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7 Must Play Golf Courses in Northwest Ireland

December 1, 2014

While it doesn’t receive the fanfare like the southwest of Ireland, the northwest region of the country is a wonderland of world-class links layouts, high-energy pubs with traditional Irish music and friendly B & B’s and hotels. The spectacular coastal terrain in northwest Ireland is ideal for great links golf. Massive dune mounds, tall grasses framing the fairways and stunning ocean panoramas dominate the total golf experience. Better still, the courses are located relatively close to each other so you’ll spend more time on the fairways and less time in your coach or rental car. For golfers who venture to this region, here are six places you absolutely, positively must play:

Royal Portrush–One of the world’s great golf courses, it ranks the as the 7th best course in Golf Digest’s World 100. It has a spectacular seaside setting and some of the best putting surfaces in the world. The 2019 Open Championship will be held at Royal Portrush, the first time the event has been held in Northern Ireland since 1951. Three of Northern Ireland’s greats, Rory McIlroy, Graeme McDowell and Darren Clarke all grew up playing golf at Royal Portrush.

Ballyliffin Golf Club — Expansive views of lush, green countryside and ocean coastline justify snapping a few pictures along the way at this beautiful 36-hole complex in the County of Donegal. The Old Links layout (6,910 yards) is shorter than the Glashedy (7,217 yards), but both are challenging. There are lots of small mounds on the undulating fairways so you rarely have a flat lie. They’re both easy walking courses as the tees and greens are situated in close proximity. Don’t miss the engaging display in the clubhouse dedicated to the European Ryder Cup team.

Carne Golf Links — Pure and wild, Carne is uncontrived as the course weaves through amazing large mounds and terrain giving the golfer a fantastic natural golf experience. Isolated somewhat on the Atlantic edge of County Mayo, you feel as though you’re hundreds of miles away from city life even though the village of Belmullet is just a few minutes away. The holes snake up and down through the large dunes with a generous share of elevated tee boxes where you can watch your drives soar into the sky towards the fairways and greens down below. Carne recently added an additional 9-hole course designed by Ally McIntosh.

County Sligo Golf Club at Rosses Point — Widely regarded as one of the world’s great championship links courses, the course was originally founded in 1894 as a nine-hole layout. Today it’s a 27-hole complex. Awesome mountain, ocean and countryside panoramas dominate the golf experience at this legendary layout located in the picturesque seaside village of Rosses Point. After the round, take a stroll through the clubhouse, which is dotted with photos of Rory McIlroy, Padraig Harrington and others who’ve competed at County Sligo G.C.

Donegal Golf Club — Set just outside the historic village of Donegal, this course is currently ranked 18th in Golf Digest’s 100 Top Golf Courses in Ireland. Originally designed by Eddie Hackett and later upgraded by Pat Ruddy, the course has the Atlantic Ocean on three sides and the Bluestack Mountains as a backdrop. Because of its unique configuration (the front nine runs anti-clockwise and the back nine runs clockwise, sitting inside the outward nine), Donegal is often referred to as “The Muirfield of Ireland.”

Enniscrone Golf Club—Sitting on a promontory that juts into Killala Bay, Enniscrone is a naturally beautiful layout with some of the largest dunes in Ireland. There’s lots of variety in hole designs and settings ranging from seaside to flat farmland. There are 27 holes of golf highlighted by the 7,033-yard, par 73 Dunes Course, which was originally designed by Eddie Hackett and later enhanced by Donald Steel. The course reaches a magnificent crescendo on the last four holes, which border the Atlantic Ocean. You need lots of shot imagination and the ability to execute “bump and run” shots to be successful at Enniscrone.

Rosapenna Hotel & Golf Resort — The original course at this four-star, family operated resort hotel was laid out by Old Tom Morris in 1891 with some enhancing by Harry Vardon and James Braid in the early 1900s. The Old Tom Morris course hasn’t changed much in more than a century and the layout oozes with history and design genius. A second course, the Sandy Hills Links, opened in 2003, is a Pat Ruddy design with phenomenal views of the ocean and the Old Tom Morris course. Many of the holes on the Ruddy layout have elevated tees and greens with tee shots into natural bowls on the fairways.