Best of the Rest
A trio of parkland courses in Belfast’s leafier precincts is worth exploring if you’re planning to spend some time in and around the city. Royal Belfast Golf Club (royalbelfast.com) and Belvoir Park Golf Club (belvoirparkgolfclub.com) are both venerable Harry Colt designs. The former offers excellent views of Belfast Lough, and the latter borders an expansive forest park, draping the course in sylvan isolation. Twenty minutes south of the city center is Malone Golf Club (malonegolfclub.co.uk), a twenty-seven-hole complex on a lovely piece of land. The layout dates to the 1960s and has a more modern feel than its Belfast cohorts. It is superbly maintained, though the club’s recent program of planting trees to combat the long ball does not do wonders for its look. Up north, take a glance off to the right when you’re on the tee of the Calamity hole; you’ll get a good view of Royal Portrush’s Valley Course, the club’s second eighteen. It’s easier than the Dunluce (what isn’t?), but with an array of solid holes set among the smaller dunes, the Valley can stand toe to toe with “relief” courses anywhere. Finally, in the scenic lake district of County Fermanagh, a Nick Faldo design is scheduled to open next year at the luxurious Lough Erne Golf Resort & Spa (loughernegolfresort.com). Ireland’s booming economy should make Lough Erne a success on the domestic front; less certain is whether Americans will want to go this far out of their way for the kind of plush golf experience they can readily find at home.
Where to Stay
Ardtara Country House
Built in 1855 as the home of a linen mogul, Ardtara’s stolid stone façade belies the warmth to be found within, where restored interiors conjure the essence of the Victorian country house. This eight-bedroom inn is tucked inside eight forested acres, which ensures tranquility. The house operates a gourmet restaurant as well, with both menu and wine list brief yet superb. Ardtara’s comforts are probably best enjoyed by couples, although Bill Murray stayed here on a recent solo pilgrimage to Portrush (forty-five minutes away). Ask for room number two, on the second story at the front of the house. It’s one of the most spacious, and its bay windows offer a fine view of the immaculate lawn and flower garden.
Upperlands, County Londonderry. Rooms: $260–$300. Contact: 011-44/2879-644-490, ardtara.com.
The Bushmills Inn is the place to stay on the Antrim coast. Only ten minutes east of the town of Portrush, it’s perfectly situated for golf, and the Giant’s Causeway (see “Irish Lore,” next page) isn’t much farther in the opposite direction. Postround libations by the peat fire in the hotel’s Gas Bar are sure to be convivial. The guest rooms, some of which are furnished with dark oak four-poster beds, feel authentically Irish, and Bushmills’s Taste of Ulster restaurant more than lives up to its name. Dedicated to locally sourced ingredients, the kitchen prepares the kind of hearty fare that sends weary travelers up to bed feeling restored.
9 Dunluce Road, Bushmills, County Antrim. Rooms: $135–$530. Contact: 011-44/2820-733-000, bushmillsinn.com.
The Europa is the perfect symbol of Belfast’s resurgence. Having once held the dubious distinction as the most bombed hotel in Europe (it was targeted by the IRA on no less than eleven occasions and dutifully rebuilt after each attack), today it is a cosmopolitan institution that takes full advantage of its center-city location. A hive of activity, the Europa has its drawbacks, namely a traffic-choked entrance circle and expensive valet parking. But the hotel gets the important stuff right: nice beds, comfortable rooms and a staff accustomed to dealing with traveling golfers. Being an easy-to-find landmark, it’s a good initial base from which to begin your trip. Shake off the jet lag here, then head out to play one of Belfast’s parkland courses, all less than half an hour away.
Great Victoria Street, Belfast. Rooms: $270–$440. Contact: 011-44/2890-271-066, hastingshotels.com.
McGrory’s of Culdaff
The rooms at this little family-owned hotel may be a bit on the spartan side, but County Donegal is so remote that one can’t really expect the Four Seasons, and guests do get the sense that it’s come a long way since opening in 1924. The heart of McGrory’s is its cheerful pub, which is a great place to catch some live music or a soccer match on TV or just to banter with the locals. The restaurant on the other side of the lobby serves more-than-adequate lobster, steak and Inishowen lamb, and the service throughout the hotel is warm and thoroughly genuine. Ballyliffin Golf Club is just fifteen minutes away, so if you make the side trip to play there, this is the place to stay.
Culdaff, Inishowen, County Donegal, Ireland. Rooms: $92–$100. Contact: 011-353/749-379-104, mcgrorys.ie.
Slieve Donard Hotel
Few accommodations are as closely associated with world-class golf as the Slieve Donard, a grand old Victorian railway hotel in the vein of Scotland’s Gleneagles. It’s only a few minutes’ walk from the first tee of Royal County Down, and the spired red-brick structure can be seen, framed by the Mourne Mountains, from various points on the course. Many of the hotel’s recently refurbished rooms offer wonderful views of Newcastle’s crescent strand (which is just steps away). But perhaps the best place to contemplate the scenery is the sybaritic spa, a stylish and expansive facility designed by ESPA that sets the standard in the British Isles. The Slieve Donard is universally popular, and weddings and conferences can put the squeeze on availability, so be sure to book well in advance, especially if you’re planning a summer visit.
Downs Road, Newcastle, County Down. Rooms: $345–$910. Contact: 011-44/2843-721-066, hastingshotels.com.