Embrace a Giant Spirit – Northern Ireland – made for golf
Northern Ireland is the home of world renowned golf courses – each with wonderful fairways and unbeatably smooth greens and other exclusive facilities! The best courses within easy travelling distance of Finn Valley self catering cottages include Royal Portrush, Portstewart, Ballyliffen, Rosapenna, Portsalon, Narin & Portnoo, Donegal (Murvagh), Castlerock, Lough Erne Resort as well as local courses at Newtownstewart and Strabane.
A number of famous golfers originate from Ireland – Rory McIlroy, Padraig Harrington, Darren Clarke, Christy O’Connor and Graeme McDowell to mention a few.
You can follow in their footsteps and enjoy the quality courses that they have always taken for granted.
Do you play golf? Finn Valley Cottages is the perfect location for a few rounds of golf! Whatever your level there is a course nearby to Finn Valley Cottages waiting for you to come along and sample! You can be sure of a very warm welcome and a high quality game.
Anne is a very keen golfer – and has recently been the Lady Captain at Newtownstewart Golf Club – Anne has played all the courses mentioned here so when you stay at Finn Valley Cottages she can guide you to the best courses, with the most competitive green fees and other details to help you find the most suitable courses for you during your stay.
Royal Portrush Golf Club – home of The Open in 2019 – is one of the many excellent links courses available within easy travelling from your lodgings at Finn Valley self catering cottages. The Dunluce course has again been awarded the No. 1 golf course in Ireland.
During the 2019 Open at Royal Portrush, visitors staying in Finn Valley Cottages went daily to spectate there – it was so convenient. What a joy it was also for Anne and her golfing friends to sit in the best grandstand seats at the 18th and join in the celebrations as Shane Lowry collected the Claret Jug. It is not unusual to see Darren Clarke on the course at Portrush.
There are 2 courses adjacent – The Valley Links which tends to be used mostly by the ladies and the great Dunluce Links which is a challenge for both the men and the ladies. Calamity Corner – a 210 yards par 3 is unforgiving when you do not reach the green. Short of the green will see the ball disappear into a large chasm of long grasses, interesting plants and difficult to negotiate the terrain. The much easier 18th often yields a good score which always makes me eager to return to this championship course.
Royal Portrush Valley Links
The Dunluce took over 2 of the best holes from the valley for “The Village” for the 2019 Open Championship. Mackenzie & Ebert added 2 excellent holes to The Valley which provides a lovely finishing stretch.
The ladies clubhouse serves extremely high-quality food – so much so that it is often appealing to swap time for pre-play warm-up with another cup of coffee and delicious apple pie and cream.
Portstewart Golf course – The Strand
Portstewart Golf Course. Although there are 3 courses at Portstewart, I have played only The Strand which hosted the 2017 Dubai Duty Free Open and has been confirmed as the Dubai Duty Free Irish Open host venue for 2022.
Again I had the privilege of a great seat at the 18th on the 2017 final day to see Jon Rahm win. The bunkers don’t seem as daunting as the deep bowl-type bunkers at Royal Portrush, but accuracy is important.
The 1st hole has a lovely elevated tee followed by a dog-leg to a beautifully manicured green between two sand dunes. The entire course is maintained to an extremely high standard and gives great confidence to intermediate golfers as the ball runs so far on the fairways. As most of the links courses along the wonderfully scenic coastline, it is the wind that creates so much of the thrill and the challenge. One quickly learns to play more “off the right foot“ to play long and low to reduce wind interference. The clubhouse staff are very welcoming and with an excellent restaurant, it is the ideal way to finish a round. One can enjoy an excellent meal and observe how other players are dealing with the final hole.
Castlerock Golf Course
Castlerock’s Championship Mussenden course is great for all levels of golfer.
There are plenty of challenges, but nothing looks impossible and there are some very inviting par 3s.
The 4th is definitely inviting but you need to be accurate. Just concentrate on the green and don’t get distracted by the railway line on the right and the stream on the left. Martin Hawtree upgraded the bunkers and added 2 new greens making this course a real joy to play.
The views like most of our links courses are excellent with views across to Donegal in one direction and towards Scotland in the other. The restaurant is extremely good and very reasonably priced. Serious golfers who play Royal Portrush and The Strand, Portstewart like to include Castlerock in their tour.
Lough Erne Resort, near Enniskillen, Co. Fermanagh
The Lough Erne Resort Faldo course was designed by Nick Faldo. This is a Par 72 course measuring 7071 yards for the men.
I love playing this course in a 4-ball when 2 of the players are men. I feel that the ladies have the great advantage with the ladies tee-boxes being very far forward, consequently making it very enjoyable (and in my opinion easier) for the ladies. The course record of 68 was set by Rory McIlroy.
The club house facilities are excellent – albeit the restaurant more expensive to eat in than the neighbouring Castlehume Golf course clubhouse – a very short distance away. The Faldo course has excellent refreshment facilities at the 9th where you can purchase tasty fish and chips – a great treat on a cold day.
There are several very tempting shots across water, but from experience it not always a good idea to take the short route as all too often I have underestimated the distance. Very frustrating when I could easily have taken a longer iron or a wood!! My favourite hole is the 10th – a par 4 where definitely it is best to play your second shot short as any extra distance results in the ball accelerating across the green and disappearing into the lough! There is water around two thirds of the green. It is such a joy to watch the second shot land short on the side of the hill and roll gently down to the edge of or just onto the green.
The course is always immaculate and make for a truly great game of golf.
The 18th green has plenty of landing space and with your drive going over the reeds in the wetland it makes a great hole to finish on.
Cruit Island Golf course. (Pronounced critch)
This little known golf course in the wilds of Donegal is an absolute joy to experience and well worth a visit even if you don’t play golf! It is a nine hole course with different tee boxes for the second nine.
Many serious golfers wouldn’t even consider playing a nine hole course, but I can assure you that Cruit Island also presents a golfing challenge.
The scenery is stunning by any standards, and provides amazing views from virtually every hole. It is officially an island in the Rosses area of Co. Donegal, but it is linked to the mainland by a bridge so access is not a problem. Located near Kincasslagh it is famous for the home of singer and TV personality Daniel O’Donnell. Cruit island is about 3 miles long by 1 mile wide and enjoys 12 sandy beaches.
There are buggies for hire. Although there is a limited menu on offer, if you enjoy fish and chips you are in for a real treat.
Don’t under-estimate the golf as there are numerous challenges on the way round. The advantage of this challenging 9-hole course is that it gives you the opportunity to have another go at some of the really testing holes which you would have had a great score at if only…….
A day to Cruit Island is a wonderful outing. The scenery on the way there is superb and you can finish the day by eating in one of the excellent gastronomic pubs in this remote part of Ireland.
Rosapenna. (Sandy Hills and Old Tom Morris)
Located on yet another fabulous scenic part of The Wild Atlantic Way in Donegal, the Old Tom Morris links is adjacent to Sandy Hills which was developed in 2003 by Pat Ruddy.
Old Tom Morris
In 1891 Old Tom Morris was a guest of Lord Leitrim and as he was driving around Donegal he discovered Rosapenna as an ideal place for golf. Tom had come from St Andrews and on his return he told others about this wonderful Donegal paradise for golf.
The course was frequented by famous golfers such as Harry Vardon and James Braid in the early 1900s. Harry Colt of Sunningdale upgraded the course in 1911. In more recent years Pat Ruddy of the European Club ensured that the course flowed easily from start to finish.
There are superb views out over Tramore beach, Sheephaven Bay and Mulroy Bay.
Lady Captain’s outing from Newtownstewart to Rosapenna
(following tea/coffee, home-made scones with jam and cream plus complementary bottle of wine for the course!!)
Pat Ruddy in 2003 used the big sand dunes to create a stunning course with fabulous views from every hole. This 7,255 yard course looks across the Old Tom Morris course and towards Sheephaven Bay. I usually treat myself to a buggy on both courses when at Rosapenna. Those of us who hit shorter shots but keep on the fairway and out of the Marram grass can have a great round.
The club house has excellent facilities . There is a statue of Old Tom Morris near just outside the clubhouse. The views from the bar and restaurant or from the outside balcony are stunning.
Rosapenna is one of my favourite places. Perhaps this is partly due to the superb restaurant in the Rosapenna Hotel which is part of the resort. You can pick up a buggy either at the hotel or from the clubhouse. It is worth booking early for the restaurant to guarantee a table overlooking Downings beach. This is a very safe beach where the rest of the family, if they are not golf enthusiasts, can spend a day on the beach while you enjoy the golf.
Downings beach with Rosapenna Hotel in the background.
Rosapenna usually have their annual open week around the 1st/2nd week of August. Rosapenna is one of the 3 courses in the Donegal Links Classic in conjunction with Portsalon and Ballyliffen.
Narin & Portnoo
Portnoo with its blue flag beach (Naran) is yet another panoramic beauty spot on the Wild Atlantic Way. The sand dunes are designated a Natural Heritage area with a very diverse range of habitats.
Gil Hanse upgraded this course with some new holes and new greens in 2020. It is now in private ownership and all facilities are excellent. The quality of the entire course has been raised to an entirely new level. With long sweeping fairways on the par-5s the ball “takes legs and runs”.
I always treat myself to a buggy at Portnoo. Each year, usually held at the end of July, Narin & Portnoo is one of the three courses in the Lough Erne and Links 3 day challenge – the other courses being Lough Erne Resort and Donegal (Murvagh).
I am very lucky to have good friends who are members at Narin & Portnoo so it is even more enjoyable to have a catch up and good craic on the way round. They keep me right as to the best point to aim for.
Ballyliffin The Old Links and Glashedy Links
Ballyliffen offers two championship courses. The Old Links and Glashedy Links
Ballyliffen is very much on The Wild Atlantic Way with the emphasis being on the “wild”. Much of this course is exposed to the sea breeze or the strong winds which can play havoc with the best of well hit shots. Even players like Rory McIlroy who knows the course well got into trouble in the rough during the 2018 Dubai Duty Free Irish Open.
Again the scenery on this Donegal coastline is stunning.
The par 3 at the fifth is very inviting albeit guarded by 4 bunkers. The next par 3 at the seventh presents another great opportunity but you need to keep low on a windy day, otherwise the ball can easily fly towards the Atlantic ocean!
I have played here as part of the Donegal Classic which is played annually at the end of August. 3 days playing Ballyliffen, Portsalon and Rosapenna.
Pollan Links. 9-holes at Ballyliffen.
In 2020 a new 9-hole course designed by Pat Ruddy was opened. It is slightly more sheltered from the wind coming off the Atlantic ocean.
This is a great addition to cater for every level of golfer wishing to play at Ballyliffen.
Rory McIlroy in the rough at Ballyliffen in the 2018 Dubai Duty Free Irish Open.
Rory McIlroy preparing to chip out of the rough ain the 2018 Dubai Duty Free Irish Open at Ballyliffen.
Ballyliffen and its sloping green.
Portsalon Golf Club
Portsalon golf club is currently rent in one of the top 20 in Ireland. Golf has been played here since the 1880s and originally designed by Charles Thompson of Portrush. The most recent changes were guided by Pat Ruddy in 2000
The 1st and 18th are much easier since the very wide stream crossing the fairways was covered with a grid. At the 2nd it is very tempting to cut the corner, but it is no real advantage as the second shot is more important in terms of getting onto the green without “slipping into the drink”. The views from the 4th across the beach. Ballymastocker beach across Ballymastocker Bay provides yet another blue flag beach along the Wild Atlantic Way.
Portsalon ranks as another of my favourites. Each time I look forward to playing the 16th which depends on laying up – but not too far away – before the final chip shot onto the green. The course is very well maintained and I always enjoy the refreshments in the clubhouse.
Donegal Golf Club (Murvagh)
Donegal golf club is located at Murvagh about 10 minutes drive from Donegal Town. The course was originally designed by Eddie Hackett and was referred to as the Muirfield of Ireland.
Pat Ruddy has guided recent updates and with its new clubhouse in 1998 it is another of my favourite golf courses. Within easy reach of Finn Valley Cottages I play in their winter league.
Darren Clarke describes it as one of his “favourite courses in the world”.
Despite knowing this Donegal course well every game presents a new challenge.
My favourite hole is the par-3 over the Valley of Tears. It is so rewarding to land the ball on the slope to the left of the green and watch it run down towards the flag. I will not describe the feeling when the ball falls short and ends up down in the valley.
Perhaps the most cruel shot is to land on the green and watch as the ball runs off into the bunker or bounces off into the steep drop on the right.
There is another lovely par-3 at hole 16. This is known as the Temple, named after the owner of Magee’s of Donegal which is a famous tweed shop selling Donegal tweed clothing throughout the world. This is an easier par-3 if you can avoid the fairway bunker just before the green.
The 18th named after Barnesmore Gap in the Bluestack Mountains is a great way to finish, but you must make sure to get up onto the elevated green on your final approach.
The 19th hole is excellent. I always enjoy coffee and a fresh scone on arrival in the morning and look forward to a meal afterwards with friends .
All the courses mentioned above are in the top 45 of Ireland’s best golf courses.