Within Reach: Newcastle, Northern Ireland

Eggsplorations: Northern Ireland, Journal #1


Unless you’re a true veteran, an international golf trip carries a sheen of unattainability. It’s part wish and part plan. It remains that way even after pen is put to paper, credit cards are swiped, and flights are booked. Only then does all that anticipation and anxiety about the bigness of such a trip fade into a “that wasn’t so bad” relief. Maybe even regret that you hadn’t done it sooner.

The Fried Egg Golf team’s initial days in Northern Ireland reemphasized this. Newcastle was our first hub for this Eggsploration. As an American living on the East Coast in Washington, the trip from D.C. to Newcastle (and its renowned Royal County Down) shifted pretty quickly from daunting to accessible. Repeatable, even.

We flew from Dulles to Dublin, a tidy five-hour flight. We played golf at nearby Portmarnock when we landed, then drove up to Newcastle in about an hour and 40 minutes. That was it. We were there. It was not arduous — at least not for me, the East Coast-dwelling, non-March 3rd marathon running member of the team. It felt like a trip I’ve taken for longish weekends. The flight was about an hour longer than one I took from DC to go to the Virgin Islands last spring.

This is where my mindset has shifted over the last couple of years, after trips to Scotland and now Northern Ireland. There’d always been apprehension, a nagging sense that taking a flight across the Atlantic means you need to try to see all of Ireland. That’s obviously impossible, but that compulsion tends to inflate an itinerary into more than one week in order to hustle around checking off as many boxes as possible to “justify” the big flight over. Americans like me living on the East Coast often have to go to the West Coast for a single meeting, or a few business days. Why not apply that to golf travel? Focus your planning on a smaller region or area, and execute accordingly.

You will never see all of Ireland. Despite being told you are being served the best pour of Guinness on the island, it’s unlikely you will actually visit every pub to confirm that for yourself. Don’t psych yourself out thinking you need to see it all in order to make the trip. Flights right now are not so prohibitively expensive that you need to cram everything possible into some major undertaking that could lead to more money spent in the end, anyway. Focus!

Andy and Brendan, presumably about to debate some kind of cartographical nonsense. (Photo: Fried Egg Golf)

Newcastle, and even Northern Ireland as a whole, feels like a specific focus that’s reasonable and accessible, especially for the East Coast elitists amongst us. We make voyages to play golf within our own country that might include longer travel times and more complex logistics.

This travel comparison has been an overarching thought during our first few days in Northern Ireland. What we’ve done and the golf we’ve seen has already redeemed the relative ease of the trip. As we compile our Eggsplorations journal over the next week or so, we will cover more of what we saw as we operated (especially what we saw while we were on golf courses) in great detail on multiple platforms. But Newcastle itself has been lovely, and we didn’t want to gloss over that. Here are a few of our honest, hard-won recs for any potential visitor.

World Class Golf

Picking the fun seaside town that abuts what is sometimes ranked as the No. 1 golf course in the world does not seem like a bad idea if you’re traveling to play golf. We discussed some of the virtues and majesty of Royal County Down on an episode of our Eggsplorations podcast. But it is accessible with a bit of planning in advance. You are transported to a setting and a course you have almost certainly never experienced. At times going out on the front nine, it feels like you’ve been dropped on another planet. It is Rory McIlroy’s favorite course in the world. And as it’s off the Open rota, it’s also relatively unseen and unknown to the larger golfing public. It’s a true once-in-a-lifetime round.

The Annesley Course at RCD, or the “wee course,” is also about as fun an experience as you can have on a short layout. It’s not a pitch-and-putt or par-3 course, but a full 18 holes where you could hit every club in the bag if you’re bold enough. You get some of the same land and dunes as RCD, and a few greens even bolder than the big course. The cost is quite reasonable and it was among the most fun we’ve had so far, even in easily the worst weather, playing a five-club challenge with stymies allowed and encouraged. If you have a couple extra hours to play but you can’t squeeze in a full round, use those hours here.

Proper links weather. (Photo: Fried Egg Golf)

Up the coast is Ardglass, which we also discussed on an episode of Eggsplorations. It is not a true links – it does not have that turf. But it is a wild run of golf holes. You head out from the castle clubhouse over cliffs, play off of them down to the coastline, head across some Irish countryside, then come back up over the cliffs. There are some fun golf holes within the varied settings, holes that make you work it both ways in what will likely be significant winds. The course surely charms American tourists, and the members are fully invested in putting more and more of that money right back into their course as it becomes more popular with traveling groups paying greens fees. It was certainly the most hospitable club we’ve dropped in on so far, not that the others weren’t! Upbeat Irish people, thrilled to see you and have you there. A great day.

It’s also set in a town worth staying in for the night. Smaller than Newcastle for sure, but there are seven castles around town and just about as many bars, most of them a few steps from the club. We were taken by our legendary caddie to The Arms, which even my most discerning colleagues suggested was one of the cooler pubs or bars they’ve been to. Ardglass was worth the ride – take the scenic route only once, and in daylight – while we were nearby in Newcastle. 

Non-Golf Life

A few Dublin-area Irish folks, when hearing of our plans, suggested we were heading to Siberia. That had us somewhat concerned. But as Andy suggested, maybe it was akin to how certain Chicagoans might speak negatively about going to another Midwestern city. Andy’s guess proved correct, as we found Newcastle to be a legit fun town you can stay in for multiple nights, with good food and some lively bars. The Railway Street Cafe coffee shop took our money three of the four days we were in town. We kept going back, not because there weren’t other options but because we thought we had found a winner – a good scene and exceptional food right outside the Slieve Donard. Speaking of that, we simply strolled through there. This is the fancy big hotel where a lot of tourists likely end up when they come to play RCD. It looks very nice – lots of polished wood and big, chunky furniture – and the bar scene is probably fun. But it is certainly separate and apart from the town proper. Go to Railway for coffee.

Railway Street Cafe, which earned the full weight and power of a Fried Egg Golf endorsement. (Photo: Fried Egg Golf)

We had a good steak and seafood at Brunel’s, a fancier joint. We had pizza twice – we liked Piccolo even though Villa Vinci had been recommended more to us. Marghera kept coming recommended to us as good pub food in a village a cab ride away, but we never got there. There is no “Irish” cuisine on offer, really, but they do some other cuisine well in town. You should be fed well, and all within walking distance. In between golf and food, try to hike the Mourne or take a run along the path fronting the sea in town. 

Quinn’s is a sizable bar worth visiting, but we’re told it will probably make you feel old if you’re in there on a crowded night. Don’t be a creepy old man. We went there twice … because it was four doors away or so from where we were staying, and we were there on non-crowded, lowkey weeknights, the kind where you can just grab an open seat at the bar. A lively weekend night could be spent at The Tap Room. This place offered a great scene when we went in on a Saturday night, including strong live music, which we were told is there most every evening. We likely would have stayed deep into the night if we didn’t have to work at the crack of dawn. As it is, we are mostly boring old men, looking to talk about mow lines, green contours, and linksland turf. 

I did not mean for this journal entry to turn into some sort of unofficial Guide to Newcastle, but felt obliged to relay a few things that worked for us after searching around for recs before we dropped into town. We are by no means authorities on all it has to offer. But I do know all of it feels attainable and accessible from the American East Coast, and it’s a trip I can see myself taking again soon.

Continue with us on our Northern Ireland trip:

Eggsplorations: A Wild Trip Around Ardglass -Taking a wild journey at Ardglass, County Down, Northern Ireland.

The Holywood Hill – A sojurn to Rory McIlroy’s home club.

Welcome to Castlerock – Andy delights in a surprisingly pleasant addition to our trip.