Northern Ireland has the 2019 Open venue battling for top spot with the course regarded by some as the best in the world. Chris Bertram counts down the top 10
Is Open venue Royal Portrush leading the best golf courses in Northern Ireland? And does a parkland threaten the top 5, or is the upper end of the ranking seaside-only stuff?
All these questions are answered in our countdown of the top 10 best golf courses in Northern Ireland…
Best golf courses in Northern Ireland: 10. Royal County Down (Annesley)
The second course at Royal County Down has also – in the same way as the Valley at Portrush has – been improved in the past few years by Martin Ebert.
It weaves through the No.1 course and has been enhanced by three completely new holes which take the layout as close to the sea as any of the club’s 36 holes. The views from all three are magnificent.
They are routed around the huge dune that is a significant landmark behind the main course’s 3rd green. Although much shorter, it enjoys much the same character and ambience as the main track here.
Best golf courses in Northern Ireland: 9. Belvoir Park
One of Northern Ireland‘s premier parklands, this is an entry from Harry Colt and happily it retains much of that original character.
Mature trees and gentle changes in elevation show off the beauty of this elegant course, while the stunning clubhouse and balcony overlook several holes and views to the Belfast Hills.
Best golf courses in Northern Ireland: 8. Malone
The Drumbridge and Ballydrain nines form the basis of this entry (there is another perfectly good loop too) from Belfast.
One of Antrim and indeed Ireland’s top parklands, it was designed by CK Cotton and extends to a meaty 6,600 yards despite its history.
Upgrades to some greens and changes to the signature par-3 15th have maintained Malone’s reputation as a fine venue.
The Drumbridge loop plays down towards the Lagan, and includes the 7th – the hardest hole on the course – while the Ballydrain is dominated by a lake with fine par 3s.
Best golf courses in Northern Ireland: 7. Ardglass
This is a clifftop course rather than a links, situated in County Down countryside but within easy reach of Belfast.
“It’s a beautiful course. Walking down the 18th in the middle of this historic village reminds me of walking up the 18th at St Andrews,” said former Open champion Ian Baker–Finch of it.
Seven holes were laid out in 1896 with a further two added within two years but it was over 70 years later that it became full size before, in 1998, three new holes were designed by David Jones on additional land overlooking Coney Island.
As at Portstewart, the first blow of the day sets the tone, hit from a tee lodged between the wall of the historic clubhouse and the beach, asking you to clear rocks that fill the inside of this dog–leg left.
The course then hugs the coastline for nearly half its routing – the Irish Sea is visible from all 18 holes.
Best golf courses in Northern Ireland: 6. Royal Portrush (Valley)
You might think that the Dunluce stealing prime ground from Portrush‘s second course would leave the Valley diminished. Well, not so.
While Ebert was annexing land for the Open venue, he also spent time on the Valley, creating two excellent new holes and revising others.
It still mostly sits between dunes along the Atlantic shore and the higher ground on which the Dunluce is laid out.
Colt also designed this course – the home to the Rathmore club (where Graeme McDowell started playing the game) – and there are plenty of classic bumpy links fairways and cool green complexes defended by pot bunkers.
So who makes it to the top 5? Our rundown of the best golf courses in Northern Ireland continues on the next page…