It might seem unfair to say it, given the quality of what Northern Ireland has to offer, but there are just four golf resorts across the six counties. It feels like a mistake, as if someone has omitted the 1 in front of the 4. How can a region so blessed in courses only have four golf resorts?
Accommodation options are never lacking but there’s no doubt that the convenience and focus of a golf resort simplifies the golf traveller’s life. Throw in a spa and/or leisure centre and the boxes get ticked faster than DeChambeau’s swing speed.
I’m not knocking other accommodation choices – the cosy B&B, the city centre hotel, or the small country hotel which focuses on broader tourist requirements – but for the everything-in-one-place, it’s hard to trump a golf resort.
Lough Erne is the most remote of these four resorts. It is hidden away in the Fermanagh Lakelands, outside Enniskillen, surrounded by water and bristling with five star quality from the accommodation to the food to the fairways. Their Thai Spa may have won awards but head chef Noel McMeel’s cuisine seems to serve them up as frequently as we eat hot dinners. The dishes he produces at the resort’s Catalina restaurant attract people from far and wide, and there are two other restaurants should you fancy a different setting.
It is said that across Fermanagh’s famous Lakelands there is an island for every day of the year… and you’ll see a few as you play this big, luxurious beast of a course. You start beside the water, you finish beside the water and the holes in between race over tumbling terrain embraced by Lower Lough Erne and Castlehume Lough. The resort is a haven for wildlife and ‘environmentally sensitive’ areas abound within the golf course. Through forest, up onto a ridge and down to the water’s edge, the Nick Faldo-designed Lough Erne is every bit as charming as that sounds.
And then there are the extras: the first is the distinctive and often photographed self-catering lodges above the 17th fairway; and the second is the Castle Hume golf course that you drive through on your way into the heart of the resort. For more info, visit www.lougherneresort.com
Things to do nearby:
- Golf: Enniskillen Golf Club, and the 9-hole Black Lion are a short drive away.
- Sights: Marble Arch Caves, the Marble Arch Nature Reserve, the Fermanagh Lakelands.
The four star Roe Park Resort outside Limavady has a strong and entertaining golf course rising through the heart of the hotel itself (the par-3 6th), as well as a 3-hole academy/practice course and a popular driving range. What makes Roe Park even more attractive is its proximity to the links courses on the northern coastline. Castlerock, Portstewart and Royal Portrush are all reachable within 30 minutes. That’s a total of 117 links holes and a host of memories to take home with you. That’s not to detract from the course at Roe Park, which is beautifully maintained and has some cracking holes, most notably the final five which includes one of the most tempting and driveable par-4s (the 266 yard 15th) and the downhill stunner that is the par-3 17th, with views to the brooding Binevenagh beyond. For more info, visit, www.roeparkresort.com
Things to do nearby:
- Golf: those famous links courses as well as City of Derry Golf Club, which lies to the east on the other side of Derry City.
- Sights: Derry City, Giant’s Causeway, Bushmills Distillery, and miles and miles of coastline.
Galgorm Spa & Golf Resort
Working your way east and south, back towards Belfast, golfers might well want to savour the embracing charms of Galgorm Castle, a name much more recognisable now that it has hosted the Dubai Duty Free Irish Open (2020) and will, this year, host the ISPS HANDA World Invitational (see below).
The five star Galgorm Spa & Golf Resort (www.galgorm.com) has a cool vibe to it, no doubt due to the young clientele who flock here throughout the year. There are the expected five star formal elements but with its funky restaurants and buzzing atmosphere there’s an aspirational quality to it all. And then there’s The Thermal Village. There is nothing like it in Ireland. Outdoor hot tubs, indoor and outdoor pools, saunas, jacuzzis… and all in gardens next to the River Maine. If you book one of the resort’s 122 luxurious rooms you receive complimentary access to the Thermal Village. That’s some way to relax before your next tee time. It’s almost enough to keep you away from the golf course.
The course is down the road and it is usually a calm and relaxing parkland, floating around the grounds of the castle and intertwining with two rivers that give the course its structure. There are plenty of other water features, too, including the pond being added next to the 18th green. It will add to the grandstand finish and when competitors arrive for July’s ISPS HANDA World Invitational, they will find a course that is anything but relaxing. Here they can grow the rough up quickly and, with several curling doglegs, that puts a premium on accuracy. For more info, visit, www.galgormcastle.com
Things to do nearby:
- Golf: Nearby are Massereene (which will host players in the early rounds for the World Invitational), Ballymena, Ballyclare, the charming Moyola Park and the public course at Allen Park. The north coast links are less than an hour’s drive away.
- Sights: Glens of Antrim, Giant’s Causeway, Carrick-a-Rede Rope Bridge, The Dark Hedges, and Titanic Belfast.
The final resort is Hilton Templepatrick, 25 minutes south of Galgorm Castle, and close to Belfast. There’s no spa but everything you’d expect of a Hilton hotel is here. There are 129 guest rooms (some are pet friendly), a fitness centre and three bars/restaurants. Its proximity to Belfast makes it a big draw and ‘big’ describes the golf course as well. It is over 7,000 yards from the tips, with muscular and daunting green complexes and trees ever-present. Enjoyable? Absolutely, but full concentration required. There’s a patio not far from the 18th green where you can enjoy a drink and decide if you played from the correct tees… if not, you might be marking a ‘big’ score on your card. For more info, visit, www.hilton.com/templepatrick
Things to do nearby:
- Golf: Belfast’s courses are easily accessible, as well as Ballyclare, Massereene and Allen Park.
- Sights: Glens of Antrim, Giant’s Causeway, Carrick-a-Rede Rope Bridge, The Dark Hedges, Titanic Belfast, and Belfast itself.
For golfers, these are the headline resorts but alternative accommodation options are abundant. You may fancy the sophisticated luxury of the Slieve Donard Hotel, or the city convenience of the Ten Square Hotel, or perhaps you’re looking for something cosier and more intimate, such as Blackrock House B&B in Portrush (five star and golf friendly!). It will all depend on where you decide to play golf. I can do no more than recommend you take a look at the www.discovernorthernireland.com/accommodation for ideas.