Top 5 Hidden Gem Golf Courses in Northern Ireland

Must visit under-the-radar courses in a country steeped with golfing pedigree

While most golfers will head to the links and the glamour of the five star Lough Erne, there are many other thrilling courses that populate Northern Ireland’s six counties. You just have to look.

1. Scrabo

If ever a course deserved the title of ‘beauty-and-the-beast’, that course would be Scrabo. This is a wild adventure flowing up, down and around the sides of Scrabo Hill, 10 miles east of Belfast. It promises some of the best views of any course in the six counties, with Scotland typically visible across the Irish Sea, and the beautiful Strangford Lough stretched out below the course.

This is a short par 72, but the swathes of gorse, naturally bumpy fairways and small greens – not to mention the constant changes in elevation – make Scrabo an enthralling test. The 1st hole will strike fear and awe into the hearts of any golfer, as it rises straight up between banks of dense gorse to a small green beside Scrabo Tower. It is Index 1, and it sets the tone for the round. The tower is ever visible and the gorse is rarely far away, but there is additional colour from trees and rocky outcrops. It is tremendous fun and your driver will be flashing again and again. The plush clubhouse provides more of those views.

2. Clandeboye

Clandeboye is a big parkland club often missed as it is off the main golfing trail. It lies 13 miles east of Belfast, and is very close to Scrabo and Kirkistown Castle, as it happens. There are 36 quality holes here: the Dufferin is the championship course while the Ava is the quirky, short and highly entertaining sibling.

Founded in 1929, the Dufferin slides down a gentle hillside, starting with heathland-like bumpy terrain at the top before switching to more classic parkland traits at the bottom. Tall trees abound and holes curve sweetly between them. It is not long and the course calls more for strategy than strength. The par four 4th is the signature hole, curling tightly through the trees to a green almost completely surrounded by trees and gorse. A fabulous clubhouse makes for a perfect rest-stop at the end of 18… or 36 holes.

3. Kirkistown Castle

Set slightly off the beaten track, Kirkistown Castle lies on the east coast of Co. Down, on the far side of Strangford Lough. It is 28 miles from both Royal County Down and Belfast, and well worth a trip for links lovers, especially those who want to experience James Braid’s only Irish links design (1930s). It may not be a big course (par 69) but it is subtle, with many low, hard-to-gauge fairways. Seven par fours are over 400 yards and the well-bunkered greens present plenty of problems on a course that thrives on the art of bump-and-run. Do not mess with the bunkers!

The course plays over two levels: the low, bumpy terrain beside the clubhouse; and across a higher ridge where an old stone tower forms the backdrop for tees and greens alike. You’ll enjoy some stunning drives and approaches up here, as well as views across the course.

 

4. Moyola Park

Moyola Park sits to the north west of Lough Neagh, and is easily reachable for golfers heading from Belfast to the great northern links. It remains a hidden gem, despite being a grand parkland with rivers, ancient woodland, a tree-drenched hill and many entertaining holes. There are some lovely walks through woods, which add to the peacefulness, and that central hill is the highlight, enshrined in towering oak, beech and pine trees. The river fronts the par four 8th, making serious demands of your approach shot, and it also wraps around the par three 17th, a drop dead gorgeous hole promising a towering tee shot through the trees.

The holes on the other side of the hill are lazy parkland holes, sweeping between lone, sentinel oaks which will wreak havoc on the wayward driver. There may not be the pedigree of a Malone or Belvoir Park, but this is excellent value golf and well worth a visit. 

5. Lisburn

Fred Hawtree designed this smart, quality parkland which opened in 1973 (the club dates back to the 1880s). It has classic parkland character and is 10 miles south west of Belfast, and on the road from Royal County Down to Royal Portrush.

It may not have the space or lush estate feel of Clandeboye and Moyola Park, but it delivers dense tree-lined corridors and pristine conditioning over flat, lilting and hilly terrain. The greens are excellent and a number of small water features add extra colour – most notably to the dainty par three 6th which is surrounded by trees. The closing stretch of five holes cover the highest ground, creating a stunning finish… and how can you resist a hole with the name Leg o’ Mutton!

Lisburn Golf Club

Should you find yourself based in Belfast or the surrounds for any length of time, or fancy a break from Northern Ireland’s more famous tracks, you now know where to go…. But shhh… don’t tell anyone!

Request a quote if you are interested in playing any of these courses as part of your vacation with the golf travel experts at Golfbreaks.com.

Kevin Markham

I am an Irish golf writer, blogger and photographer. In 2008, I traveled around Ireland in an RV playing every 18-hole golf course for a book entitled 'Hooked: An Amateur's Guide to the Golf Courses of Ireland'. Now in its 3rd edition the book introduces all 340 golf courses and rates the experience awaiting golfers. A second book, 'Driving the Green', is a light-hearted story of my travels. I loves golf… but just not all the way from the back tees. My blog can be found at TheIrishGolfBlog.com.