Playing the best golf courses in Ireland & Northern Ireland

14 June 2022
8 min. read
Florian Pichler
Ireland is one of my favourite places to play golf. I’ve been on two golf trips there prior to this occasion. Both trips left me longing for more and once quarantine free travelling to Ireland was possible again, we were fast to book our flights to play the best golf courses in Ireland & Northern Ireland.
Royal Portrush (Photo credits: Tourism Northern Ireland)
Royal Portrush (Photo credits: Tourism Northern Ireland)

Below my itinerary to Ireland and Northern Ireland is shown and the Irish golf courses I played during my visit. I started south of Dublin at the European Club and went up north and finalised this golf trip with Royal County Down.

Playing The European Club

Fun fact before I kick-off: the idea for the creation of Leading Courses came after a visit to the European Club by Jeroen Korving. The European is located south of Dublin, near Wicklow. The golf course is owned and designed by the Irish golf course architect Pat Ruddy. It’s hard to believe, but we were one of the first international visitors of the year (in July!) and we received a very warm welcome by the secretary. Not only that, but we also received Pat Ruddy’s book “The Perfect Golf Links” where he explains in detail the creation of the European Club and what thoughts went into it.

The European Club with its famous bunkers with railway sleepers (Photo credits: Florian Pichler)

The European Club is a tough Championship layout and built to test the best golfers in the world. Padraig Harrington used to practice at the European Club prior to this Open Championship wins in 2007 and 2008. An interesting feature of the course is the bunkers with their walls lined with railway sleepers. The European also offers two spare holes which are integrated into the usual routing. 

Playing Portmarnock Golf Club

Portmarnock is located just north of Dublin and shouldn't be confused with its neighbour Portmarnock Hotel & Golf  Links. I've only played the course next door - which is a cracker of a course - but it was time to also visit its older brother. Portmarnock Golf Club was founded in 1894 and has 27 holes to play. It doesn’t have the big sand dunes that a few other Irish links courses have, but it’s a first-class golf course through and through. What really impressed me is that the course is very playable for an average golfer but offers plenty of challenges for the more accomplished player. Placing your tee shots on the correct side of the fairway to have a good angle into the green is key. The prime example here is the 10th hole on the Championship routing: there is all of Ireland on the right side for the slicer of the golf ball but you will need to challenge the bunker on the left side of the fairway to have a far easier approach shot into a green that has a bunker and a steep fall-off on the right side.

Portmarnock is a fabulous place for golf and I can recommend anyone to play the course when you are planning to go on a golf trip to Ireland.

Playing Rosapenna Hotel & Golf Resort

We then headed to the northwest of Ireland to Rosapenna Hotel & Golf Resort, which is quite a drive. Rosapenna has been in the news many times in the last couple of months. The main reason was the opening of the new St. Patrick’s Links golf course designed by Tom Doak. But Rosapenna Golf Resort already had two quality 18 hole courses on their property. We decided to play Sandy Hills which was designed by Pat Ruddy (yes, the guy from The European Club) in 2003. The golf course is routed through remarkable sand dunes. The best line of play is not always obvious on a few holes but the course plays easier than it looks.

Playing St Patrick's Links at Rosapenna

Right next to Rosapenna lies Ireland’s newest golf course designed by world-renowned golf course architect Tom Doak. Instead of redesigning the two existing courses on the property, Tom Doak suggested building the best 18 holes possible for the owners. They bought in and the result is just world-class.

Beautiful view of St Patrick's Links at Rosapenna (Photo credits: Florian Pichler) 

The scale of the course is massive with wide fairways, blow-out bunkers and big undulating greens. While still a young golf course, St. Patrick’s Links is already playing remarkably well and you can expect to see this picturesque course featured in many golf magazines in the next years. While currently there is only a temporary clubhouse available, a new more fitting one is already in the planning.

Playing Royal Portrush Golf Club

Royal Portrush was the golf club I was most looking forward to playing on this trip. I have read many articles and reviews about the course over the last couple of years and I enjoyed watching the Open Championship in 2019 a lot.

We were lucky enough to visit the course on a beautiful sunny day. The icing on the cake was that Head Professional Gary McNeill and long-time member and caddie Paul Rodich joined us for the round. Gary’s stories about the Open Championship were an incredible insight, especially as he played the tournament as a marker in 2019 with Paul as his caddie on the bag. The course itself was every bit as good as I had hoped for. The short par 4 5th hole “White Rocks” and the long par 3 16th hole Calamity are certainly the most well-known holes, but the course has many more quality holes that I still remember fondly. 

It’s great news that the Open will return to Royal Portrush in 2025 and I will surely try my luck to get a ticket this time!

Ending with Royal County Down

Ever since I played Royal County Down Golf Club for the first time 7 years ago I considered it to be my favourite course I’ve played. But through the years I’ve seen many more golf courses and I was very keen to return to Royal County Down and see if I still love it as much as I did the first time around.

View of the clubhouse at Royal County Down (Photo credits: Florian Pichler)

As soon as I stepped on the first tee, I was blown away again by the beauty of the course and the incredible landscape. Royal County Down can be a very tough course if your game isn’t on point but I never cared much about my score and simply enjoyed the walk and every challenge the course offered. There’s no other top golf course in the world I am aware of that has so many blind tee shots as Royal County Down so my advice is to take a caddie the first time you play it. With a proper line, most of the holes are only half as scary as they look. But still as exciting. And now after seeing the course again I can confirm with confidence again that it’s still my favourite.

Planning your Irish bucket list golf trip

We booked our bucket list golf trip to Ireland quite short term, which normally is not possible. Due to the pandemic, the courses weren’t as fully booked as usual and it was possible to reserve tee times on quite short notice. It was actually harder to find a hotel room as not all hotels were fully open when we went. Usually, it’s the other way round and you should get in contact with the golf clubs you are planning to play well in advance (at least 1 year in advance, and preferably even longer before) to make sure that you can play the courses you want and also at a suitable day and time. 

You can contact clubs directly or use Leading Courses to do it for you. If you use a tour operator, then expect to pay quite a lot. Moreover, the trip I made is not really an off-the-shelf trip, so there is a good chance a tour operator can't really arrange this trip for you. Top tip: As the top Irish courses are now fully booked a year in advance, make sure to plan ahead!

I'd suggest flying to Dublin or Belfast in Northern Ireland (Belfast International or George Best Belfast City Airport). Many airlines and low-cost carriers fly into those airports.

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Florian Pichler

Florian Pichler

🇦🇹 Austrian golfer 🏌
🇦🇹 Ambassador for
👪 Husband and father
⛳ Looking for hidden gems. Playing a few of the best too.
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