For such a small island, Ireland (both the Republic and Ulster in the UK) is producing an impressive number of world-class golfers. The world-class Northern Ireland golf courses are available to develop young talent, and are great for non-professional, avid golfers.  

I have played many of the top links courses including the two in Ulster, always in any World Top 20.

They are not cheap for visitors with no affiliation to Irish Golf or no club members to play with, but they provide the opportunity to play on the same courses where the best players in the world have trodden.

Golf tour companies can often get discounts and organize tee-times on the best Northern Ireland golf courses — which have limited availability. If you check the open competition calendar of these courses, you may find very good value on offer if you qualify in handicap terms.

best golf in northern ireland

I have had a couple of golf adventures in Ireland as well as several weekend trips and I would recommend a visit to anyone interested in a real golf experience. Consider the weather when visiting Ireland — whether you’re golfing or not!

Northern Ireland Best Courses

Links golf on well-drained courses is available for most of the year, even if the weather is less reliable. Winter discounts are certainly worth considering when planning a visit to Northern Ireland.

Belfast is a city worth visiting all year round and below you will see three golf courses in Greater Belfast — although none are sand-based. The other four courses are not too far away either and if the weather forecast is reasonable, the Antrim Coast is a real golfing jewel.

Don’t miss the rest of the country! Have a look at these best golf courses in Ireland. And, if you’d rather stay on (or very near to) the courses, have a look at our list of the best golf resorts in Ireland. Many of which have excellent stay and play packages.

Here it goes: The best golf courses in Northern Ireland

1. Royal Portrush Dunluce

It was great news for Irish golfers when it was announced that Royal Portrush on the Antrim Coast was to return to the Open Championship rota. It held the event in 2019 and suitably it was won by an Irishman, Shane Lowry.

Rory McIlroy, born nearby, missed the cut and fell into the trap that many do off the first tee. With ”out of bounds” on one side and bushes on the other, it demands a straight drive to avoid a double bogey at best.

Sadly, that was my fate when I played there as well but overall I was very happy with my play. This Dunluce Championship Course rises to a plateau above Portrush’s Valley Course which is visible below for much of the round.

The 4th, ”Calamity” can be just that but I parred this Par 4 and generally performed well on the difficult Par 3s, including a real ”heart-stopper” over a ravine.

By the end, I was ready for a pint of Guinness in the Clubhouse with my two partners that day, Californians who were over to enjoy links golf that is not often available in the USA.

Royal Portrush’s profile was raised by hosting the Open but it has always been highly rated by golfers wanting to play the best around — it regularly appears in the World’s Top 20.

royal portrush golf club northern ireland

Where: Dunluce Road, Portrush, BT56 8JQ. Find Royal Portrush Dunluce on the map, here

When: Visitor tees times are restricted and should be booked in advance. Members-only early each morning and at weekends before mid-afternoon is a rough guide. The beauty of a sand-based course like this is that they drain well and remain in good condition for most of the year.

Booking: Visit the website

Cost: £230 ($300) per round high season, £140 ($180) for a second round on the same day. April & October £140 ($180), winter £92 ($120). Caddies are advisable but buggies are not available. Those wanting to hire clubs should always book them in advance.

SEE ALSO: Full Review of the Royal Portrush Golf Club

2. Royal County Down Championship

Debate rages as to whether this course is superior to Royal Portrush with its supporters pointing to the beauty of the Mountains of Mourne and the Irish Sea adding to its attraction.

County Down is near the border with the Republic and certainly qualifies as offering the best golf in Northern Ireland, together with Royal Portrush.

It was designed by Old Tom Morris, a famous Open Championship winner back in 1889 and he had some wonderful terrain to work with.

Sadly when I played here, it was gloomy and the mountains were not in evidence but that did not detract from my enjoyment of RCD.

Expect blind shots, including the 9th where the fairway is well below the early parts of the hole. The long Par 3 4th is a real challenge and anyone who struggles with sand will find the bunkers difficult throughout the course.

The Championship has regularly held the top amateur competitions over the years, the Walker and Curtis Cups, the British Seniors Open Championship in 2000, 2001, and 2002 and the Irish Open, last in 2015.

It is also among the World’s Top 20 by common agreement and so this exacting course is expensive and does require accuracy and patience. RCD has a second 18 holes, the Annesley Links.

royal county down golf

Where: Golf Links Road, Newcastle BT33 0AN. Find it on the map, here

When: Tee times have to be booked in advance. It is member-only on Wednesday, Thursday afternoon, Saturday all day and Sunday morning.

Booking: Visit the website

Cost: £270 ($350) a round high season, £365 ($470) for the day. April is £155 ($200) and November through winter £93 ($120). Equipment can be hired but there are no buggies and caddies are advised.

SEE ALSO: Royal County Down: A Review and Guide To The Courses 

3. Portstewart Strand

None of the other Northern Ireland golf courses can offer three courses, each with 18 holes, with the Portstewart Strand 18 the one that held the Irish Open in 2017, won by Spaniard Jon Rahm.

Despite the shadow of the 2 Royals, Portstewart deserves plenty of attention.

The Strand has been revised over the years with the acquisition of more land, and the desire to be true links, meaning that a few original holes are being used elsewhere on the Old Course and the Riverside which opened in 2003.

Golf began here in 1894 and plenty of the top amateur championships have been held here over the years. The Strand is a Par 72 of over 7100 yards in contrast to the Old Courses’s Par 64 at under 5000 yards.

At every turn, you will have great views of the dunes and the Atlantic Ocean and if you play to your handicap you will have earned that pint in the welcoming clubhouse.

I played Portstewart when it was still part of the famous Bushmills Stableford Competition played over 4 courses every June with an entry of up to 1500.

portstewart golf in northern ireland

Where: 117 Strand Road, Portstewart, BT55 7PG. Find it on the map, here

When: The Strand Course is available in mornings on Monday, Tuesday and Friday until noon, then after 14:00. Thursday before 11:00 then after 14:00. No Saturday play until after 14:30 and restricted Sunday play before 13:00.

Booking: Visit the website.

Cost: £193 ($250) high season, £140 ($180) in April, £62 ($80) in winter using mats on the fairway. Buggies, clubs and trolleys are all available for hire.

4. Castlerock Mussenden

The Bushmills Stableford began many years ago using 4 top golf courses in Northern Ireland. Castlerock remains one of them to this day. If you would like to play in a future competition, apply well in advance because places are precious.

It has undergone recent work to increase the challenge, but when the wind blows, you may feel you face challenge enough.

Golf began here over a century ago and today as well as the Mussenden 18, named after a nearby cliff temple, there is the 9-hole Bann Course, named after the nearby river.

The links are found between the Atlantic, the Bann Estuary, and the local railway line. The signature hole is probably the 200 yards Par 3 4th (Leg O’ Mutton) to a raised green. The railway line runs up the right while a meandering burn can also be a problem for a mistimed shot.

golf clothing for ireland northern courses

Where: 65 Circular Road, Castlerock, Coleraine, BT 51 4TJ. Find it on the map, here

When: Visitors are welcome 7 days a week when there is no competition on.

Booking: Visit the website

Cost: High season rate £125 ($160). Clubs, trolleys and caddies are available for hire. 

5. Malone

Northern Ireland golf courses include coastal links and parkland courses, such as Malone which is close to Belfast. At 6448 yards, Par 71, it does not demand huge length — but, there is more to golf than length.

It is widely accepted as the best inland course in Northern Ireland, boasting 27 holes, set in parkland covering around 330 acres. This has been home to Malone Golf Club since 1962 despite the first club starting to play golf in the 1890s.

Tony Jacklin had his first professional win here in 1965 while Gary Player’s Irish Senior Masters win in 1993 is an important part of Malone’s history.

The trout lake covers 25 of the acres and comes into play for the first time on the 13th. The 15th is over water and concentrate hard on the last because stray shots to the right of the green will find water as well.

Where: 240 Upper Malone Rd, Dunmurry, Belfast, BT17 9LA.  Find it on the map, here.

When: Visitors are welcome 7 days a week when there is nothing in the Club diary.

Booking: Visit their website

Cost: £93 ($120) with an additional £19 ($25) to play the 3rd nine holes. October – April £38 ($50) with an additional £15 ($20) for the third nine. Ask the club professional about equipment hire when booking. 

6. Holywood

Play the Holywood course and you will have walked where one of the world’s great has. This is where 4-time Major winner, Rory McIlroy, learnt to golf.

It’s a pleasant parkland course just outside Belfast that is best played in the summer or during a dry spell at other times.

The location is the Holywood hills with plenty of good views over Belfast Lough and the Coast of Antrim on clear days. It is not long in modern-day terms with the back tees just over 6000 yards, Par 70.

The welcoming clubhouse has plenty of reminders of its ”famous son.”

golfing holywood club northern ireland

Where: Nuns Walk, Holywood BT18 9LE. Find it on the map here

When: Visitors are welcome 7 days a week when there is nothing in the Club diary.

Booking: Visit the website

Cost: £73 ($95). Equipment is available for hire so ask the club shop when you are making a tee-time reservation.

SEE ALSO: Full Review and Guide to the Holywood Golf Course

7. Royal Belfast

The last on my list of the best golf courses in Northern Ireland is also Ulster’s oldest. Formed in 1881 on the site which is now the Holywood Club (formed in 1904), the Royal Belfast moved on in 1892.

It was granted ”Royal ”status in 1885 by the Prince of Wales, the future Edward VII. It found its final home and current location on the South Shore of Belfast Lough in 1925 and today’s visitors can enjoy a lovely setting when playing a round.

That is especially the case around the turn when the holes are by the shore and with two strong Par 5s to finish a challenge awaits. It is not particularly long, the Par 70 covering just short of 6200 yards

The clubhouse is a magnificent old estate mansion, plush surroundings in which visitors can enjoy refreshments as well as the views.

Where: Station Road, Holywood, Belfast BT 18 0BP. Find it on the map, here

When: Booking can be done directly online and is subject to availability.

Cost: £89 ($115) at weekends with limited availability (winter £62 / $80), midweek from £48 to £58 ($62 to $75) depending on time and availability. Ask for hire details when booking.

Now You Know the Best Northern Ireland Golf Courses!

I thought Royal Portrush was slightly better than Royal County Down. Let me know what you think after playing both these Northern Ireland golf courses and consider whether the observation about blind shots is valid.

You may want to play a few games here, and selecting the second 18 on some of the courses mentioned above means that you can get some slightly discounted golf as well.

Mid-handicap golfers will not be able to play off the back tees but can still be challenged by the hazards further down towards the greens.

If you travel to Ulster in the winter, the coastal courses are usually the best option but during a dry spell, check with the clubs themselves. Go on, challenge yourself!

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The 7 Best Golf Courses in Northern Ireland7 Best Northern Ireland Golf Courses