Few cities offer such a choice of quality golf courses on its doorstep as Northern Ireland’s capital, and they include the home course of triple Major champion, Rory McIlroy.
Its most prestigious parkland courses all lie within a 15-minute drive of the city centre. That makes a short break in the city combining golf, sightseeing and soaking up the sounds, culture, nightlife and culinary scene a very attractive proposition. Throw in world-class attractions such as the award-winning Titanic Belfast and it becomes a no-brainer.
You don’t even need to rent a car. Stay in the heart of the city and take taxis to the fairways, as the golf is so close. The proximity of its courses and airports also means that visiting golfers can play on the same day as they arrive and depart, maximising time on the fairways.
And when the golf is done, enjoy the nightlife of a once-troubled city that has been transformed in little more than a decade and is now one of Europe’s friendliest, most vibrant and most cosmopolitan cities. It is just as lively during the week as on weekends.
Belfast’s golf is very close to the city’s heartbeat. Just three miles (5km) from its centre, Belvoir Park Golf Club is the nearest course to the city. Yet golfers feel a world away from the metropolis, both on its fairways, edged by large trees, and the aptly-named restaurant and bar of its modern clubhouse, The View, looking out across the course to the Black Mountains, complete with outdoor terrace.
Malone Golf Club, only five miles (8km) from the city centre, lies in 330 acres of mature wooded parkland on the Ballydrain Estate and its clubhouse – the 200-year-old former manor house – is reached via a tree-lined drive. Comprising three nine-hole layouts, two of them forming its championship 18 course with the other including junior tees, its centrepiece is a 27-acre lake that comes into play on four of its closing holes. The club hosted the Irish Senior Championship in 2017.
Northern Ireland’s oldest royal club, the Royal Belfast Golf Club, lies alongside Belfast Lough, the main seaway into the city’s harbour. Seven holes look over the lough, the 9th green and 10th fairway playing next to it. The course is popular with golfing passengers from the cruise ships that regularly visit Belfast Harbour and it hosted the 2017 Ladies’ Senior British Open Amateur Championship.
Shandon Park’s modern clubhouse has one of the liveliest atmospheres of Belfast’s golf clubs, thanks in part to its many non-golfing social members as leafy Shandon Park suburb has no other drinking or dining establishments. Its course is known for its tight fairways lined by trees and shrubs.
Holywood Golf Club’s course is short but it produced a mercurial champion in Rory McIlroy, the young McIlroy honing his skills on Holywood’s hilly fairways and greens. Belfast Lough can be seen from its highest holes, with the city and its iconic, yellow Harland and Wolff shipyard cranes visible from the 11th tee. In the clubhouse, a shrine to the club’s favourite son includes photographs of his early years playing there and replicas of the US Open and US PGA trophies. Rory is still a member, as is his father, and he often drops in to see old friends when he is back in Northern Ireland.
Belfast’s five premier parkland clubs – Belvoir Park, Malone, Royal Belfast, Shandon Park and Holywood – have combined to stage an annual tournament open to visiting men and women golfers to showcase the city’s golf, in conjunction with Tourism Northern Ireland, Visit Belfast and Tourism Ireland. The 2018 Belfast Parkland International tournament takes place from May 23-25, at Shandon Park, Belvoir Park and Royal Belfast golf courses. It costs £99 per person and places can be booked on the dedicated website: www.belfastparklandtournament.com
As Belfast’s courses are also private members’ clubs, club competitions are often at weekends with visitor tee times not available until late in the day. A midweek stay makes it far more likely golfers will get their desired tee times on the days they want to play.
Away from the fairways, the striking £77 million Titanic Belfast attraction, which opened in 2012, a century after the RMS Titanic hit an iceberg on its maiden voyage and sank, was named the world’s leading tourist attraction at the World Travel Awards in December 2016. Its nine interactive galleries tell the story of the famous liner in the Titanic Experience alongside the dock where she was built. Belfast’s Titanic Quarter also contains the liner’s restored tender, SS Nomadic, and the newly-reopened World War I museum ship, HMS Caroline.
Other options include Belfast City Hall for its exhibition charting the history of the city, a tour of the once-infamous Crumlin Road Gaol, now a tourist attraction documenting its 150-year history, and a tour of the city’s powerful political and historical street-art murals, some framed by the towering, landmark gantry cranes of the Harland and Wolff shipyard, known as Samson and Goliath.
The city offers excellent shopping, too. And sterling’s fall in value against currencies such as the euro and dollar makes a visit even more worthwhile for overseas visitors.
At night, Belfast’s city-centre Cathedral Quarter is the liveliest neighbourhood and is eminently walkable as is the adjacent Linen Quarter, regarded as one of its most exciting up and coming areas.
There are pubs and bars galore throughout the city. Among the most notable, the historic Crown Liquor Saloon in the Linen Quarter, owned by the National Trust, features a tiled exterior and interior, ornate carved ceiling, snugs and gas lighting. Many of the pubs and bars have traditional live music, such as the always-packed Fibber Magee bar tucked at the back of the Robinson’s pub next door to the Crown where musicians play fiddles, pipes and bodhrans every night. Right across the street from them is the four-star Europa Hotel, one of the city’s top hotels catering to golfers and once Europe’s most bombed hotel. Visitors can also try traditional ceili dancing in several places.
The city is gaining a great reputation for its food and now offers a huge choice of places to eat, from bistros and gourmet coffee bars to gastro pubs, restaurants serving a wide range of international cuisines and fine-dining establishments. At the Dock Café in the Titanic Quarter, customers can even choose what to pay as it has an honesty box instead of a set price list.
Besides being perfect for a golfing city break, Belfast can also be a base for playing golf in other parts of Northern Ireland. Royal County Down is less than an hour away and 2019 Open Championship host Royal Portrush is barely more than an hour’s drive, with other courses also within easy reach.
One thing’s for sure: a golfing visit to Belfast will leave titanic memories.