The golfing paradise that is Northern Ireland

Mark McGowan

Galgorm Castle

Home to two of the island’s top three courses according to Irish Golfer’s latest ‘Top 100’ rankings, Northern Ireland will welcome the cream of world golf when the Open returns to Royal Portrush in 2025. It is the canvas on which three modern major champions have learned their artistry and enjoys the sort of rich golfing history only found in Britain and Ireland.

And it’s not just international visitors who’ve taken a shine to the six counties. According to BRS statistics, since 2019, there’s been a 257% increase in online bookings at Northern Irish courses from players based in the Republic as exchange rates have become more favourable and overseas travel more complicated.

The Royal courses at Portrush and County Down need no introduction and are on the bucket list for every golfer not yet lucky enough to have ticked them off. 2017 Irish Open host Portstewart is in a similar vein, whose opening hole, played from an elevated tee with the Atlantic Ocean to the right towards which the fairway doglegs, is widely regarded as one of the most scenic and best in world golf.


Belfast is of course a lure itself. Steeped in history, it’s an ideal city break or weekend destination with the city’s Cathedral Quarter offering a vibrant selection of bars and restaurants as Belfast’s premier nightlife destination.

Waterman restaurant, which opened in 2022, is located in the heart of the Cathedral Quarter and is operated by renowned chef Niall McKenna who trained in London under a variety of Michelin starred chefs including Gary Rhodes and Marco Pierre White.

The famed Harland and Wolff cranes that tower over the city’s docks are a nod to its shipbuilding history, and of course, the Titanic was built here in the early twentieth century. Now one of the island’s top-rated tourist attractions, Titanic Belfast has recently undergone a €5 million refurbishment and features a variety of artefacts recovered from the wreckage and a wall detailing the entire passenger manifest complete with the fate of each of the voyage’s 2,208 souls.

Another highlight for visitors to Belfast are the world-famous Black Cab Tours where the city’s troubled past is expertly relayed and the intimate geography of the conflicting neighbourhoods and communities provide an eye-opening experience.

But Northern Ireland has much more to offer, with cultural, historic and geographic delights to be found in all four corners. From the hexagonal basalt steppingstone of the Giant’s Causeway in North Antrim to the Marble Arch caves of West Fermanagh, and from the city walls of Derry to the picturesque coastal village of Portaferry, you’re spoiled for choice and there’s no shortage of additional golf courses worthy of acclaim, and several that no all-island golfing resumé is complete without.

If you’re looking for recommendations for golf in Northern Ireland, outside of the bucket-list options, then here are some of the courses you absolutely ‘must’ play. Whether you favour links or parkland, city break or country retreat, Northern Ireland has it all.


Situated just to the west, the other side of the Bann Estuary but occupying the same coastline as Portrush and Portstewart, lies Castlerock Golf Club which boasts the nine-hole Bann Course and the Championship Mussenden Course.

Though less dramatic than its neighbours in terms of elevation changes, Castlerock is every bit as challenging and features the same towering dunes through which the course is routed. And when the wind sweeps in off the Atlantic, it’s one of the toughest challenges you’ll find.

Its name derives from Mussenden Temple which is perched perilously on the clifftops which overlook the links, and renovations carried out in 2017 have made an already excellent course even better with the addition on three new tee boxes, new bunkering and the reshaping of greenside mounds.

Accommodation recommendations: Golf Links Hotel Portrush or Inn on the Coast, Portrush.


Slightly north-east of Royal County Down you find Ardglass Golf Club, next to the Southern Down fishing village from which its name derives. Situated along the rocky shoreline, the opening six holes are classic linksland, hugging the breath-taking coast as the course meanders its way towards the craggy headland before circling back inland.

Standing on the first tee, you’re backed by the cannons of the 14th century castle that is also the oldest clubhouse in Irish golf.

Incredible views are available throughout, with the distant Isle of Man visible on a clear day and the rock outcroppings that feature heavily on the opening holes eerily reminiscent of California’s famed Pebble Beach.

Accommodation recommendations: The Cuan, Downpatrick or Slieve Donard, Newcastle.


Belfast, naturally, has its fair share of historic and quality golf courses as well. Malone Golf Club, situated five miles south of the city, is a lush and mature parkland course in the valley of the river Lagan. Sprawling Oaks, Sycamores and Pines frame the fairways of what is considered by many to be the top parkland course in Northern Ireland.

Considerable upgrades have been carried out in recent years that include a redesigned 14th hole and new short-game practice area have only served to improve the experience, and the back nine largely centred around the lake is as picturesque as it is devilish, with the closing stretch as good as you’ll find anywhere on the island.

Accommodation recommendation: Grand Central Hotel, or Ten Square Hotel, Belfast.

Belvoir Park

As mentioned, Malone may well be the best parkland course in the North, but then again, it may not even be the best parkland course in Belfast with stiff competition coming in the form of Belvoir Park.

Another Harry Colt design, Belvoir Park is located on the south side of the city, and save for the planting of additional trees, remains largely unchanged from the layout that first opened in 1926. Situated within the grounds of Lord Deramore’s estate, a variety of Oaks, Beech and Fir trees have since been added to with Scots pines, Larch and Cypress trees, with the fairways meandering through the woodland, accompanied by gentle streams, strategic and well-designed bunkering and excellent putting surfaces.

Accommodation recommendation: The Malone Hotel, Belfast.


Dunmurry Golf Club can be found to the city’s south-west, midway between Lisburn and the city centre. Having moved to its current location alongside the Lagan in the 1980s, it was renovated in the early 2000s and is now a lush and excellent parkland challenge with heavily contoured greens and well-placed bunkers throughout.

Due to the heavy forestation on the course, strategy is a key factor in scoring well with accuracy at a premium. Don’t be fooled by its length, a bomb-and-gouge strategy will lead to big and ugly numbers around here.

Accommodation recommendation: Beechlawn Hotel, Dunmurry.

Royal Belfast

Royal Belfast Golf Club was voted Irish Golf Tour Operators association Parkland Course of the year (2022) and is very different in nature to the internationally renowned Portrush and County Down, but it’s well worth including on a trip to the Northern capital. Situated in Holywood, near George Best International Airport and roughly nine miles north-east of Belfast centre, Royal Belfast lies on the south shores of Belfast Lough and is another Harry Colt design.

Despite being coastal, its terrain is more parkland and trees line the fairways with gentle elevation changes throughout. Expertly manicured, attention to detail is at the forefront and is another must-play addition to any Belfast golfing trip.

Accommodation recommendation: Culloden Estate and Spa, Holywood.

Galgorm Castle

In addition to the individual clubs featured previously, Northern Ireland is home to some of the island’s finest golf resorts as well. Galgorm Castle, near Ballymena, was recently awarded the accolade of ‘Northern Ireland’s Best Golf Hotel’ at the World Golf Awards and in addition to its luxury spa, features a golf course that’s laid out between the Braid and Main rivers that border the resort. It hosted the 2020 Irish Open and the 2022 ISPS Handa World Invitational – a tri-sanctioned DP World Tour, LET and LPGA event that saw men and women players compete alongside one another in separate categories – and the recently refurbished 18th hole is a finisher worthy of top tier championship golf.

Accommodation recommendations: Galgorm Resort or Tullyglass Hotel, Ballymena.

Kingfisher Country Estate

Midway between Galgorm and Belfast, in Ballyclare lies Kingfisher Country Estate and the accompanying Templepatrick Golf Course. A 129-room luxury resort, the golf course is an enjoyable par-71 layout designed by David Feherty and namesake Jones. Water is the main danger on an otherwise forgiving course, but ponds come into play on five of the holes and the Six Mile Water River borders the course to the north with three of the holes running adjacent to it.

Accommodation recommendations: Kingfisher Country Estate or Dunadry Hotel and Gardens

Roe Park

Roe Park Resort is situated just outside Limavady and is an award-winning premier golf and spa resort that also features an indoor golf academy. The golf course is located on the banks of the river Roe, which comes into play on the opening nine. Recent renovations have seen major improvements in the green complexes, all of which are now constructed to USGA specifications, and the short par-4 15th hole named ‘Coolessan’ is a beauty with risk-reward factors heavily influencing the way it’s played.

Accommodation recommendations: Roe Park Resort or The Drummond Hotel, Limavady.

Lough Erne

Finally, just outside Enniskillen in Fermanagh is Lough Erne Resort – a five-star hotel and spa and accompanying Nick Faldo designed championship golf course. The course is set between Lough Castle Hume and Lough Erne, and as you’d expect, water comes into play regularly throughout. Playing almost 7,000 yards off the back tees, on heavily undulating terrain, the course is a beast off the back tees but playable for all levels of golfer thanks to multiple tee boxes.

Wonderful views over the Fermanagh countryside and of the lakes themselves can be found at various stages of the round, particularly from the elevated sixth tee box, and a buggy is recommended for elderly golfers or those who struggle with heavy climbs.

Accommodation recommendation: Lough Erne Resort or Manor House Country Hotel, Enniskillen.



A parkland layout 10 minutes north-west of Omagh in County Tyrone, Newtownstewart traverses the rolling hillside in majestic fashion with undulations everywhere and lush vegetation abound. Quirky at times, the par-3 13th plays blind over a mound, but there are plenty of opportunities to open the shoulders and swing freely.

Accommodation recommendation: Mellon Country Inn Hotel, Omagh.


30 minutes north of Belfast, Ballyclare is a wonderfully mature and tree-lined course with excellent practice facilities. No shortage of water hazards can be found, with strategic and wonderfully shaped and maintained bunkering ensuring a top-class challenge.

Accommodation recommendation: 5 Corners Guest Inn, Ballyclare


Occupying the elevated terrain above Newtownards at the northern edge of Strangford Lough, heavy gorse can be found all over the course as it winds its way along Scrabo Hill and you’ll be sorely tempted to let loose with the driver from the many elevated tees.

Accommodation recommendation: The Strangford Arms, Strangford.


Featuring two 18-hole layouts just to the north on the outskirts of Bangor, the Dufferin Course is the undoubted king. Though largely parkland, the fairways undulate in links-like fashion with gorse and bracken accompanying trees to dictate lines of attack and spectacular views of Belfast Lough and the city can be found on the elevated 17th tee.

Accommodation recommendation: Clandeboye Lodge Hotel, Bangor.

Kirkistown Castle

A pure links course on the Ards Peninsula and Ireland’s easternmost golf course, Kirkistown was partly remodelled by legendary Scottish golfer and architect James Braid, asking all the strategic questions for which Braid designs are famed.

Accommodation recommendations: Portaferry Hotel, Portaferry.


Just north of the port town of Larne, Cairndhu is a seaside course set on the clifftops of the Drains and Ballygally Bays. Part designed by C.A. MacKenzie – brother of Alister of Augusta National fame – and Harry Colt, it’s a quirky design that’s a joy to play and offers panoramic views of the highest order.

Accommodation recommendation: Ballygally Castle Hotel, Larne.

So whatever your golfing pleasure may be, whether it’s the windswept dunes of the northern coast, the majestic Co. Down stretch of the Irish Sea, the lush Belfast parklands or the sprawling resorts of Antrim, Derry or Fermanagh, you can be sure that you’ll find it in Northern Ireland.

SUGGESTED ACTIVITIES – Visit for links to all of the following;

Coast & Country Foodie Tour Experience

Enjoy an extraordinary foodie adventure along every twist and turn as Wendy takes you on a guided tour of the culinary highlights of Northern Ireland’s fabled Causeway Coastal Route. An ideal accompaniment to trips taking in Portrush and neighbouring courses.

Slemish Market Supper Club

Hosted in venues around Ballymena, the Glens of Antrim and Northern Ireland every month, chef Rob spends entire weeks meticulously preparing the mouth-watering six-course meal that you’ll get to enjoy. Perfect for visitors to Galgorm Castle, Ballyclare and Kingfisher Country Estate.

Killowen Distillery

Take a tour of Northern Ireland’s smallest distillery in the heart of the Mourne Mountains and taste the many whiskeys and gins as you learn about the distilling process and the region’s liquor smuggling history. A prime activity for visitors to Royal County Down and Ardglass.

Copeland Distillery

A stone’s throw from Donaghadee Harbour, hear the rich history of what was once Northern Ireland’s busiest port and taste the whiskeys, gins and rums distilled on site. An ideal activity close to Kirkistown Castle, Scrabo, Clandeboye and Royal Belfast.

The Boatyard Distillery

On the banks of Lough Erne, Fermanagh’s first legal distillery in 130 years produces pure spirits with a sustainable organic approach. See how they’re made, taste them in a variety of fashions, and label and sign your very own bottle of Boatyard Double Gin. An absolute must to accompany any trip to the Lough Erne resort.


Lough Erne

From £225 PPS from April to October 2023 inclusive or £189PPS from November to March inclusive.

Play 18 holes on Faldo and 18 holes on the neighbouring Castle Hume Course.  Followed by dinner in the clubhouse and an overnight stay in Lough Erne luxury accommodation. Includes Full breakfast each morning and use of the infinity pool.

Clandeboye Lodge Hotel From £275 for 2 guests.

Play the Championship Dufferin course, then return to the luxury of the hotel and the Coq & Bull brasserie to discuss the finer shots of the day! 1 night B&B, dinner and 1 round on the Dufferin course.

Roe Park Resort From £109 PPS.

Enjoy unlimited golf at Roe Park’s 18 Hole Parkland Golf Course during your overnight stay. Also includes a Full Irish Breakfast.  Please quote ‘Discover NI Stay & Play offer’ when redeeming. Offers subject to availability. Terms & Conditions apply.

Galgorm Castle From £215 PPS.

One night and two rounds at Galgorm Castle. Includes full Irish Breakfast and Thermal Spa Village access. Subject to availability at time of booking. Dinner can be added at a supplement of £47 per person (3-course meal Gillies, Fratelli Ristorante or Castle Kitchen + Bar).

The Cuan, Downpatrick From £295 PPS.

Stay in one of THE luxury bedrooms, dine in its award-winning restaurant and enjoy 18 holes of golf at the superb Ardglass Golf Club.

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