With world-famous links and plenty of beautiful hidden gems, Rob Smith recommends some of Northern Ireland’s best golfing destinations

Golf Holidays in Northern Ireland – Our Top Destinations

Northern Ireland may be the smallest of the home nations, but it nonetheless has a surprisingly varied topography and a select portfolio of around 90 clubs.

Some of the best are conveniently close to one another, and each of these clusters makes for a great golfing destination.

Golf Holidays in Northern Ireland – Our Top Destinations

The Causeway Coast

Along the country’s northern and fabulously dunesy shoreline, there is a cluster of golf that would hold its own anywhere in the world.

At its western end sits Castlerock, a first-class links that is sometimes overlooked simply because its neighbours are so revered.

The course dates back well over a century and is a tough par-73 designed by Ben Sayers and then Harry Colt.

Castlerock dates back to 1901 but benefits from recent changes by Martin Hawtree

Just over the River Bann are some of the most dramatic dunes you will find anywhere.

They are home to the Strand, the best of three 18-hole courses at Portstewart.

Jon Rahm won the 2017 Irish Open here, and it is a course that will keep a smile on your face all the way.

Portstewart is blessed with some of the finest dunes anywhere in the UK&I

Our final north coast must-play is the stunning Dunluce Course at Royal Portrush.

The Open Championship returned here in 2019, and it is one of those very rare courses about which you will seldom hear anything but praise.

New holes for The Open have blended in seamlessly, and if you have the time, the Valley Course is more than worth a game.

Golf Holidays in Northern Ireland

The par-3 sixteenth at Royal Portrush – Calamity Corner – where anything can happen!

County Down

To the south of Belfast, County Down is home to some excellent golf.

The star of the show is the sensational Championship Course at Royal County Down.

With its beachside setting, its dunes and the mountain views, this is one of the most famous courses in the world.

Golf Holidays in Northern Ireland

The fabulous, par-3 fourth at Royal County Down

While here, you should certainly take the time to enjoy a quick round on the club’s Annesley Course.

This very short but scenic 18-holer is an absolute joy, with the bonus that you can get round in very little time.

The Annesley Course at Royal County Down is simply the perfect short course

Just up the coast, Ardglass is a Golf Monthly Next 100 course.

It has one of the oldest clubhouses in the world and several thrilling cliffside holes.

Others border the beach, and there is way more variety than at most links.

Golf Holidays in Northern Ireland

Played over the cliff-edge, the short second at Ardglass is a stunner

Nearby are several unsung courses offering variety and value.

One such is Warrenpoint, the original course of European Tour Order of Merit winner Ronan Rafferty.

Warrenpoint is a popular course surrounded by rolling hills

Belfast and Surrounds

Back up around the capital city, several lovely courses make Belfast a destination in its own right.

Malone is very highly-rated, while close by is the excellent Harry Colt design at Belvoir Park.

Golf Holidays in Northern Ireland

Belvoir Park – a first-class parkland design in the Belfast suburbs

A short drive from the city, Royal Belfast is a lovely parkland course that runs over undulating land bordering the shipping channel.

Golf Holidays in Northern Ireland

The twelfth at Royal Belfast, with the ninth hole and the lough beyond

There are also plenty of friendly, informal clubs offering a warm welcome such as Clandeboye which is just a few minutes more out of the city.

Golf Holidays in Northern Ireland

Clandeboye has two very enjoyable heathland/parkland courses, this one the Dufferin

There’s also Holywood Golf Club, where four-time Major winner Rory McIlroy grew up playing.

Off The Beaten Track

Away from its famous coast, Northern Ireland has small pockets of rural golf.

A couple of hours to the west of Belfast is one of the best modern courses, Lough Erne.

This Nick Faldo creation is full of wow-factor, and the hotel hosted a G8 Summit back in 2013.

The par-4 seventh at Lough Erne sweeps left to right down towards the water

From here, it’s not far to some of Ireland’s wonderful courses, but that’s another story.

Northern Ireland may be limited in size, but it is certainly not limited in terms of the quality of golf available.

World-famous links rub shoulders with delightful courses that few people know and which offer great value.

With its spectacular coastline and some of the finest dunes anywhere, Northern Ireland is a serious golfing destination.