Monday, May 11, 2015

Coming to Ireland for The Irish Open?

The 13th hole at Royal County Down
If you're travelling from overseas to watch one of the most impressive Irish Open line-ups in years (maybe ever), at the magnificent Royal County Down, then chances are you'll be thinking about playing a little golf.

After all, as the Northern Irish Tourist Board has been bragging for a number of years, this is the 'Home of Champions'... you'd expect plenty of exceptional courses. And Northern Ireland doesn't disappoint.

Here are some options to consider:

1. Top 100 Golf Courses in the World

Royal Portrush
91 miles away (1 hour and 50 minutes by car)
Alongside Royal County Down, Royal Portrush is often mentioned in the same breath when it comes to 'best in the world' ratings. Not much needs to be said about the mighty Dunluce course. It's world class quality and the two new holes being prepared for the Open Championship will give the course an even greater allure.
Club Website
The stunning 5th at Royal Portrush

2. Top Ten Premier Northern Irish Golf Courses (alphabetically)

1. Ardglass
19 miles (35 minutes)
Nothing like a few cannons pointing at you to inspire you on a sea-lashed 1st tee. What a send-off and the 1st green sits in a rock-protected turret. Ardglass is famous for its opening clifftop run of holes and while the 'inside' holes lack anything like the same drama, there are several other holes (the par 3-5-3 10th-12th most notably) that make Ardglass a must-play course. The par three 10th is called The Island... which is the Coney Island made famous in the Van Morrison song.
Club Website
Photos (only 5)

2. Belvoir Park
27 miles (46 minutes)
Pronounced 'Beaver' this is an old parkland on the outskirts of Belfast. Start on the clubhouse balcony for views over several holes and towards the Belfast Hills. Big trees, strong routing, old school design (Harry Colt, no less) and oodles of class.
Club Website
Clubhouse balcony views at Belvoir Park - down the 10th and
between the 9th and 18th greens
3. Castlerock
94 miles (2 hours)
The 'forgotten' 3rd links on the short stretch of northern coastline, Castlerock has its own charm and unique characteristics - not least its 'Leg of Mutton' par three beside the railway line. The most explosive dunes are in the centre of the course and they are visible from the 1st tee. An excellent 3rd nine (The Bann) intertwines. And one of the friendliest nights I've ever had in a clubhouse.
Club Website
View back down the par three 9th at Castlerock
4. Clandeboye
37 miles (1 hour)
Two 18-hole courses: the Dufferin is the big, muscular golf course, with some stunning holes sliding down a gentle hillside. Theres plenty of gorse, trees and water, and maybe some nesting eagles; the Ava course is short, quirky and incredible fun, with holes (doglegs and blindshots among them) you won't believe. You should probably play both. Clubhouse big enough to get lost in.
Club Website
Photos (Dufferin)
Photos (Ava)

The dogleg par four 7th at Clandeboye (Dufferin)

5. Concra Wood
55 miles (1 hour and 15 minutes)
Not a 'Northern Ireland' course, but only 55 miles due west of Royal County Down. Concra Wood is one of Ireland's newest courses (2008) and one that never gets the credit it deserves. Put that down to bad timing (Celtic Tiger collapse) for this is a startling lakeland course, with big elevation changes, strong green settings and a flow that brings you back and forth to the water's edge. Designed by the legends Christy O'Connor Jnr and Snr, it has a 'big' feel with small green fees. One of Ireland's most exciting inland courses, running around the edge of Lake Muckno.
Club Website
The second shot on Concra Wood's 10th drops like a stone
6. Galgorm Castle
61 miles (1 hour and 20 minutes)
Home of the Northern Irish Open, this is an incredibly lazy parkland course through a grand old estate (the castle dates back to 1618). No changes in elevation and two rivers running through it make it an idyllic setting for gentle golf. Excellent facilities (and more to come) and quality.
Club Website
Views back down the 18th at Galgorm Castle
7. Lough Erne
104 miles (2 hours 10 minutes)
Extremely well received when it opened in 2008, this Faldo designed course weaves around the beautiful lakelands of Fermanagh. The routing gives holes plenty of space - and views - with natural and impenetrable rough and forest. 5 star quality for a 5 star resort. Several huge holes.
Club Website
The tricky par four 17th at Lough Erne
8. Malone
28 miles (47 minutes)
Just 3 miles from Belvoir Park, these two courses are the top two parklands in the region and if you play one you should always play the other to compare the differences. Malone's prize is the 25 acre lake that dominates on the back nine, and shimmers in front of Ballydrain House (and clubhouse) built in 1835. The course is dominated by big undulations and big trees around which you are often required to play. The most elegant golf in Northern Ireland. There's a 3rd nine, too.
Club Website
Views from the 18th across the lake to the 15th green at Malone
9. Portstewart (Strand course)
92 miles (2 hours)
The Strand links is famed for its opening hole and its entire front nine, which weave through towering dunes on a stretch of land known locally as 'God's Own Country'. Not hard to see why. It is explosive golf for 11 holes, with the tempo easing on the closing stretch. Superb clubhouse and two other 18-hole courses, although the Strand is the main event.
Club Website
The stunning views from the 1st tee at Portstewart
10. Royal Belfast
41 miles (1 hour)
Ireland's 2nd oldest course is a parkland perched above Belfast Harbour. It has that old style classic quality and design (Harry Colt), sliding ever downwards to the edge of the sea through tall trees, gorse and spacious bunkering. In holes 10 and 11, the course has two brilliant holes.
Club Website
The tree takes over at Royal Belfast

3. The 'Next Best' Irish Golf Courses (alphabetically)

I don't like calling them 'second tier' as the following courses all have their merits. It is, perhaps, too easy to single out the courses above because they frequent rankings lists, or maintain a high profile among tour operators. So here are some 'other' courses that are really worth a look.

1. Ballycastle
With views across to Scotland and along the Antrim coastline this is a combination of parkland, clifftop and links golf. The 6th is a par four called Hog's Back, and it has a fairway that could easily make you fall over.
Club Website

2. Kirkistown Castle
A links on the east coast of Co. Down, Kirkistown Castle is not quite on the sea (separated by a road and houses), but it has all the low-running links traits you could ask for and it was designed by James Braid. Does any more need to be said?
Club Website

3. Moyola Park
A course with towering trees, easy rhythm and some nice changes in elevation. A densely wooded hillock at the centre of the course, with a wide river running around it, which plays host to tees and greens, is the highlight.
Club Website
The par three 17th at Moyola Park. A narrow tee shot
4. Scrabo
Look, I bang on about Scrabo all the time so if there's someone out there who has played it, please leave some comments below and let me/us know what you think of it, too. I'm beginning to feel that I am completely MAD. That said, this wild, gorse, hill-side roller-coaster remains one of my top 10 and I would play it ahead of many of the most highly ranked in the country. It's kind of crazy golf on steroids, with one astounding shot after another, and the views are spectacular. And my favourite opening hole on the island.
Club Website
The 17th at Scrabo - a par three
There's so much more to Northern Ireland but it's not my forte to talk about the Giants Causeway, the Glens of Antrim, the Mourne Mountains, Carrick-a-Rede Rope Bridge, the Dark Hedges, the Titanic Quarter, Derry City... and all the other beautiful and remarkable places you will find in these six counties. And then there's the food and accommodation (Bushmills Inn, Galgorm Castle Resort, Roe Park, the Europa in Belfast), not to mention the hospitality.
Views over the 6th green and hotel at Roe Park Golf Resort
But on the golf, I can definitely help. Take your pick from above and be sure to toss in Scrabo for a wild adventure. It's only 33 miles from Royal County Down and it's a round you'll never forget.

And if you want 10 Reasons to go to The Irish Open, just follow the link.

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