Golf in Northern Ireland

There are currently over 90 golf clubs in Northern Ireland

There are currently over 90 golf clubs in Northern Ireland, including the world famous Royal Portrush in Co Antrim, and Royal County Down in Newcastle.

Physically, there are two types of courses. The famous links courses at Portrush and Newcastle are built on sandy seaside turf, which drains very quickly. Ireland has one quarter of all the world’s great links courses, and the late nineteenth and early twentieth century designers made only minor modifications to the landscape so as they are, in the words of one caddy, ‘exactly as Christ flung them’. In addition to the Royal Portrush, the northern coast is blessed with links courses at Portstewart and Castlerock, both in Co Londonderry.

Inland or parkland courses tend to be built on heavy clay soils and are more difficult to drain, although more recent, purpose built courses take advantage of improved technology. Older inland courses such as Belvoir and Malone in Belfast are very attractive, and the newer clubs such as Galgorm Manor in Co Antrim, Castle Hume in Co Fermanagh, and Moyola Park in Co Londonderry are developing promisingly. Two new hotels—the Hilton at Templepatrick and the Radisson at Limavady—have their own golf courses.

Socially, golf is for everyone. No one should think the sport is only for the well heeled as you are as likely to be sitting next to a plumber as a physician at the nineteenth hole. Most clubs have flourishing ladies’ and junior sections, and some have built an extra nine or 18 holes where beginners can learn the game. The old days of restricted access are largely gone and visitors are more than welcome, although some clubs may ask for a handicap certificate to prevent less able players from holding up the quicker golfers. Every clubhouse has a bar and restaurant for post-round refreshments, and they are almost always very convivial places.

Green fees range from £15 to £90 and generally represent good value for money in comparison to more prestigious clubs elsewhere in Great Britain. Virtually all courses are open all year round, and the late summer evenings make a post-work round possible from mid May to mid August.

Northern Ireland has produced some very famous golfers, including many Ryder Cup players. The most famous professional golfer to emerge from Northern Ireland was probably Fred Daly, a native of Portrush who won the 1947 British Open at Hoylake. He is the only Irishman to have achieved this feat, and his gold medal is displayed in the clubhouse of his hometown. The best known amateur is Garth McGimpsey from Bangor, Co Down, who won the British Amateur Open, and who both played in and captained Walker Cup winning sides. Bangor has also produced David Feherty, best known for his unique style of commentary on US television. Darren Clarke, from Dungannon, Co Tyrone, is the most celebrated professional currently, but Graham McDowell from Portrush shows every indication of also reaching such heights.

© Lowell Courtney