One of the worlds golfing mecca’s with big named golf course to play but what else can you do?
Sarah Forrest gives an account of her first experience of Northern Ireland recently.
A quick and easy flight to Belfast airport makes Northern Ireland a real option for a golf or family holiday.
Having a private tour by black cab around Belfast regaling tales, possible tall tales! of the city opens you’re eyes to what you can do whilst there. Culminating in lunch at the Drawing Room where the Titanic and many more were designed. With as much attention to detail to the food was most likely given to the ships designs, the meal was a nice break in our sightseeing day. Across the road is the imposing purpose built Titanic Belfast museum. Insights into the lives of the dock workers to the first class passenger experience was exciting and well delivered in an easy to understand, and importantly, not boring way!
A whistle stop tour and one night in Belfast we stayed at the Ten Square Hotel. A nice comfortable 4* hotel in the thick of things and well located for our evening meal at Deanes Meat Locker. The Meat Locker is part of a trio of restaurants in a row, each serviced by their own chef, offering grill, seafood and modern European food options.
The next day, I was playing in the Pro-Am for the ISPS Handa World Invitational at Galgorm Castle. The first tournament of its kind in the Northern Hemisphere being hosted by Modest! An early tee-time meant no breakfast being available at Ten Square. What a treat to play with Cheyenne Knight of the USA, a great golfer with an understanding of the Great British humour.
Galgorm is about 40 mins outside Belfast and no stranger to big events with the Northern Ireland Open and the 2020 Dubai Duty Free Irish Open. The golf course is a pretty, established parkland course, with water and trees in play, large receptive greens and a fair number of dog legs. The greens were some of the best I’ve played this year. Forward tee stats 5559 yards, par 72. Back tee stats 7105 yards par 70.
With more golf on offer our next stop was Castlerock Golf Club playing the Mussenden links course. I do love my links golf and Castlerock didn’t disappoint either with its luna landscape appeal. The River Bann waterway dissects the course at strategic intervals. Keeping the ball in play was essential whilst most of the rough was OK, in places it was hard to find the ball in the long sweeping grass. I really liked the way the fairways shaped around the natural terrain leading you forward and eager to move onto the next hole. Castlerock didn’t confuse you by showing you all of its tricks in one glance, more of a gradual ‘lull you in’. The par 3’s were of particular interest, all different and not all the highest stroke indexes ether! Couple the waterways with the luna links style play in inevitable changing weather makes Castlerock a great choice for a tough game, which, if you do master, will reward you accordingly. Forward tee stats 5879 yards, par75. Back tee stats 6780 yards Par73
Staying at the 5* Blackrock B&B in Port Stewart for a few nights meant we could try more than the usual fry-up for breakfast – and what a great selection there was. Nicola, the owner, was attentive from start to finish she even helped us with evening meal bookings and places to visit, she really did go over and above the norm to make us feel welcome. Blackrock has ocean views with further views towards Portrush beach and golf course. Instead of trying to sell every room as a bedroom and squeeze more guests in, Nicola has made the decision to give the guests a spacious relaxing experience with two sitting rooms and a balcony area to enjoy. One sitting room has an honesty box for drinks and an enviable whiskey (plus) selection for all to be enjoyed in comfort, in or out of your room.
Next stop, Port Stewart Golf Club where we played the Strand course. More of a commercial set up but with the same friendly Irish welcome. There are three golf courses at Port Stewart, with The Strand being the home of the 2017 Dubai Duty Free Irish Open. As you drive into the carpark, you’ll notice the road continues to a huge beach off to your right. A drive on beach was clearly popular with locals and visitors alike. The first tee box is elevated and takes in that vista view across the Atlantic Ocean before your eyes are drawn down the fairway. The sand dunes are in play, go over if you’re brave, but I speak with knowledge, you cant go through! The fairways neatly sit amongst the high dunes scoping out the way ahead. Be prepared to climb hill and dale, but don’t forget to enjoy the views when you’re up high. Whilst the course took on more of a manicured look, it certainly wasn’t forgiving if slightly off target. We played in a 2 club wind that day. With upturned saucer greens which let the ball trickle back to your feet for the less committed golfer. A beautiful undulating golf course where you seem to be in a world of your own until you’re suddenly walking up 16 towards the club house. It did occur to me that maybe 17 and 18 had been simply added on or slotted in to make up the 18, but the par 4/5 17th and par 4 18th were no less challenging. I felt that the front nine was different to back nine with the back nine being more open space. Forward tee stats 5867 yards, par 73. Back tee stats 7094 yards Par72
Two links, both different, and one parkland course made this a special golf trip in itself, but that’s not all..
Where to eat?
Staying in Port Stewart we had dinner at Tides Restaurant, a short walk from Blackrock B&B. A family restaurant in a cafe style with views across the ocean. Eighteen Ninety Four restaurant in contrast was located upstairs at Port Stewart golf club. With out being silly prices the food was as good as fine dining. Our final choice was a bit of a random one, but a great alternative; Ocho, a Spanish tapas restaurant which was really tasty food served with atmosphere, despite being in a temporary location.
What to do when your not playing golf in Northern Ireland?
With such natural beauty all along the Antrim coast it was difficult to get it all in. A bucket list UNESCO site is the Giant’s Causeway, the short walk from the new visitor centre opened up gradually over three bays. Each bay exuding natural beauty, with the rock formations taking on the famous hexagonal shapes leading to Giants Causeway. Then you get to the final bay and its there, spread out in front of you like a dogs tongue lapping at the water. A brisk walk back up the other side of the bays left us feeling exhilarated as we looked down upon the patchwork quilt of this natural phenomenon.
Driving along the coastal route, you can’t help but notice a huge imposing building. Naturally curiosity got the better of us, so we stopped at Mussenden Temple and Downhill Demesne just near Castlerock. Perched atop a 120ft cliff top, you can image the framed views from the large expanse of windows. Now in a derelict state, it does get the juices going as to what it’d be like to have lived in such a place.
We did a fair amount of spec sightseeing, but our final booked activity was from Ballintoy Harbour. Ballintoy is the cutest harbour you can image. It reminded me very much of the small harbours around Cornwall which I loved exploring as a kid. Ballintoy carries recent history as the scene from Game of Thrones. Maybe I should be ashamed of this, but I’ve never seen Game of Thrones!
But I have been, seen and experienced Ballintoy in the best way possible – by Ocean Kayak. Great fun as we set off and out of the cutest harbour in history into the open water with the Carrick-a-rede rope bridge as our destination. Easy paddling, wind and current with us, it didn’t take too long until we reached the rope bridge suspended between two huge rock faces. Currently closed due to covid, we were at peace as we gently kayaked into the small beach underneath. Ambling across the narrow beach, Kayak in tow, we set off to return to Ballintoy.
That’s when the fun started – the nice wind, gentle current and easy paddling going over was reversed, the wind had got up, there was even spots of rain – and it was tough – I mean really tough for someone used to wielding a golf club at best and tapping on a key board at worst! Grit and determination set in, and with bitesize strategic landmarks to conquer, we made it back safely. Blisters on both thumbs and a huge smile told the story. However, watching me ungainly disembark from that Kayak was a sight to behold, my legs had gone wobbly and I flopped out like the proverbial beached whale!
A loaded hot chocolate and a quick dash back to Belfast airport to catch the plane home finished off our trip to Northern Ireland. What a place!
Loads of memories, tick lists achieved and more to show you on youtube.
More inspiration needed?
Check out www.ireland.com/golf
Sarah Forrest is a 12 handicap golfer who is a member at Cleeve Hill GC.
Sarah is the Travelling Lady Golfer
LinkedIn – Sarah Forrest
Facebook @Golf Guru Group