A Northern Ireland Trip Eclectic 18

Eggsplorations: Northern Ireland, Journal #6


Welcome to the Northern Ireland Eclectic 18. Our travels through the country took us to seven golf courses: Royal County Down’s Championship and Annesley Links, Ardglass, Royal Portrush’s Dunluce Links, Portstewart, and Castlerock’s Mussenden and Bann Courses. In the week or so since our return, we’ve been constantly reflecting and combing through our notes, photographs, and videos. We’ve done some superlatives and big picture podcast discussions looking back on the trip as a whole. And for our final journal (we think), we wanted to go through an Eclectic 18 exercise from the courses we saw in what now feels like our-far-too-short stay in Northern Ireland.

You can read all our journal entries and newsletter dispatches here.

Making final selections for the front-nine holes became one of the most difficult aspects of this exercise. Each course noted above is filled with stellar holes on their front nines and Royal County Down and Portstewart have among the very best, if not THE best, front nines in all of golf. As a total package of nine holes, it’s hard to argue against their excellence. But when you start going one-by-one to make an eclectic 18, the arguments get tricky because of some of the standouts at the other courses.

Once we get to the back nine, you will see the extraordinary finish of Royal Portrush’s Dunluce Links dominates and shows its stuff. This is, of course, a subjective exercise, and one that did not come without internal debate among the four FE travelers. So let’s dive in and have some fun with it.

No. 1: Ardglass – 338-yard Par 4

Bang a few balls into a net behind a castle wall that dates back to the 15th century, then pop through a hole in said wall and onto this dramatic first tee. You are essentially on the rocks with waves and wind immediately greeting you to start the day, and you begin a climb up seaside cliffs to a green that sits in a truly remarkable location. 

Runner-up: Royal County Down

No. 2: Castlerock Bann Course – 367-yard Par 4

The “wee” course at Castlerock, which Andy hailed in a prior journal, is so good and such a delight that it had to be represented in this exercise. The fifth hole there gets a lot of the praise, but we’ll include the second here, which grabbed us early in the round. Called “Everest,” this tight, 370-yard par-4 is a punisher that starts semi-blind off the tee and finishes at a perched green site looking down over the river and dunes below.

Runner-up: Portstewart

No. 3: Royal County Down – 475-yard Par 4

OK, it is time to dance here with what many consider the greatest opening nine in the world. The third was one of its stars for us, and there was no real argument here for another third hole. This one stuck with and mesmerized Andy to a great degree. The back tee goes up to a perch, making for one of the rare times the sea and beach are fully in view. Set on incredible rolling linksland, there are options off the tee, with each side of the fairway presenting an entirely different challenge and view into a green framed wonderfully by the dunes. A big hitter can get into a plateau in the middle of the fairway here to get a fairly direct view at the green for the approach. Some wonderful land and a wonderful hole.

Runner-up: RCD Annesley Links

No. 4: Portstewart – 583-yard Par 5

A front nine that absolutely demands some representation on this list. Its strongest hole may be the fifth, but it’s not winning that next battle as you’ll see soon. The fourth hole charmed Cameron especially. It’s a par 5 and the only hole on the front that runs fully parallel to the ocean, which is often out of view because of the massive dunes. The hole tumbles along awesome rolling linksland, winding and narrowing at spots between the dunes. The tee shot can go blind over one dune if you want to try and bite off something major, and the journey ends at a green with a wicked false front that was a blast to play.

Runner-up: Royal Portrush Dunluce

The fourth hole at Portstewart. (Photo: Fried Egg Golf)

No. 5: Royal Portrush Dunluce – 382-yard Par 4

We played some incredible fifth holes on this trip, but Royal Portrush is the only answer here. This downhiller to the sea is one of the world’s great holes. We played an up tee and two of us (Cameron and Matt) had eagle putts. The green would be fabulous even without the dramatic cliff falloff to the beach below, the hard out-of-bounds line pressed up against the back of it punishing anyone trying to hammer away at this shorter par-4, or the amazing view of the sea. But in addition to the green’s brilliance, it also has all of those other things, too.

Runner-up: Portstewart

No. 6: Royal County Down Annesley Links – 338-yard Par 4

One thing we were reminded of throughout the trip is how obsessed the players in this part of the world are with the stroke index of each hole. This is SI #1 at the Annesley, and some of us definitely lost our tee shots here, but we still came away in love. It would not be smart to try and pound driver into this wee hole, set on some cascading land. The green is a wee one, too, with a big falloff short.

Runner-up: Royal County Down

No. 7: Royal County Down – 144-yard Par 3

A short hole that’s long on stories. Rory McIlroy called it out specifically as a favorite in our Eggsplorations podcast. It sits high atop a ridge on the property, so the wind will almost certainly impact play in a major way. At its max, it is 145 yards. Unlike some other short par-3s, missing the green is likely not going to result in an auto-funnel into a bunker. But there’s very little room to land the ball and keep it there, with a dramatic and fun falloff on the back that probably drives the pros nuts. One to keep an eye on for this September’s Irish Open.

Runner-up: Castlerock

The great, devilish seventh green at RCD. (Photo: Fried Egg Golf)

No. 8: RCD Annesley Links – 264-yard Par 4

Such a fun hole at the start of a very memorable stretch on the RCD short course. The fairway is cut along a massive ridge that runs all the way up to the green, which slopes more gently along that same ridge. We hit a variety of fun shots into this green, both from the elevated side of the fairway on the right and down to the left. This included Brendan screwing around and putting one from 70 yards or so, sending it precariously along the ridgeline and up to pin high. A great short hole that requires some precision and really encapsulates the Annesley course well.

Runner-up: Castlerock Bann Course

No. 9: Royal County Down – 483-yard Par 4

Like the fifth hole in this exercise, there were some truly all-world ninth holes during this trip. The runner-up here was among our favorite par 3s on the trip. But nothing was beating the ninth at RCD, which is probably the first hole that comes to mind when you read the oft-cited quote from Bernard Darwin that RCD is “the kind of golf that people play in their most ecstatic dreams.” Check out our short video on the hole for more footage, the story of how Harry Colt melded two holes into this now famous one, and more info on the strategy.

Runner-up: Castlerock

Looking back on one of the greatest holes in the world, the ninth at RCD. (Photo: Fried Egg Golf)

No. 10: Castlerock – 415-yard Par 4

A fabulous hole that came near the end of a stretch of great holes that had us feeling like this course was the pleasant surprise of the entire trip. The 10th is a downhill par 4, with a large canyon of nasty native grasses to the left that will bring prompt death to your hole if you find it. So work the ball out right, and then play down and over some more beautiful linksland movements to a delightful green site. This was another spot where we played all sorts of different approach shots, including low runners that barely left the ground.

Runner-up: Royal Portrush Dunluce

No. 11: Ardglass – 483-yard Par 5

A hole that changes up the environment during the Ardglass journey. After playing along the cliffs and Irish countryside, the 10th plunges you down to the coast with Van Morrison’s Coney Island in the background, and then you play right along that coast (as opposed to a cliff top) at this short par 5. The lost ball miss is on your left for most of the start at Ardglass, but now it switches to your right, with the seawall serving as a boundary for balls that might cut just a bit too much if you try to take an aggressive line. The green is situated in a cool little amphitheater of gorse. 

Runner-up: Royal County Down

No. 12: Royal County Down – 545-yard Par 5

After the stellar front at RCD there’s very little drop off to start the back, with the 12th falling in the middle of an incredible stretch. It’s a par 5 with blindness, bending through the dunes with bunkers coming into play more often than on many other holes at RCD. It’s a long, narrower green with some falloff right, and it has some rise from front to back. 

Runner-up: Ardglass

No. 13: Royal County Down Annesley Links – 138-yard Par 3

Perhaps a controversial choice, 13 here edges out the incredible 13th of its bigger, championship brother, which Matt dubbed “Gorse Valley.” This is a short one-shotter that was among the best on the trip, and one that Cameron especially loved. It has a shallow green with a menacing bunker right in the front.

Runner up: Royal County Down

13 at RCD's Annesley Links. (Photo: Fried Egg Golf)

No. 14: Royal Portrush Dunluce Links – 386-yard Par 4

In a post-trip Eggsplorations podcast debate, a few of us concluded that overall Portrush was the best course and the one you’d want to play the most. There have been many fabulous holes from Portrush that did not make it thus far, but it will now dominate the closing stretch. This fairway slopes from right to left, and the hole features one of the most dramatic greens you will ever find for a links course. It’s a tabletop that demands precision, even from the shortest of chips, with a major drop into a bunker off to the left.

Runner-up: RCD Annesley Links

The "tabletop" green at the 14th hole of Royal Portrush. (Photo: Fried Egg Golf)

No. 15: Royal Portrush Dunluce Links – 370-yard Par 4

Another one of the great holes of the trip, and one that made a major impression on Andy. A good tee shot crests over a slope and makes the green visible for an approach. It’s a beautiful walk down towards Calamity Corner and the sea off in the distance over the dunes. The green is another smaller one to hit, with undulation once you get there and penalties in the form of bunkers and short grass for a miss.

Runner Up: Royal County Down

The view down to the 15th green at Royal Portrush. (Photo: Fried Egg Golf)

No. 16: Royal Portrush Dunluce Links – 236-yard Par 3

One of the great holes in the world that was never going to be beaten in this exercise. As we noted on our Eggplorations podcast review, it will leave you with a memory no matter what happens. Whether you get punched in the face or you pull off the hero shot, you will remember it, and remember it fondly. Drop a ball toward the back tee if you really want to get masochistic. 

Runner-up: None

No. 17: Castlerock – 493-yard Par 4

Another one of the great holes from the trip that made lasting memories for us, which it needed to in order to beat out the 17th at Portrush. This tee box sits at a high point on the property after the preceding holes play up and around a ridge. The boast is you can see three countries from it on a clear day (which we did) and it includes a “selfie stone” for pictures. Don’t let the views or any kind of tourist trap impulse negatively affect your view of the actual hole, which is an awesome tumble down rolling links turf with plenty of movement.

Runner-up: Royal Portrush Dunluce 

No. 18: Royal Portrush Dunluce Links – 426-yard Par 4

A fabulous finisher during a closing stretch so good that Matt  has not stopped thinking about since we got home, which he’s reiterated several times. It’s a dogleg right and there’s some width for drives out to the left with to get a view into the green, which has a narrow entrance and a steep drop-off on the left. 

Runner up: Ardglass