In geographical terms, Northern Ireland is not a huge country. But, make no mistake, when it comes to golf, it is a giant, with 90 clubs and multiple major champions to prove it.
Rory McIlroy is one of the best players of all time, with more than 30 wins – including four majors – to his name. Closer to home, he also holds the Royal Portrush course record thanks to a 61 in his amateur days.
Portrush natives Graeme McDowell and Darren Clarke won the US Open and Open in 2010 and 2011 respectively, and Clarke went on to captain Europe in the Ryder Cup.
Indeed, the trio have multiple Ryder Cup victories to their names.
But while Northern Ireland has much to be proud of on the global stage, it is its world-class golf courses on which we will focus.
Northern Ireland provides the perfect mix of links, parklands, and resorts, including Royal County Down – ranked No 1 in both NCG’s rundown of the Top 100 Golf Courses in Great Britain and Ireland and Golf Digest’s world list – and Royal Portrush, a two-time Open venue which will host for a third time in 2025.
The Open returns to Royal Portrush
Six years after it returned to Northern Ireland for the first time since 1951, Royal Portrush has been confirmed as the venue for the 153rd Open in 2025. It follows the huge success of the 2019 edition, which was won by Shane Lowry.
As if further proof was needed that this corner of the island is the best place to play golf, many of the courses have been accredited with a Golf Quality & Assurance award. This accreditation is designed to certify quality-assured golf courses in meeting and exceeding customer expectations.
These awards raise the bar when it comes to standards at golf clubs, with a particular focus on customer service.
Having these high standards for our golf industry means you can enjoy the experience at every step, from the welcome and reception you receive, clubhouse facilities and services, as well as the golf course itself.
While County Down and Portrush provide the bucket list destinations, we’ve picked 12 courses that should be on any golfer’s itinerary while visiting this special part of the world…
Where to play
Portstewart Golf Club
Strand: 7,118 yards (Par 72)
Riverside: 5,715 yards (Par 68)
Old: 3,822 yards (Par 64)
Situated on the magnificent Causeway Coast, Portstewart presents a difficult but fair challenge. The Strand course is indisputably the jewel in Portstewart’s crown for both quality and scenery. The course is a classic links, with towering sand dunes and spectacular views of the Atlantic Ocean, Donegal hills, and River Bann at every turn. The 1st, with its elevated tee and well-bunkered doglegged fairway, is about as memorable an opening hole as you’ll play.
Castlerock Golf Club
Mussenden: 6,780 yards (Par 73)
Bann: 4,897 yards (Par 68)
In the seaside resort of Castlerock, five miles west of Coleraine, is a fabulous links course set among rolling sand dunes and the River Bann flowing out to the Atlantic, with eye-catching views of Donegal and, on a clear day, Scotland and the Isle of Islay. The championship course, Mussenden Links, is a true test even for any level of player. The signature 4th hole, Leg o’ Mutton, is a 200-yard par-3 with a railway line running down right, a burn on the left, and a raised green. Additionally, the nine-hole Bann course has widened the appeal of the club, and contains a par-5 that has been described as “one of the most scenic holes in Irish Golf”.
Ardglass Golf Club
6,268 yards (Par 70)
A links course on the north-eastern coast featuring stunning views and some holes unlike any other you’ll have ever played. Less than an hour from Belfast and just 30 minutes from Royal County Down, Ardglass is a true test of golf, particularly on a windy day. The course hugs the coastline, with the Irish Sea visible from all 18 tees and greens, while on a clear day you’ll be treated to views of the Isle of Man.
Ballycastle Golf Club
5,876 yards (Par 71)
Established in 1890, Ballycastle is a founding member of the Golfing Union of Ireland. Despite some additions over the years, the course has remained largely unchanged since its final layout in 1926. It provides outstanding views, from the ancient Bonamargy Abbey to the panoramic backdrop of Glenshesk and the Causeway Coastal Route.
Royal Belfast Golf Club
6,185 yards (Par 70)
Founded in 1881, Belfast lays claim to the title of the oldest golf course in Ireland. In 1885 the club became a Royal after the Prince of Wales was invited to become its patron during a visit. The present course dates back to 1925, when it was laid out by Harry Colt, who went on to design Royal Portrush.
Belvoir Park Golf Club
6,685 yards (Par 70)
Just three miles from Belfast, golfers at Belvoir are shielded from the noise and sights of the city by huge, mature trees which line every fairway, many of which were well established in 1927 when the course was first built using teams of horses and hand ploughs. Largely unaltered since its design, the only changes to the course have been brought about by the planting of 40,000 new trees in the late 1950s. From the balcony of the imposing new clubhouse, the green fingers of the fairways fan out like avenues, giving panoramic views of the 9th green, 10th fairway, 13th tee, and 18th green.
Malone Golf Club
6,706 yards (Par 71)
One of Ireland’s finest parkland courses, Malone was founded in 1895 and has been part of the sporting and social landscape in Belfast since its inception. From its first location at Stranmillis to the current site at Ballydrain, the club has welcomed many golfers from all levels including those that simply want to enjoy the surroundings and bar facilities. Or, as it’s called in Ulster, the “craic”. Just five miles south of Belfast, in the lower Lagan Valley, the CK Cotton-designed course gently rolls through 330 acres of immaculate parkland along the River Lagan.
Holywood Golf Club
6,078 yards (Par 71)
Set high in the Holywood Hills of County Down, you’ll enjoy spectacular views and a fun but challenging course. Holywood is perhaps best-known as the home club of Rory McIlroy, who joined at the age of eight. Indeed, the modern clubhouse doubles up as a shrine to the four-time major champion, who also provides insight for each hole.
Galgorm Castle Golf Club
7,105 yards (Par 72)
This 4* resort is one of Great Britain and Ireland’s leading spa and golf destinations and has hosted a number of European Tour events. Spread across 400 acres of lush parkland and featuring two unique historic buildings, Galgorm has a truly memorable setting. Ideally located close to both Belfast airports and the stunning North Antrim coast, with access to some of the world’s best courses, this is the perfect base for any golf break.
Hilton Belfast Templepatrick Golf & Country Club
7,081 yards (Par 72)
Featuring more than 7,000 yards of challenging fairways and greens interspersed with lakes and mature parkland, the 4* Templepatrick will cater for every golfer’s needs – including a helicopter landing facility! The property has recently undergone extensive investment on both the bedrooms and the public spaces, making it a must-stay in Northern Ireland.
Roe Park Resort
6,180 yards (Par 70)
One of Northern Ireland’s premier golf and spa resorts, the 4* Roe Park overlooks its own stunning course set among the gorgeous surroundings of the Roe Valley Country Park. This luxury hotel boasts 118 stylish en suite rooms that blend the charm of a country house estate with modern luxuries and conveniences and is just 15 minutes from the start of the Causeway Coastal Route.
Lough Erne Resort
Faldo: 7,167 yards (Par 72)
Castle Hume: 6,800 yards (Par 72)
Voted one of the top golf resorts in Ireland, Lough Erne provides the ultimate 36-hole experience. Featuring two championship courses, including the renowned Faldo-design, golfers can also hone their skills at the Golf Academy, or practice at the all-weather driving range. As the gateway to North West Ireland, Lough Erne is the ideal base for a golfing break where you can combine a round with 5* facilities.
What else is there to do?
Northern Ireland isn’t just famed for its incredible golf courses…
The Giant’s Causeway
Famed around the world for its columns of layered basalt, the Giant’s Causeway is Northern Ireland’s only UNESCO World Heritage Site.
These polygonal-shaped natural features – there are around 40,000 of them – were created by a volcanic eruption 60 million years ago. Today, they are the prime focus of a designated Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty.
Be sure to pop into the modern-looking Giant’s Causeway Visitor Centre, too. This state-of-the-art facility is not only architecturally stunning, boasting a design that reflects the area’s unique topography, but also provides a fascinating insight into the history of the area.
Voted The World’s Leading Visitor Attraction in 2016 and now celebrating its 10-year anniversary in 2022, Titanic Belfast is the premier visitor attraction in Northern Ireland.
Located beside the Titanic Slipways, the Harland & Wolff Drawing Offices, and Hamilton Graving Dock – the very place where Titanic was designed, built and launched – Titanic Belfast tells the story of Titanic from her conception, through her construction and launch, to her maiden voyage and subsequent place in history.
HBO Game of Thrones Studio Tour
The Linen Mill Studios in Banbridge recently opened their doors to visitors. The 110,000 square-foot interactive experience allows fans to explore a vast array of original sets, costumes, props, and set pieces from the ‘Seven Kingdoms’.
The exhibition includes the Great Hall at Winterfell, Daenerys Targaryen’s Dragonstone throne, as well as visual effects which will continue to build the Game of Thrones legacy in Northern Ireland.
This will be a must-see attraction for visitors, whether they are a diehard fan or just have a passing interest.
Getting to Northern Ireland
There are frequent direct flights to George Best Belfast City Airport and Belfast International Airport from many major and regional airports across the United Kingdom, with a flight time of around 1 hour and 15 minutes.
It is not obligatory for British nationals to carry a passport when flying between Northern Ireland and other parts of the UK – though most airlines will need to see some form of ID, such as a driver’s licence.
If you would prefer to take your own car, Belfast harbour is served by ferries from both Liverpool, in England, and Cairnryan, in Scotland.