| Great Golf on the Emerald Isle
With the Open Championship returning to Northern Ireland next year for only the second time in its 159-year history, the province enjoys a choice of courses entirely disproportionate to its size. Anyone who believes that Royal Portrush is the total of the
With the Open Championship returning to Northern Ireland next year, the province enjoys a choice of courses entirely disproportionate to its size.
When it comes to reviewing golf in Northern Ireland, it is essential to distinguish the territory to the north of the ‘Emerald Isle’, the part which, for the time being notwithstanding the vagaries of Brexit, at least – is part of the UK.
However, it would be remiss in producing such a review not to allude to the Republic of Ireland and its vast array of truly magnificent golf courses. They come in all shapes and sizes, links, parkland, friendly, small-town layouts, nine holes and 18. From towering, luxurious resort-style courses such as the K Club, host to the 2006 Ryder Cup, to spectacular links layouts such as Portmarnock, Royal Dublin, Druid’s Glen and Mount Juliet, all past hosts of the prestigious Irish Open.
It would also do something of a disservice to Northern Ireland were any in-depth review attempt to embrace golf in the Republic. Both sides of the border fully justify scrutiny in their own right. When it comes to Northern Ireland, the most obvious – but far from only – the place to start must be Royal Portrush. In July 1951, Englishman Max Faulkner lifted the Claret Jug on the only occasion to date golf’s oldest
and most prestigious Major championship, The Open, was played away from the United Kingdom’s mainland at Royal Portrush, County Antrim, Northern Ireland.
Northern Ireland Tourism Board and the people of the province made an unarguable case for the Open to return following a hiatus of 68 years. The 2012 and 2015 Irish Open championships, at Royal County Down and Royal Portrush - fourth and 15th respectively in the Top-100 golf courses in the world - sold out within weeks of tickets going on sale.
The biggest challenge of the 2019 Open Championship, the 148th staging of world golf’s most venerable and prestigious event will be getting tickets. Already, nine-months from the first stroke being struck on the morning of Thursday 18th July 2019, almost all 200,000 available tickets have been sold out, leaving secondary ticketing sites, corporate hospitality passes or volunteering as the sole means of catching the action. Although some tickets, costing as little as £15.00 (approx. HK$155.00) and up to £40.00 (approx. HK$410.00) are available for the practice days.
Remarkably for a small country with a population of under two-million, Northern Ireland boasts a glittering array of world-class professional talent. Major winners Rory McIlroy,
who hails from Holywood, County Down, Graeme McDowell and Darren Clarke, who both hail from Portrush, And, such is the accessibility for visitors, there is not a golf course or club where those seeking to follow in the footsteps of these, Major champions will be anything less than welcoming, and with open arms.
Despite the question of the Irish border being regularly mentioned in Brexit dispatches, indeed, one can crisscross the frontier several times in the one day without even knowing it. With the passing of time and generations, the so-called ‘Troubles,’ which afflicted Ireland over many years are very much a thing of the past. Locals on both sides of the border as friendly and welcoming as it is possible to get.
Arguably the most exciting and challenging is Northern Ireland’s North and West Coast Links, featuring an array of great golf courses suitable for visitors from scratch and low-handicap players to those playing purely for fun. A range of golf courses ideally suited for all members of family and friends.
Connemara Championship Golf Links, Enniscrone Golf Club and Co. Sligo Golf Club are founding members of the destination marketing group. Followed by Rosapenna Golf Links, Ballyliffin Golf Club, where Scotsman Russell Knox won the 2018 Irish Open. Portstewart Golf Club, where Spaniard John Rahm won the Irish Open in 2017 and, ultimately, Royal Portrush Golf Club, the jewel in the area’s crown.
In the south-west of Northern Ireland lies what, for this commentator at least, the crown jewels, the spectacular, five-star Lough Erne Resort. It hosted the G8 Summit in 2013. Close to the town of Enniskillen, on the southern shores of Lough Erne, with 120 luxurious rooms in Northern Ireland’s first and to date only AA hotel. Configured as traditional rooms, suites and loughside lodges, there is also a self-contained, bespoke Golf Village, a selection of three-andfour-bedroom houses, overlooking the 18-hole championship Faldo Course, designed by the sixtime Major champion himself.
The 7,000-yard-plus, Par-72 layout parkland course is dominated by Lough Erne and sits cheek-by-jowl with a second, less demanding but enjoyable Castle Hume Course. There is a golf academy and driving range to warm-up, learn to play under the watchful eye of the most attentive team of teaching professionals.
During the autumn time, when the colour of the extensive foliage is every bit as inspiring as New England in the fall. Midweek rooms are on offer at £110.00 (approx. HK$1,132.00), including a £70.00 (approx. HK$720.00)
voucher for breakfast and access to the extensive Thai Spa facilities, with exceptional food and beverage options from the fine dining in the Catalina Restaurant to the authenticity of the Blaney Bar and the Loughside Bar & Grill.
If there is a better autumnal golf resort package on offer, anywhere in the world, I’d like to experience it as Lough Erne is, without exception, second-to-none.
Other exceptional golf experiences in Northern Ireland include the Belvoir Park Golf Club, in County Antrim. Established in 1927 and set in some 163 acres of delightful parkland and was designed by one of the greatest architects of all time, Harry S Colt, voted ‘Best Parkland Course in Ulster’ in 2016. Given the quality of many of the country’s inland layouts, that’s quite an accolade.
Castlerock Golf Club is an exceptionally family-friendly club comprising the 18-hole Mussenden Course – at 7,000-plus-yards a genuine challenge and the nine-hole Bann Course, Castlerock earning the title of ‘Northern Ireland’s Hidden Gem.’
With the clock counting down to the 148th Open Championship returning to Northern Ireland, the focus of attention will inevitably be on the Province. However, let there be no doubt, there is more than enough class and a warm enough welcome to ensure that, all things being equal, it won’t be another 68 years before the world’s greatest championship crosses the Irish Sea once more.
SIX TO MIX
Golf breaks may be good for the soul, especially in such a relaxed and welcoming environment as offered-up by Northern Ireland. However, with fine food and drink on offer at the end of a day’s play, with family or friends, it’s well worth spending some time in what a cornucopia of offcourse experiences is, especially given that travel distances in the Province are not off the scale.
1. Giant’s Causeway. One of the great geological phenomena in the world; located almost at the most northerly point of the island of Ireland, this UNESCO World Heritage Site is truly breathtaking.
Jutting out into the frequently-stormy North Atlantic, the Giant’s Causeway is an area of about 40,000 interlocking basalt columns, the result of an ancient volcanic fissure eruption.
Located in County Antrim on the north coast of Northern Ireland, about three miles northeast of the town of Bushmill, legend has it that Irish giant Fionn Mac Cumhaill (Finn McCool) created the causeway to travel to Scotland and fight his rival Benandonner but came back somewhat smartish when he saw how big he was.
2. Titanic Belfast. One of Northern Ireland’s most popular visitor attractions, Titanic Belfast opened in 2012, a monument to the city’s maritime heritage on the site of the former Harland & Wolff shipyard in the city’s Titanic Quarter where the RMS Titanic was built.
Designed by American-born British architect based Eric Robert Kuhne and built at the cost of £100m (approx. US$130m / HK$1billion) this award-winning visitor attraction, exploring the Titanic story in a fresh and insightful way.
RMS Titanic was a British passenger liner that sank in the North Atlantic Ocean in the early hours of 15 April 1912, after colliding with an iceberg during her maiden voyage from Southampton to New York City.
An estimated 2,224 passengers and crew were aboard, more than 1,500 died, making it one of the deadliest commercial peacetime maritime disasters in modern history. RMS Titanic was the largest ship afloat at the time it entered service and was the second of three Olympic-class ocean liners operated by the White Star Line.
3. Old Bushmills Distillery. The Old Bushmills Distillery is a distillery in Bushmills, County Antrim, Northern Ireland, with all of the whiskey bottled under the Bushmills whiskey brand produced there.
It uses water drawn from Saint Columb’s Rill, which is a tributary of the River Bush. The distillery is a popular tourist attraction, with around 120,000 visitors per year.
The company that initially built the distillery was formed in 1784, although the date 1608 is printed on the label of the brand – referring to an earlier date when a royal license was granted to a local landowner to distil whiskey in the area.
The distillery has been in continuous operation since it was rebuilt after a fire in 1885.
4. Dunluce Castle. A now-ruined medieval castle in Northern Ireland, it is located on the edge of a basalt outcrop in County Antrim and is accessible via a bridge connecting it to the mainland.
The dramatic history of Dunluce is matched by tales of a banshee and how the castle kitchens fell into the sea one stormy night in 1639.
The castle is surrounded by extremely steep drops on either side, which may have been an essential factor to the early Christians and Vikings who were drawn to this place where an old Irish fort once stood.
The Dunluce Links at Royal Portrush Golf Club will next host the Open Championship in 2019 and takes its name from the historic castle located nearby.
5. Slieve Donard is the highest mountain in Northern Ireland and the larger province of Ulster, with a height of 850 metres. One of the Mourne Mountains, it is near the town of Newcastle on the eastern coast of County Down, overlooking the Irish Sea.
Today, a five-star golf resort, the Slieve Donard Resort sits at the foot of the mountain, from where one can pretty much step out of your comfortable King Koil ‘cloud bed’ and onto the world famous, a firm favourite with champion golfers like Tiger Woods and Rory McIlroy.
6. Lough Neagh. Lough Neagh is a large freshwater lake in Northern Ireland and is the largest lake by area in the British Isles, with a surface area of 151 square miles and at its deepest is 80 feet (24 m).
It supplies 40% of Northern Ireland’s water. Its main inflows are the Upper River Bann and River Blackwater, and its central outflow is the Lower River Bann.
The lough has shores on five of the six counties of Northern Ireland, County Fermanagh being the exception, and is a significant attraction for sailors, birdwatchers and anglers, and is owned by is owned by the Earl of Shaftesbury.
The prestigious Irish Open has top quality field to tee it up year after year
2015 Iris Open was hosted at Royal County Down
Giant’s Causeway, one of the great geological phenomena in the world
Major winner Rory McIlroy is hailed from Holywood, County Down
The Lough Erne Resort hosted the G8Summit in 2013
Exceptional food and beverage options from the Lough Erne Resort