When selecting the best golf courses in Northern Ireland, the home of Rory McIlroy, you are so spoilt for choice that it almost seems unfair not to include them all. With outstanding architecture on offer from the world's greatest designers, there is something for all on the Emerald Isle.
From dramatic links landscapes to pristinely plotted parkland, there is a wide variety of golf in Northern Ireland, and we've selected five of the best to consider when planning your next golf trip.
While all of the courses on this list are well worth your time and consideration, two of them stand out from the rest, as not only the best golf courses in Northern Ireland, but the best courses in the whole world.
We are of course referring to Royal County Down and Royal Portrush.
Two of the undisputed heavy hitters, they regularly feature in the World's Top 10 from every publication around the world. If you want a round of golf you will be telling your mates about for the rest of your life, you need to tick these two gems of your list.
The GolfMagic editorial team has had the pleasure of sampling some of the country's best courses in recent months, so without further ado, here is our list of the top five golf courses in Northern Ireland.
Let's get into it...
Royal County Down - Championship
Location: Newcastle, County Down
Architect: Old Tom Morris, George Combe, Harry Vardon and Harry Colt
Yardage (Championship): 7,206
Renowned for being one of, if not the best golf course in the world, Royal County Down is as true a test of links golf as you will find anywhere in the world.
One of the spiritual homes of the game, Royal County Down oozes a level of class and elegance that's almost impossible to replicate.
A tough but fair test, the natural landscape provides a stunning variety of challenges and obstacles to overcome.
The Mourne Mountains and the Irish Sea combine beautifully to create breathtaking backdrops throughout the round, with every hole framed perfectly against its surroundings.
HERE'S HOW WE GOT ON WHEN WE PLAYED ROYAL COUNTY DOWN:
A course that has to be seen to be believed, Royal County Down's tumbling fairways and razor-sharp greens won't be easily overpowered, with thoughtful shot-making being the best approach to shooting a low score.
While pitting yourself against the course on your own may seem like an almost romantic affair, we would highly recommend employing the help of one of the courses wise and experienced caddies. Not only great company for the walk, they will undoubtedly save you 5-10 shots thanks to their valuable wealth of local knowledge.
Before we move on to the next course on our list, check out some more of our latest Instagram Reels from Royal County Down:
Royal Portrush - Dunluce
Location: Portrush, County Antrim
Architect: Harry Colt
Yardage (Championship): 7,344
Famously the only non-British mainland host of The Open, the Dunluce Links of Royal Portrush is a course steeped in rich tradition and heritage.
Designed by the legendary Harry Colt, the course is blessed with some of the best sea views in Ireland.
Towering dunes flank manicured fairways throughout the course with small but well-protected greens being one of the most recognisable features of the course.
An intimidating prospect for golfers of all levels, accurate tee shots are vital to navigating the course without punishment.
With wind sweeping in off the ocean, Portrush is a pure test of links golf, and the course really bore its teeth when Shane Lowry battled the elements to claim his first major championship in 2019.
Set to host The Open again in 2025, we can't wait to watch this diamond of a course test the best players in the world once more. It's difficult to choose between Royal County Down and Royal Portrush, so if you're planning a trip, why not treat yourself to both?
Happy Friday Everyone pic.twitter.com/jMLJygl0Mp— PortstewartGolfClub (@PortstewartGC) August 12, 2022
Portstewart - Strand
Location: Portstewart, County Londonderry
Architect: Willie Park Jr and Des Giffin
Yardage (Championship): 7,118
Home to three 18-hole courses, Portstewart is somewhat of a golfing mecca in Northern Ireland.
Located on the north coast, only five miles from Royal Portrush, the Strand course is set amongst towering dunes that provide stunning panoramic views across the Atlantic Ocean.
Characterised by its steep banked hills and tight winding fairways, the Strand course provides a tough but fair test that requires a great deal of thought to navigate successfully. Caught on a sunny day, there are few better-looking courses in the world.
No Northern Irish golf trip would be complete without a visit, and upon arrival, you are met with one of the finest opening holes in golf. A sweeping dogleg right from an elevated tee will suit a cut, but beware of cutting the corner too tight, as the gorse will swallow up your ball and never give it back.
While the first tee shot may be intimidating, the welcome you receive couldn't be further from it. Traditional Irish hospitality is given to all visitors, making you feel right at home when you set foot in the clubhouse.
That same warm welcome was extended to Jon Rahm when he won the Irish Open at Portstewart by six shots in 2017.
Location: Ardglass, County Down
Architect: Members, David Jones, Ken Kearney
Yardage (Championship): 6,216
Home to the world's oldest clubhouse, built in 1405, Ardglass makes you feel like you've taken a step back in time when you play it.
Almost worth visiting just for the clubhouse and halfway hut, the course is an homage to uninterrupted nature. The craggy cliffs and thick rough give the course a dramatic atmosphere, that is only heightened by the ocean breeze and sound of crashing waves.
Here's how we got on when we played the par-5 11th at Ardglass in sideways rain and 40mph winds recently:
The second hole was one of our particular favourites, a par-3 that requires you to carry a deep ravine that's ready to swallow up any wayward tee shots. It lies in the middle of a truly memorable stretch of opening holes that stand up to any links course we've played.
The halfway hut at Ardglass is almost deserving of an article of its own. Simple, charming and full of character, the four walls will shield you from the elements while you tuck into a pint of Guinness and a sarnie. So enjoyable was our visit we could have happily stayed there all day.
Location: Holywood, County Down
Architect: Harry Colt
Yardage (Championship): 6,306
The oldest golf course on the Island of Ireland, Royal Belfast is a pristine parkland layout that offers bags of charm and a rich history.
Designed by one of golf's greatest architects, Harry Colt, the lush fairways, intelligent bunkering and variety of elevation changes, make Royal Belfast a delight to play. More generous off the tee than the links courses previously mentioned in our list, the course protects par with lightning-quick greens and thick stretches of trees that line the fairways.
Here's how we got on when we played the signature 11th hole at Royal Belfast:
The stretch of holes from 8 through to 12 were our particular favourites. The 11th hole, an uphill par-3 was particularly enjoyable with a steep elevation change from tee to green. Make sure to use enough club, because anything short will cascade back down the hill for a difficult up and down.
Fantastically maintained, you can tell a great deal of pride is taken in the course, with tee boxes, bunkers, fairways and greens all kept in immaculate condition.
With an abundance of links golf available in Northern Ireland, Royal Belfast offers a stunning alternative that should certainly be included in any golf trip's schedule.
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Which do you consider to be the best golf course in Northern Ireland?— GolfMagic (@GolfMagic) July 10, 2023