The 9th Hole at Lough Erne Resort. The resort is home to two Championship golf courses - The Faldo Course and Castle Hume Golf Course.

Northern Ireland does three golfing things better than most - top quality courses, value for money and an amazing welcome at the clubhouse.

Here's the inside track on getting the best out of a trip through superb golf territory.


The must-play links

P&O Golf Tournament at Royal County Down Golf Course in 2006

On any golfing trip to Northern Ireland most people will be aiming to play Royal Portrush and Royal County Down, and yes, you must. They are two of the greatest pieces of golf architecture in the world, and well-recognised pilgrimages for all golfers.

To make sure of a round on these legendary links in summer though, you’d best plan ahead and book a tee time well in advance – allow for months, or even a year ahead.

For the Royal Portrush championship course (Dunluce) you need a certified handicap (18 or better for men; 24 for ladies).

The Royal County Down championship links recommends a maximum handicap of 24 (men) and 28 (ladies).

All visitors here usually play in four-balls, so if your party is not a four, be prepared to join with other players.

If you are booking a tee time at these great links, the best insider tip is to hire a caddie. It’s not something regular golfers do every day, so it will make your experience super special. It also increases your chances of scoring well and having a story-filled round with plenty of local colour.

 

Go off-peak

The chances of getting a slot on the royal links are much better in March-April and October-November when the championship courses are less in demand. Think about booking at these times, when the weather could be just fine.

For the hardiest test though, tee up in winter. That’s when the elements will push you to the limit. The kick back is that the green fees drop drastically in the colder months, giving tremendous value for money.

 

Try the hidden gems

	Image of the 18th Hole at Holywood Golf Club, Holywood

While the big name courses are not to be missed, especially at off peak prices, the list of hidden gems is pretty long in Northern Ireland.

If you want to maximise every minute of your trip from the moment you arrive, you can be playing the parklands of Massereene in just 20 minutes from Belfast International Airport. Even less if it's the George Best Belfast City Airport, where you've got Royal Belfast and Rory McIroy’s home club, Holywood, to get your game going.

Or head to top Belfast parkland tracks, Belvoir Park or Malone, and you just might spot Rory out for a round with his mates.

For total convenience and a fantastic base on the famous Causeway Coast, it’s got to be Portstewart, the 2017 Irish Open venue and one of the few Irish golf clubs offering three 18-hole courses at the one spot.

For solid golf, gorgeous scenery and incredibly friendly people, make for Newtownstewart and Cairndhu. And try to include picturesque Lisburn and the quirky links-parkland mix at Ballycastle in your itinerary.

Up there with any of the best links anywhere, everybody rates Ardglass as another must-play gem. With the Irish Sea visible from all 18 holes, it also has the oldest clubhouse in the world to come back to for a photo op.

Ardglass can easily be paired with another links cracker nearby, Kirkistown Castle, where the 435-yard 10th is regarded as the most difficult par four in Ireland.

 

Take the signature challenges

Image of the 9th Hole (Darren Clarke Hole) at Dungannon Gold Club, Dungannon.

Those seeking stiff and dramatic challenges will find a brilliant assortment of signature holes that test all standards of golfer.

There are two consecutive blind shots at the ‘Bulldozer’ 8th at Castlerock. Then there’s the feared 14th – ‘Calamity Corner’ – at Royal Portrush, or the tricky Darren Clarke par three at Dungannon, named after and designed by the Open champion himself.

Smash a drive towards Slemish, St Patrick’s mountain, with the River Main to your right along the full length of the 425-yard 13th at Galgorm Castle. Take on 14 of the 18 holes with water in play at the Nick Faldo-designed Lough Erne, or wonder at some of the most photographed holes in world of golf at Royal County Down.

Take your time in the clubhouses and the 19ths. You’ll get plenty of inside information on how to beat these demanding holes, and many more.

 

Play great value golf

	Image of the 6th Hole at Holywood Golf Club, Holywood

For outstanding value for money, the best insider trick is to hook up with a local tournament. There are several top-notch amateur events running throughout the year.

For example, the entry fee for the Causeway Coast Amateur Tournament, played over Royal Portrush, Castlerock, Ballyliffin and Ballycastle, is just £200. This gives you four practice rounds and four competition rounds on top class links courses - remarkable value.

In addition, it’s worth noting that the Valley course at Royal Portrush and the Annesley at Royal County Down share the same magnificent landscapes as their famous sister championship courses and offer an equal level of challenge at very affordable rates. Playing these courses first is a great way to shape your game for when you finally step on to the tees at the championship layouts.

Many clubs are now offering special green fee rates for early bird and twilight golfers, so check with the courses you plan to play. Around Belfast, for instance, there are ‘sunriser’ deals at Holywood and Balmoral.

You could also play during an open week. Every club has one during the season and they feature reduced green fees, plenty of individual and team competitions, prizes and great hospitality at the 19th.

Finally, remember that the Northern Irish weather is always a big factor on your game. Be prepared to experience all four seasons in the one day. Bring layers, a rain suit, two pairs of golf shoes and double your usual number of balls – blustery breezes, wicked rough and watery traps can make them disappear fast. 

Top