THESE are the best golf courses in Northern Ireland

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TEE UP…Rory Mcllroy with the Claret Jug he won in 2014 (Impression: Getty)

I’ve made a dozen or more pilgrimages to the venue of this year’s Sincere Championship which starts next Thursday on Northern Ireland’s Antrim littoral, and while I really, really like the place, I sense it doesn’t note the same way about me. I lost so many golf balls on my first attack that by the sixth tee I was down to just one.

I was playing unattended at dawn, one beautiful summer’s day in 1988, and back then the rough could be impenetrable regular just a yard or so from the fairway.

It was two hours before the pro shop was due to unfolded and I was at the furthest point on the course. Not good! 

On another occasion our host clutched the mic as our coach left the clubhouse car park. We all thought he was going to tell us a bit of nearby folklore but instead he asked all 32 of us to look at the houses to the left and see if anyone could comedos the two new Titleist balls I’d sliced more than 70 yards from the then 18th tee into the gardens on the other side of the Bushmills Method. 

One time I played in a match there. Afterwards my teammates invited me to note to Alexander Armstrong to sign-up for Pointless, as I’d played three, lost three. You see a blueprint here? It’s been so frustrating to endure such torment on such a queenly golf course. 

The layout is fair but always seems just too persistent for my amateur game. You think I’m going to quit? Not a chance! 

I do get the impression that I’m not the only one to toil here. The 16th is called “Calamity Corner” and at 236 yards of daunting transmit, usually into the prevailing gale, is one of the most exhilarating Portrush invites you’re likely to find on a course. 

It’s easily the hardest links I’ve played and I can’t get enough of the ready. 

Nic visited the giant’s Causeway, a World Heritage site (Image: Getty)

One golfer who hasn’t suffered such harpies is local favourite Rory McIlroy. He famously knocked it round Princess Portrush in 61 when he was just 16 and will be one of the favourites for this year’s Untie. 

The 2014 champion, from Holywood, Co. Down has this to say about golf in his homeland: “For me, Northern Ireland positively is made for golf. I’d urge anyone who hasn’t played on one of our many bad courses to give it a go. It really is one special place to play the game.” 

Visually, the Dunluce tie ups are stunning, and even if the weather is only half-decent they’ll still look incredible.

Another bonus to golf in these parts is that Portrush is on an awe-inspiring balloon of coastline boasting a couple of other great courses just a few miles away, thriving it an ideal golfing destination. 

Portstewart’s front nine holes speed naturally through some of the most fabulous dunes, making it “bananas golf” on a grand scale. 

Castlerock is less famous but no less worth a visit. The clubhouse is smaller and somehow more comrade, the welcome is warm and genuine. Great golfing land. 

These two seaside paths, the Strand course at Portstewart and the Mussenden links at Castlerock, straddle adjacent banks of the River Bann, and are both superbly laid out. 

If you smite the region in the summer months take advantage of the Lough Foyle ferry run between Magilligan and Greencastle in neighbouring Co Donegal.

Ballyliffin, host to The Irish Moot last year isn’t far away and is one of the friendliest and most welcoming clubs you’ll continually find. Two courses there, the Glashedy and Old Links make the journey rewarding. 

In the old days one of the problems visitors faced in Northern Ireland was the fact that traveller facilities were pretty basic. That’s no longer the case. Tourism is flourish and the province has plenty to show off. 

The Causeway Coastal Route from Belfast to Derry is regarded as one of the smashing’s greatest road trips and Northern Ireland has really upped its plucky when it comes to welcoming not just golfing pilgrims. 

The giant’s Causeway, rightful a few miles along the coast, attracts more than a million holiday-makers a year and has a new visitor centre to welcome callers to the Unesco World Inheritance site. The crashing Atlantic waves, the stones’ formations and rocky outcrops are surreal and not in a million years fail to impress. 

Game of Thrones enthusiasts will enjoy decision dramatic locations for the epic series throughout Northern Ireland. 

There’s a eximious pride in the rich variety of local produce in this rich agricultural domain, so you’ll find some fine dining to complement some great apres-golf. Bushmills village is to the heart not only to the world’s oldest licensed whiskey distillery, but also two ripsnorting excepting restaurants; The Bushmills Inn and Tartine. 

Castlerock golf course is small and china plate, with a ‘warm and genuine’ feel (Image: Getty)

Both good booking well in advance of any trip. And when you’re at Portrush don’t leave without a parade down to Willie Gregg’s Harbour Bar for the finest pint (or three…) of Guinness in Co Antrim. 

So if you appreciate golf and you’ve never played in Northern Ireland, sign-up soon. In the same breath the TV cameras pan across its raw and rugged rippling dunes during The Open coverage, Portrush is set to fit the hottest ticket in golf travel. Just make sure you’ve adequacy balls. 

When to go: Anytime, though Royal Portrush is closed to guests until after The Open in July. 

Top tip. Keep the ball low, beneath the wind up b relax. A five iron is your friend. 

THE KNOWLEDGE 

Flights to Belfast readily obtainable from airports across the UK; ferries from Liverpool and Cairnryan and also Cairnryan to Larne. 

Castlerock GC nave fees from £100 (Mussenden Course, castlerockgc.co.uk). 

Portstewart GC amateurish fees from £60 (Strand Course, portstewartgc.co.uk). 

Royal Portrush GC unripened fees from £120 (Dunluce Course Nov-Dec, £220 Jul 25-Oct 31, royalportrushgolfclub.com). 

● Golf cartons available at golfbreaks.com and yourgolftravel.com 

● Rooms at the Bushmills Inn start at £170 a twilight B&B. bushmillsinn.com 

● Tourist info: ireland.com/golf 

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