals, but the greens sure don't. Kept in phenomenal shape year round, this links course rewards good putters as well as those with big tee shots, thanks to five par 5s on the par-73 layout. The golf course is 6,700 yards and is set right in the heart of the town, which is where author C.S. Lewis spent many of his summers.

Ardglass Golf Club

The closest golf course to Royal County Down, Ardglass Golf Club is an entirely different kind of experience, playing on cliffs above the sea. The opening holes all hug the coastline, including a spectacular opening hole played from the foot of the 13th century castle that is now the clubhouse, over crashing waves and uphill to the green.

Ballycastle Golf Club

On the way to Portrush, Ballycastle Golf Club is a lesser-known course by the sea. The view of the golf course from the A2 Causeway Coastal Route, which has some severe ridges next to the coast, may spark your curiosity to squeeze it in on your golf trip. Its part links, part parkland design is worthy enough each year to be included in the Tullamore Dew Causeway Coast Golf Tournament, which is said to be Europe's largest amateur tournament.

Valley links at Royal Portrush Golf Club

When playing the famous Dunluce links at Royal Portrush, you'll notice the Valley links. Set below most of the Dunluce and shielded from a massive dune protecting the course from the East Strand beach, the Valley plays through some spectacular dunes in its own right. While many never even hear of the Valley links at Royal Portrush until they see it with their own eyes, it's no slouch of a play at more than 6,300 yards.

Golf courses in Belfast

Belfast is a good base to stay during your Northern Ireland golf vacation. Parkland courses near the city's center make for a good option if you're not looking to drive too far from your hotel.

Belvoir Park Golf Club is a historic parkland course designed by Harry Colt, while Royal Belfast has laid along the shores of Belfast Lough since 1881. Further east, Holywood Golf Club is a short parkland test that is the home club of McIlroy, should you be curious to see his humble beginnings.

More links courses in Ireland's northwest at Ballyliffin Golf Club

While northwest Ireland is back in the republic of Ireland and into the Euro zone again, it's popular to combine the two destinations. Ireland's northwest is rural and developing, and the golf courses are all much more affordable compared to Northern Ireland, which charges premium prices.

From Portrush, it's a two-hour drive (with a ferry across Lough Foyle) to Ballyliffin. With 36 raw links holes, there's no reason to leave in a hurry, so get off the grid and enjoy Ireland's northernmost links for a few days.

Brandon Tucker is the Sr. Managing Editor for GolfPass and was the founding editor of Golf Advisor in 2014, he was the managing editor for Golf Channel Digital's Courses & Travel. To date, his golf travels have taken him to over two dozen countries and nearly 600 golf courses worldwide. While he's played some of the most prestigious courses in the world, Tucker's favorite way to play the game is on a great muni in under three hours. Follow Brandon on Twitter at @BrandonTucker and on Instagram at @btuck34.
Related Links
If the British Open didn't get your motor running for a golf vacation, maybe the Irish Open will. There is still plenty of time left this summer to plan a golf trip to Ireland. If you looked at Ireland golf vacation prices a few years ago, it's time to look again. Here are some tips to help get your trip started.
3 Min Read
So your golf group has finally decided on Ireland for your golf trip next year. Now the real fun begins, deciding between Ireland's top two pockets of links courses: southwest Ireland or Northern Ireland. Both region's top five are as good as you'll find in the British Isles and Ireland. I've done the tour of both now in the last couple years, and the golf experience for the visitor in each is spectacular but a bit different for a variety of reasons.
3 Min Read
More from the author
4 Min Read
November 23, 2021
We scoured the web of golf and found holiday savings up to 50% off
12 Min Read
November 18, 2021
Golfers can choose from a wide variety of portable launch monitor price points and user experiences. Here is what's new and the best ones to consider to improve your golf.
7 Min Read
November 9, 2021
Our community loves the value and experience at these popular and affordable military facilities and even book online.
5 Min Read
November 2, 2021
Some U.S. cities have frighteningly few public-access courses for its residents. If you like variety, you may not want to live in these metros.
6 Min Read
October 27, 2021
Kick up the jams and drop some putts with the best portable speakers for the golf course.
4 Min Read
October 21, 2021
What began with just a par-3 course and learning center, this 2,000-acre sporting ranch between Austin and Houston is finally going all-in with an ambitious championship course.
20 Images
November 1, 2021
Golfers sent us photos from Ryder Cup and Solheim Cup venues, plus a famous 19th hole by Tiger Woods.
2 Min Read
November 2, 2021
The latest news regarding pandemic golf travel and some interesting upgrades at two under-the-radar golf resorts.
2 Min Read
November 15, 2021
Private club rounds, club fittings and even a club membership are available.
1 Min Read
November 19, 2021
Cut class, tee it up and get some food, just like the old days.
Load More
Now Reading
Golf in Northern Ireland is more than just the royals