Ireland's Northern Links
From some of the world’s best links courses and legendary Irish hospitality to the Giant’s Causeway and Old Bushmills whiskey distillery, Ireland’s north is a great destination for a golf trip.
With their unique characteristics, links golf courses retain their allure as the game’s original and purest form, and they come in no greater dramatic abundance than in the north of Ireland. These courses by the sea have all the quintessential ingredients—stunning ocean views, towering dunes, rumpled fairways, fast undulating greens, deep pot bunkers and ever-present winds. Not golf for the fainthearted, to-be-sure, to-be-sure, to-be-sure.
Adding to the golfing experience are the friendly locals you meet at the courses, and let’s not forget the wonderful clubhouse bars to enjoy a pint of Guinness while discussing the day’s round. What follows is a week-long golf journey that begins at Dublin Airport where we drive up the northeastern coast into Northern Ireland, head west along the Causeway Coast to the rugged Inishowen Peninsula and County Donegal back in Ireland, to play half a dozen top links courses.
Day 1: ARDGLASS – County Down
From Dublin Airport we drive two hours north to the first course of our trip—Ardglass Golf Club. This spectacular old-style links and clifftop gem hugs a rugged headland on the County Down coastline, offering sea views from every hole. The par-3 12th is arguably the course’s signature hole drawing comparisons with the famous 17th hole at Pebble Beach. The view from the elevated tee, with the backdrop of the Irish Sea and the majesty of the brooding Mourne Mountains as a backdrop, is worth the green fee alone. Ardglass is home to the world’s oldest clubhouse—a 12th-century castle with a row of cannons in front.
Overnight: Slieve Donard Resort & Spa (Newcastle)
Day 2: PORTSTEWART – County Antrim
It’s a claim that’s often made—Portstewart’s Strand course has arguably the best opening hole in Irish golf. Played from an elevated tee with topography that bucks and plunges like a raging river, this classic par-4 is a memorable start to a wonderful links peppered with plenty of testing holes. In the afternoon, as a diversion from golf, we visit the spectacular UNESCO World Heritage-listed Giant’s Causeway, where hexagonal and octagonal rock pillars climb out of the Atlantic Ocean. Other nearby attractions include the stunning Carrick-a-Rede swinging rope bridge that spans a gaping chasm between the coast and a small island, and the haunting ruins of 16th-century Dunluce Castle perched on the edge of a rocky headland.
Overnight: Bushmills Inn (Bushmills)
Day 3: ROYAL PORTRUSH – County Antrim
As Royal Portrush Golf Club first comes into view round a curve in the County Antrim Coast Road, it provides us with the magical sight of its green fairways hiding among shaggy-topped dunes and the great headland of Inishowen contrasting vividly with the low line of the Skerries and the sea beyond. Established in May 1888 Royal Portrush’s Dunluce course is in the World’s Top 20 and a great test for any golfer. It hosted the British Open in 1951, and in 2019 it will be home once again to the prestigious championship. A hole that typifies Royal Portrush is the standout 14th known as Calamity Corner. This testing 210 yards par-3, calls for a long carry over an 80-foot ravine to reach the green. Don’t be ashamed of taking a four here—threes are as rare as an unfriendly Irishman.
Overnight: Bushmills Inn (Bushmills)
Day 4: CASTLEROCK – County Londonderry
The following morning we enjoy a full Irish breakfast before taking a pilgrimage to nearby Old Bushmills—the birthplace of Irish whiskey (dating from 1608) and the oldest licensed whiskey distillery in the world. After taking a tour and sampling a few whiskeys in the distillery bar, our fourth round awaits us at Castlerock Golf Club’s Mussenden Links situated further west along the Causeway Coast. Founded in 1901, this historic links set amid tall sand dunes beside the picturesque River Bann estuary will test every facet of your game. After enjoying a 19th-hole pint, we drive to Magilligan Point to board the car ferry to Greencastle back in Ireland. A scenic drive northwest across the Inishowen Peninsula takes us to the village of Ballyliffin and our bed for the night.
Overnight: Ballyliffin Lodge & Spa (Ballyliffin)
Day 5: BALLYLIFFIN – County Donegal
A remarkable 36 holes meander through this most beguiling of links land, with rocky outcrops, perfect greens and enchanting views of the coast. Designed by Mother Nature (with some tweaks by Sir Nick Faldo), the classic Old Links undulates in the glory of its natural terrain. The rippling fairways give the course a unique character, and it’s the type of place where you can imagine the golfing forefathers striding along the sheep-cropped turf with their hickory clubs. The more recent Glashedy Links is fashioned around the incredible dunes on higher ground above and beyond the Old Links, offering stunning views as you play. The course kicks off with a trio of long par-4’s and from there the challenges never let up—making it a worthy venue for the 2018 Dubai Duty-Free Irish Open held in early July.
Overnight: Rosapenna Hotel & Golf Resort (Rosapenna)
Day 6: ROSAPENNA – County Donegal
We are now way up in the northwest corner of Ireland, where the hands of the golfing greats have shaped and molded the links at Rosapenna. Old Tom Morris laid out the original course in 1893, and over a century later came the equally inspiring18 holes of Sandy Hills designed by Pat Ruddy. Sandy Hills is a course of gargantuan proportions that weaves through a maze of the tallest and shaggiest dunes on the coast. One hole that will etch itself in the memory is the par-4 6th, where you drive over a crest then look down at the emerald green below with a stunning panorama of Muckish Mountain, Sheephaven Bay and the golden beach of Tramore. Sandy Hills at Rosapenna isn’t your average layout; it’s a golfing adventure on a brilliant course and a fitting finale to our “Northern Links” golf trip...
Overnight: McGrory’s (Culdaff)
North and west coast links
For more information and a variety of golf packages to play courses in Ireland’s north and northwest coastal regions, please visit North & West Coast Links Golf Ireland.