For a small country, Northern Ireland punches far above its weight on the global golf stage, having produced three champions with six Major titles between them in the last decade – Rory McIlroy, Graeme McDowell and Darren Clarke.
Its success is no coincidence, however. Underpinning that are some of the finest golf courses to be found anywhere in the world and many of the game’s greatest players have trodden their hallowed fairways down the years.
While the land of the Giant’s Causeway has been something of a slumbering giant as a golf destination in comparison with its neighbours up until now, it has been roused under the increasing glare of the golfing world’s spotlight thanks to its superstar venues.
Royal Portrush and Royal County Down are rated among the best in the world for their championship links with the latter, just an hour south of Belfast, topping the world’s 100 greatest courses rankings by Golf Digest in 2016.
Royal Portrush, on the Causeway Coast, will focus the global spotlight on Northern Ireland even more when it hosts the Open Championship in 2019 for the second time. Nearby Portstewart, another celebrated links course, also helped raise the bar when it staged the Dubai Duty Free Irish Open in July 2017, attracting a host of golf stars with its purse of £5.5 million and providing Spain’s Jon Rahm, recently voted European Tour Rookie of the Year, with his first European Tour victory. It Northern Ireland’s third time hosting the event since 2012, Royal County Down and Royal Portrush having both been previous venues.
Golfers from all over the world make a spiritual pilgrimage to play Northern Ireland’s celebrated Royal links championship courses and both have a distinguished pedigree.
Golf legends Old Tom Morris, Harry Colt and Harry Vardon all put their stamp on Royal County Down’s Championship Links. Old Tom Morris was brought in to extend the original nine holes to 18 through dunes below the Mourne Mountains in 1889, for the princely sum of £4, while Harry Vardon and Harry Colt subsequently made changes, some holes later modified by Donald Steel. Besides the Irish Open, it has hosted many top tournaments, among them eight Ladies’ British Open Amateur Championships, the Curtis Cup in 1968 and the Walker Cup in 2007. In that, Rory McIlroy represented Great Britain and Northern Ireland while the victorious US team included future stars Rickie Fowler, Dustin Johnson, Billy Horschel and Webb Simpson. Its par-66 Annesley course is also highly rated.
Follow in their spike marks and golfers can play some of the most memorable courses they will ever experience.
For more information on Northern Ireland and its golf, visit: www.discovernorthernireland.com