Hit the North for some of the finest golf courses around

by Michael McGovern

It’s no secret that Northern Ireland is a golfer’s paradise – some of the world’s best courses are dotted along its spectacular coastline.

But while probably best known for its famous links, it’s also home to some of the best parkland tracks in Ireland and beyond.

Two of those, both boasting stunning views of beautiful Belfast Lough, were the setting for the Writer Cup – an annual golf tournament held over two days in which a team of media men from the Republic take on the North’s finest journalists in a format not unlike the slightly more vaunted Ryder Cup.

Holywood GC is where Rory McIroy honed the skills that would lead him to four majors, and it’s a golfer’s Mecca.
Set in the picturesque Holywood Hills just outside bustling Belfast, replicas of Rory’s trophies are proudly on display in the warm and welcoming clubhouse. You can even pose with the famous Claret Jug, the impressive PGA trophy, or the US Open cup – better still, all three, which probably just about every visitor to the club does.

The course itself is a cracker, tough but fair, with smart play and prudent club choices rewarded. The sixth hole is a little gem of a par three, while the fourteenth is a par four that shows the lough at its most spectacular.

The other track we were lucky enough to play this year is the majestic and historic Royal Belfast, an absolute beast of a course that oozes class from the clubhouse to the last tee.
The opening five are up there amongst the finest golf holes you’ll find in Ireland – but be warned, the chances are you’ll need your sandwedge.

Like Holywood, the views show Belfast at its finest and, like Holywood, Royal Belfast is a beautifully maintained and wonderfully challenging course. And, also just like Holywood, a certain Mr McIlroy is a member.
But back to the action.

My ‘first time’ on tour with the ROI Writer Cup team was anything but gentle – packed full of excitement, disappointment and most of all, good craic with a great bunch of lads from both sides of the border.

Before we teed off at Holywood, Team NI were reminded that Team ROI held a 5-2 lead over the past seven years.
We should have kept our mouths shut…

By the end of the day’s play the score was 3 ½ to ½ in favour of the northerners.
Naturally, we headed to the pub to drown our sorrows, and our hosts kindly treated us to a top-quality meal in the magnificent McHugh’s Pub, one of the oldest bars in Belfast and also one of the friendliest.

After a few pints and a great night’s sleep in the lovely four-star Hilton Hotel in the city, we made the short trip to Royal Belfast for day two and the eagerly awaited singles matches.

For a while, it looked like our strategy of plying the enemy with pints the night before might prove to be a winner, but alas it wasn’t to be, and when we had to forfeit a point after our star player hurt his ankle halfway through his match it was curtains. In the end, Team NI deserved their 6 ½ to 4 ½ victory.

Thanks to all in Tourism NI who sponsor the event and do so much to help it grow bigger and better every year.
My only regret was that I didn’t have longer to explore the majestic coastline – it’s no wonder Belfast and the Causeway Coast are Lonely Planet’s number one region to visit in 2018…
For more visit www.discovernorthernireland.com.

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