Best Golf Courses In Northern Ireland

Northern Ireland boasts two world-class courses and a whole lot more.

Ardglass Golf Club pictured
Ardglass Golf Club
(Image credit: Getty Images)

Best Golf Courses In Northern Ireland

The six counties that make up Northern Ireland are home to over 90 courses. There’s no doubt that the 2019 and 2025 Open venue Royal Portrush, and the truly beautiful Royal County Down, which ranks 1st in Golf Monthly's UK&I Top 100 Golf Courses list, are the pick of the bunch, but the quality runs deeper. Portstewart also makes the Top 100, with three further courses (Ardglass, Castlerock and Lough Erne) on the Next 100 list - ranked between 101st-200th. After that there are courses bearing the names of Harry Colt, James Braid, Fred Hawtree, Donald Steel, and even Peter Alliss. This is a country renowned for its golf, its scenery and its hospitality.

Below we list the 15 best golf courses in Northern Ireland...

Royal County Down - Championship

Royal County Down Golf Club

(Image credit: Getty Images)
  • Location: Newcastle, County Down
  • Founded: 1889
  • Designed by: Old Tom Morris, George Combe, Harry Vardon and Harry Colt
  • Green fee: £270-£370
  • Top 100 ranking: 1st

Rollercoaster fairways, blind shots and gloriously natural bunkering make this course one of the most stunning settings for golf anywhere in the world - and that's why we rank it as the best golf course in the UK and Ireland. It is exhilarating and at times challenging. When the gorse and heather are in bloom it is an absolute picture. A globally renowned venue blessed with sea views and the spectacular backdrop of the Mourne Mountains.

- Full Royal County Down Championship Course review

Royal Portrush - Dunluce

Royal Portrush Dunluce course general view

(Image credit: Getty Images)
  • Location: Portrush, County Antrim
  • Founded: 1888
  • Designed by: Harry Colt
  • Green fee: £240-£390
  • Top 100 ranking: 8th

There are two courses at the excellent Royal Portrush Club and it is the Dunluce that is right up there among the best golf courses in Ireland but also in the world. It was designed by the legendary Harry Colt, and even before the relatively recent changes prior to hosting the 2019 Open Championship, there were plenty who felt it was a contender for the best course in the whole of Ireland. Its perceived Achilles’ Heel was the two long but essentially anticlimactic finishing holes. These have been replaced by two new holes designed by the prolific Martin Ebert. They match the pars of the holes they replaced and are now the par-5 7th and par-4 8th. Portrush is scheduled to host The Open once again in 2025.

- Full Royal Portrush Dunluce Course review

Portstewart - Strand

Portstewart

  • Location: Portstewart, County Londonderry
  • Founded: 1894
  • Designed by: Willie Park Jr and Des Giffin
  • Green fee: £195-£250
  • Top 100 ranking: 97th

Situated on the north coast of Northern Ireland, Portstewart is just five miles west of Royal Portrush. The club dates back to 1894 and it is now home to not one but three 18-hole courses, albeit that the Old Course is a 5-minute drive away on the other side of town. Running through towering dunes, the Strand Course is a joy to the eye with one of the most spectacular opening nines in golf. We rate it as the third best in Northern Ireland behind two absolute world-beaters, Royal County Down and Royal Portrush.

- Full Portstewart Strand Course review

Ardglass

Ardglass GC general view

(Image credit: Getty Images)
  • Location: Ardglass, County Down
  • Founded: 1896
  • Designed by: Members, David Jones, Ken Kearney
  • Green fee: £65-£135
  • Top 100 ranking: Next 100

Ardglass is a clifftop, seaside beauty embracing glorious views, delicious variety and the sort of extras that deliver a perfect cherry-on-top. How about the oldest clubhouse in the world (built on and around the ruins of a 13th century castle) and canons behind the 1st tee, perched on the water’s edge? The adventurous holes across the top of the cliffs are balanced by more open holes at the heart of the course, while holes 10 to 12 (par-3, par-5, par-3), right on the water, deliver another adrenaline rush. Considerable recent upgrade work by Ken Kearney has enhanced the course’s charms.  

Castlerock

Castlerock Golf Club general view of clubhouse and beach

(Image credit: Getty Images)
  • Location: Castlerock, County Londonderry
  • Founded: 1901
  • Designed by: Ben Sayers
  • Green fee: £135
  • Top 100 ranking: Next 100

Alongside neighbours Royal Portrush and Portstewart, Castlerock’s 27 holes ensure that this richly rewarding coastline is a bucket list destination for links golf fans. The design of Ben Sayers has been updated over the years – most recently by Martin Hawtree – but it has retained its character with some enticing terrain that changes shape and drama constantly. The stretch of holes from 7 to 10 sets the course alight, with the par-4 8th an absolute double-blind terror, but everything here is good and you may well consider the 17th to be the best par-5 you’ve ever played. Don’t ignore the 9-hole Bann course.

Lough Erne

Lough Erne Golf course general view

(Image credit: Kevin Murray)
  • Location: Enniskillen, County Fermanagh
  • Founded: 2009
  • Designed by: Nick Faldo
  • Green fee: £40-£105
  • Top 100 ranking: Next 100

Lough Erne is big, modern and spacious, and it boasts an enchanting setting in the Fermanagh Lakelands. Two loughs provide the canvas for this special parkland that is part of a five star resort (and another 18-hole course alongside). Nick Faldo must have had fun designing this muscular par 72, and the rhythm of the holes changes constantly as they weave through forest to start, up onto a high ridge for the scintillating par-5 6th, and then out to the loughs where generous fairways abound but tough approaches will hold you in check. Much is made of the driveable par-4 10th with its green pushed out into the lough. 

- Full Lough Erne Golf Resort course review

Malone

Malone GC pictured

(Image credit: Kevin Markham)
  • Location: Belfast, County Down
  • Founded: 1895
  • Designed by: John Harris, Fred Hawtree
  • Green fee: £80-£120

There are several impressive parklands around Belfast, and Malone and Belvoir Park – only a few miles apart – are usually mentioned in the same expectant breath. Malone is highly regarded: it is a spacious parkland of big trees and dramatic moments, with a Tudor Revival-designed house (1843) for a clubhouse. It all catches the eye. There is plenty of movement to the land and the par-4 1st sets the tone with a towering tee shot. The back nine, however, with a glamourous 27-acre lake, is what visitors will remember most. Recent upgrades have brought that lake more in to play and it is frequently in view as you play the fine finishing stretch.

Royal Portrush - Valley

Royal Portrush Valley Course from above

(Image credit: Getty Images)
  • Location: Portrush, County Antrim
  • Founded: 1888/1933
  • Designed by: Harry Colt, Mackenzie & Ebert
  • Green fee: £60

The Valley may be Royal Portrush’s second course but this par 70 bears Harry Colt’s name and it is an old-school links of considerable charm and challenge. It is routed over lower land between the gargantuan dune that protects it from the sea and the Dunluce course that rises above. What you’ll discover is a testing, tumbling links with beautifully unpredictable fairways and greens sitting over humps and hollows. Martin Ebert’s new finishing stretch has packed quite the extra punch, bringing the biggest dunes into play. It may be overshadowed but it still shines.

Belvoir Park

Belvoir Park GC pictured

(Image credit: Kevin Markham)
  • Location: Belfast, County Down
  • Founded: 1927
  • Designed by: Harry Colt
  • Green fee: £95-£115

This classic parkland of tall, brooding trees and perfectly framed corridors was designed by Harry Colt in the late 1920s. It is one of Ireland’s top inland courses and, in terms of rhythm and consistency, it is a tour de force. You’ll be hard pressed to find 18 holes that flow so seamlessly from first to last. The trees often overwhelm your vision and add considerable colour to the occasion (the par-4 3rd has a 750-year old oak below the green). It is a course that requires smart navigation. 

Royal County Down - Annesley

Royal County Down - Annesley course pictured

(Image credit: Getty Images)
  • Location: Newcastle, County Down
  • Founded: c. 1900
  • Designed by: Cuthbert Butchart, Donald Steel
  • Green fee: £35-£50

Too easily forgotten when compared to the mighty Championship course, the Annesley still has much to offer. With a par of just 66 (six par-3s and no par-5s) and conditioning equal to its big sibling there has never been a better warm-up act. Leave the driver in the bag, gauge the fairways, pay attention to the rough and gorse, and play intelligently around greens… then take what you have learned (along with your driver) and go tackle one of the best courses in the world. It is too often ignored and that is a terrible shame because this is a short-links education of the highest calibre.

Galgorm Castle

Galgorm GC pictured

(Image credit: Kevin Markham)
  • Location: Ballymena, County Antrim
  • Founded: 1997
  • Designed by: Simon Gidman
  • Green fee: £85-£105

By hosting multiple Northern Irish Opens and the ISPS Handa World Invitational (2021, 2022), the quality of Galgorm Castle speaks for itself. This is elegant, flowing parkland with two rivers intertwining and numerous lakes splashed across the landscape. It is low, relaxing golf that has been improving year after year thanks to a long-term masterplan. In 2021, that plan saw an intimidating water feature added to the par-5 18th green and still the upgrades keep coming. Part of a luxury resort with a renowned spa.

Royal Belfast

Royal Belfast GC pictured

(Image credit: Kevin Murray)
  • Location: Holywood, County Down
  • Founded: 1881
  • Designed by: Harry Colt
  • Green fee: £52.50-£150

This is the oldest golf club in Ireland, and Royal Belfast is rightly proud of that. It also carries the Harry Colt name and they can be proud of that, too, because this is a venerable and elegant old parkland, tumbling slowly down to the shores of Belfast Lough. Everything is spacious and dignified – even the trees seem to invite you to play through – and the routing takes you around a grand manor house, which has long been Royal Belfast’s clubhouse. With those slopes ever present this is a challenging par 70, and a tough driving course.

Clandeboye - Dufferin

Clandeboye GC pictured

(Image credit: Kevin Markham)
  • Location: Newtownards, County Down
  • Founded: 1933
  • Designed by: William Rennick Robinson, Baron Von Limburger, Peter Alliss, Dave Thomas
  • Green fee: £80-£100

A short journey east of Belfast lies Clandeboye Golf Club, with two 18-hole courses. The Dufferin is the main event, a big parkland that completes any conversation about the best parklands in Northern Ireland. Seeing Peter Alliss’s name on the design sheet adds some intrigue, too. The Dufferin has colourful heathland flourishes on the top level of the course – the opening and closing stretches – morphing into more conventional parkland holes below. It requires good strategy to navigate between excellent bunkering. The par-4 4th is a brilliant signature hole and the shorter Ava course should not be missed.

Kirkistown Castle

Kirkistown Castle GC pictured

(Image credit: Kevin Markham)
  • Location: Cloughy, County Down
  • Founded: 1902
  • Designed by: James Braid
  • Green fee: £35-£74

James Braid’s name is forever attached to this quiet links on the eastern coastline of Co. Down. A par 69 may not give it the same presence as its muscular brethren elsewhere, but Kirkistown Castle has its own unique traits with punitive bunkering, fairways that are always hard to gauge and a steep gorse-drenched ridge which holds tees and greens and two old stone towers. It is strategic, fun and often deceptive. Please don’t think that the par 69 means it is short: seven of the par-4s are over 400 yards.

Moyola Park

Moyola Park Golf Club - Feature

(Image credit: Kevin Markham)
  • Location: Castledawson, County Derry
  • Founded: 1977
  • Designed by: Don Patterson
  • Green fee: £35-£40

Moyola Park was only founded in 1977 but, routed over old estate land, it started with a mature and elegant landscape. Today’s course is a grand parkland experience of rivers, ancient woodland and a central hill wrapped up in forest. That hill is the centrepiece with holes darting in and out, including the two signature holes: the par-4 8th and the par-3 17th. Its location away from Belfast and off the well-worn links track may explain why it is not better known, and that's certainly what makes it one of the best hidden gem golf courses in the UK&I.

- Full Moyola Park Golf Club review

Kevin Markham
Kevin Markham

Kevin Markham stepped into a campervan in 2007, and spent the next 14 months playing every 18-hole golf course in Ireland… 360 of them. He wrote two books on the back of those travels and has been working in the golf industry ever since, both as a freelance writer and a photographer. His love of golf courses has seen him playing extensively in Scotland, as well as across Europe. In total, he has played over 550 courses including most of Scotland’s top 100, and over half of Portugal’s growing number. He writes for the Irish Examiner newspaper, Irish Golfer magazine, and Destination Golf, and is a regular contributor to Golf Monthly. He has his own photography website – kevinmarkhamphotography.com – and spends hours on golf courses waiting to capture the perfect sunrise or sunset.

Kevin can be contacted via Twitter - @kevinmarkham