Sarah Forrest flies to Belfast to try out three of the country's best golf courses
3 Must-Play Golf Courses In Northern Ireland
A short one hour flight to Belfast opens up the doors to some pretty special golf courses, with Northern Ireland boasting nearly 100 of them.
Using Belfast as a spring board for some non-golf activities, you’re within spitting distance of some well known and less well known golf courses.
Galgorm Castle is a pretty parkland course with heritage dating back to 1607, home to the Northern Ireland Open, 2020 Dubai Duty Free Irish Open and more recently the ISPS Handa World invitational.
The golf course is a relatively new addition in 1997 at a cost of £3.5 million.
Complacent golf is not a style you can adopt at Galgorm.
It appears to be wide open, but with tree lined fairways and exceptional greens there is not a lot of margin for error.
Large characterful greens remain consistent throughout.
Playing in the ISPS Handa Pro-Am enabled me to see the course from all angles – from the professional lady playing the back tees to myself playing the forward tees.
Galgorm stood up to no nonsense as it challenged each and every one of us.
It was fair to say the forward tees did have a distinct advantage, taking out bends in the fairways the back tees had to encounter.
That said, the fairways rolled well and the greens were true.
With plenty of water in play from the Rivers Maine and Braid, any wayward shots were punished.
Couple that with the lush green grass sitting just on the edge of the fairways means accuracy is called for.
The greens were some of the best I’ve played this year and the 220 acre site is a pleasure for all golfers.
Forward tee stats 5559 yards, par 72.
Back tee stats 7105 yards par 70.
Green fees from £85
Castlerock Golf Club
It has to be said, I hadn’t heard of Castlerock and with each new snippet of information, with each step I took towards playing the course, I fell deeper in love with it.
My ideal links course is one that adopts the luna landscape feel, the type that you don’t always know where you’re going, until you’re stood on the tee.
In places Castlerock was great at hiding the rest of the course, only showing you the hole you’re playing being clearly laid out in front of you.
There is a nine and an 18 holer called the Bann course after the waterway, which pops up in the most awkward and ball-magnetic places.
We played the 18 hole Mussenden Links on a fairly miserable day.
Teeing off in the rain didn’t dampen our spirits and as the weather calmed down so our golf improved.
The scorched grass was evident from the extraordinary hot weather the country had been experiencing prior to our visit, but it didn’t seem to affect the roll of the ball.
With elevated tees, dog legs and great greens all you needed to do it keep it straight.
As that doesn’t always happen the rough was a mix of playable length and the golf-ball-eating super length.
The par 3’s were of particular interest, all different and not all the highest stroke indexes ether!
Forward tee stats 5879 yards, par75
Back tee stats 6780 yards Par73
Summer green fees £135
Portstewart Golf Club
Our third and final game was at Portstewart Golf Club, which retained its warm Irish welcome despite it being more of a commercial set up.
Playing The Strand course, standing on the first tee affords a great view over the public beach on the right.
Scanning left brings you into golfing heaven with the fairway laid out in front of you edged with large dunes directing your ball centre and forward.
The impressive large dunes are in play.
Certainly the front nine, known as one of the best in golf, gives the impression of dunes everywhere, but the back nine does play slightly differently with it being almost flatter but still impressive and of course a challenge.
Navigate between the large dunes, climb the hills to the greens sitting atop a plateau and putt away on the great condition greens, all of which make The Strand a lovely course to play.
Then add in the changeable weather, the distracting views and the odd lost ball brings you back down to earth with a bump.
In truth the course was fair, the conditions weren’t too bad and the food afterwards was tasty and welcome.
Forward tee stats 5867 yards, par75
Back tee stats 7094 yards Par72
Green fees from £65
Non- golf information
Kayaking out of Ballintoy harbour, enjoy a paddle along the rugged coastline to The Rope Bridge.
A gentle paddle or not, it is worth the experience to appreciate the views across the water.
It wasn’t easy coming back as the wind got up and the weather turned, but it didn’t deter the fun we had taking on this challenge.
Ballintoy is famed as one of the filming locations for Game of Thrones; to me it was a beautiful unspoilt harbour which embraced the water-sports on offer.
Blue badge two hour black cab taxi drive around Belfast taking in the sights and sounds of history near and far, Titanic Museum.
Enjoy what comes naturally in Northern Ireland; the Giant Causeway, ruined stately homes and the various filming locations for Game of Thrones, walking and enjoying the outside life and of course Kayaking with Causeway Coast Kayaking Tours
The Drawing Rooms at the Titanic Hotel, or Deanes Meat Locker – part of a trio of restaurants in Belfast.
Out of Belfast try Nineteen Eighty Four restaurant at Portstewart Golf Club, Ocho for tapas or The Tides, a family restaurant both just outside Portrush
10 Square Hotel – a 4* hotel in central Belfast from £140 twin/double per night.
Blackrock B&B – a 5* experience in Portrush from £180 per night (min 2 nights).
For more inspiration on Golf in Ireland, visit www.ireland.com