The 19th hole

Over the last decade, Irish golfers have made incredible strides on the world stage. This week, the spotlight has shone most brightly on Holywood, Co. Down native Rory McIlroy, whose stunning - and record-breaking - 16-under par victory at the U.S. Open astonished the sports world and sparked immediate comparisons to figures like Tiger Woods and Jack Nicklaus. Irish golf fans throughout the country and around the world rejoiced in McIlroy’s success, which is the latest example of the quality of Irish golf.

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From Dungannon, Co. Tyrone native Darren Clarke’s major European victories and five consecutive appearances on the European Ryder Cup teams, to Dubliner Padraig Harrington’s three major championship wins in 2007 and 2008, to Portrush, Co. Antrim native Graeme McDowell’s victory at the 2010 U.S. Open, the island of Ireland has been able boast a stellar group of athletes who dominate the sport.

It also raises the question: What is it about Ireland that makes it such a perfect place for golfers? Perhaps the answer lies in the sheer variety of golf courses and world-class resorts that leaves golfers spoiled for choice. Perhaps it lies in the craic that awaits players at “The 19th Hole” - golf jargon for the post-round festivities, as players relax over a pint and engage in some good-natured ribbing about their scores. Or maybe it’s the chance to mix and mingle with the locals, whose reverence for the game of golf is matched only by the quality of their uniquely Irish wit.

From the challenging courses designed by the world’s most renowned golfers and course architects, to the five-star resorts that cater to a golfer’s every need, both on and off the links, to the breathtaking natural scenery, historic treasures and legendary Irish hospitality that are an integral part of any visit to the island, there’s simply no other place on earth that can compare to the Northern Ireland golf experience. Because here, golf is more than a game: it’s a way of life.

With the country buzzing with excitement over McIlroy’s success — and his decision to play in this year’s Irish Open, held at the Killarney Golf & Fishing Club, July 28-31 ( there’s no better time to book a visit to the island of Ireland. Golfers can follow in the footsteps of giants on a variety of great courses throughout the country, while non-golfers can choose from a range of activities - like following in the footsteps of the Giants Causeway - at rates that can’t be beat. To plan your trip, visit, or call 1 (800) SHAMROCK.

Looking for the whole . . .in one place

Awarded “Best Hotel” at the 2011 Northern Ireland Tourism Awards and “Golf Resort of The Year” by the Irish Golf Tour Operators Association (2010), the 5-star Loch Erne Resort in Enniskillen, Co. Fermanagh ( is Rory McIlroy’s home turf. For the young golfer, the resort offers a sense of home in more ways than one: its facilities include the Faldo Course, designed by six-time Major winner Nick Faldo, who was one of the McIlroy’s early inspirations. Loch Erne also houses The Faldo Academy, a state-of-the-art practice and instructional center for those looking to hone their skill on the links.

Set on its own 600-acre peninsula, and situated between Castle Hume Lough and Lower Lough Erne, the resort offers breathtaking views from its 120 luxury rooms and suites. It offers two championship golf courses and world-class amenities that appeal to both dedicated golfers and those who simply appreciate great service. There is an authentic Thai Spa for relaxation and pampering. A range of dining options, including The Catalina Restaurant, The Blaney Bar, The Loughside Bar & Grill, Afternoon Tea in The Garden Hall and The Halfway House located behind the 9th Green of The Faldo Championship Course, guarantees a memorable meal to suit every taste, under the direction of award-winning chef Neil McMeel.

For younger guests, Lough Erne’s Cygnets program includes a welcome package and specialized dining options. The budding Rory or Graeme in your party can take a golf lesson from one of the golf pros at the Nick Faldo Academy. It’s no wonder that McIlroy has called Loch Erne Resort “A great place to play [and] a great place to stay.”

To celebrate McIlroy’s victory, Lough Erne Resort has put together a “Final Round Score” package, which includes one night’s stay in a Luxury Courtyard or Loughside Room, full Irish breakfast, 18 Holes on the Faldo Championship Course (valid for two balls or more); use of the Thermal Suite and Infinity Pool at the Thai Spa. Rates start at £138 per person, based on two people sharing, and are valid through July 31, 2011.

While you’re in the area:

Don’t miss the The Collop Walk, located within the grounds of The Resort, with stunning views over Lower Lough Erne and Castle Hume Lough. Other attractions nearby include Enniskillen Castle (, and the Aughakillymaude Mummers Centre 011 44 28 6774 2727.

Graeme’s greens

Last year’s U.S. Open winner, Portrush, Co. Antrim native Graeme McDowell, is proud to make his home base at the Royal Portrush Golf Club (www.royalportrushgolf, situated on the Causeway coast in Portrush, Co. Antrim. Among its other celebrity members are world champions and Ryder Cup stars Padraig Harrington and Darren Clarke.

Founded in 1888, the historic Royal Portrush Golf Club boasts the ultimate golfing challenge and precision play, plus awe-inspiring scenery. In 1951, it became the only links in Ireland to stage the British Open — a distinction it still holds 60 years later.

The club features the Dunluce Links - considered one of the best and most challenging links in the world - as well as its hidden gem, the Valley Links course. They don’t offer on-site accommodation, but if you’re in the mood for a golf break, they can supply both clubs and tuition under the direction of Head Professional Gary McNeill, former Irish Amateur Champion and International team member. The Residential Golf School package includes instruction, two rounds of golf, and luxury accommodation and meals at the nearby Bushmills Inn ( The clubhouse offers a selection of light refreshments and sandwiches.

While you’re in the area:

Visit the only World Heritage site in Northern Ireland: the majestic Giants Causeway in Bushmills, Co. Antrim, which was formed as a result of a volcanic eruption that occurred 60 million years ago ( Get an up-close view of whiskey-making and learn the history of the process during a tour of the nearby Bushmills Distillery ( Be sure to schedule a stop at the Titanic Quarter in Belfast ( which features tours and includes an audio visual center. Titanic Belfast, a £97 million, state-of-the-art multimedia visitor center, will open to the public in time for summer 2012.

Where the mountains sweep Down

Located in the Murlough Nature Reserve, one of the world’s most naturally beautiful links settings, The Royal County Down Golf Club ( is set against the magnificent backdrop of the Mountains of Mourne. The course TourismContinued from Page 8
stretches along the shores of Dundrum Bay, zigzagging back and forth to provide a different vista from virtually every hole.

The Royal County Down Golf Club was founded in 1889 by a group of influential businessmen from Belfast, coinciding with the rise of Newcastle’s popularity as a seaside resort in the Victorian era. The course was developed over the span of a year, with designers taking advantage of the natural twists and turns of the landscape. Much of the architecture survives to the present day, and adds a unique flavor to the club’s facilities.

The ‘bearded’ bunkers are world famous and the ninth hole is one of the most photographed holes in world golf. Royal County Down offers golfers of all standards the opportunity of playing a truly great course against the scenic backdrop of mountains and coastline.

The club offers expert instruction by its staff of golf pros. The clubhouse features the Murlough Bar and Dining Room, where golfers can enjoy light refreshments or full meals, as well as a fully licensed bar.

Among the luxurious accommodation options near the Royal County Down Golf Club is the adjacent Slieve Donard Resort & Spa ( There you can indulge in a range of luxurious treatments, from Hot Stone Massage to full-day spa packages, or make full use of their modern health and fitness center to enjoy swimming, sauna or yoga.

While you’re in the area:

Visit Bagenal’s Castle and Newry and Mourne Museum. The castle dates from the 16th century and houses the Newry Tourist Information Centre ( History buffs will be fascinated by the Killeavy Old Churches site at the foot of Slieve Gullion, which features back to back churches — the West Church dates from 11th Century and the East Church from 15th Century. It is also the site of an early monastery founded by St. Moninna in 517 as one of the most important monasteries for nuns in Medieval Ireland. (