What to Do in Northern Ireland’s Causeway Coast, Golf and Non-Golf Edition

Eggsplorations: Northern Ireland, Journal #5


There were two main outposts for our March trip to Northern Ireland: the Newcastle area in County Down and then the North Coast area around Portrush. As a companion to that first journal that was a Newcastle guide, we sat around the virtual roundtable to discuss some of our favorite spots from our time up on the North Coast. The focus is kept primarily on the towns and places we visited outside of the world-class golf courses. 

There are and will be plenty of places to find our thoughts on the golf courses. For Royal Portrush, you can start with this Eggspolorations podcast and newsletter segment.

For Portstewart and some of the fascinating backstory behind its wild front nine, you can listen to this Eggsplorations podcast. For Castlerock, listen to this episode, check out this dispatch from Andy, and peep this fun reel that Cameron created. All our social media accounts and this Eggsplorations page continue to cover the golf courses. We’ll do that a little bit here, but also talk more about one of the great enclaves in the world.

Non-golfing time you enjoyed while we were in the Causeway Coast area?

Cameron Hurdus: We spent three consecutive nights hanging out at the renowned Harbour Bar in Portrush. This is not a hidden gem by any means – it was recommended by basically everyone. But meeting and chatting with locals during the offseason was absolutely a highlight for me. I’ll be the first to admit that I’m not a particularly social person but it was almost impossible not to start a conversation in this small pub. Everyone from recently graduated students to retirees to you name it was hanging out watching Champions League and drinking Guiness. 

Andy Johnson: These trips are exhausting due to the early morning shoots and the late nights at places like the Harbour Bar. I often find myself with scant moments to eat, most of the time consuming a protein bar or, in this trip’s case, copious amounts of beef jerky. But the morning we played Portstewart we were able to move our tee time back and go to Lost + Found Coffee Shop. The setting, the food, the drinks, and the people all provided a much-needed boost for the day. I would love to spend a full morning at that coffee shop looking out over the beaches and ocean.

Matt Rouches: On the second to last day of the trip I came down with an illness that left me bedridden until 3pm. When I was finally upright I realized I needed some fresh air in my lungs, so I took a walk down the beach and up the massive dune ridge that borders Royal Portrush Golf Club. I was among plenty of locals walking their dogs and enjoying the Northern Irish coast despite the cold and dreary weather. It was a moment of solitude that allowed me to sit back and be grateful for where I was and what I was doing. It was amazing to see so many people enjoying their natural landscape to the fullest, even in winter. 

Brendan Porath: We went to Giant’s Causeway at dusk on a spooky, gray day, and it was pretty cool. There was a cosmopolitan crowd hiking around to see that natural wonder. But a bit more understated for me was simply meandering around the beach in Portstewart adjacent to Harry’s Shack, a fish joint the locals recommended. There were regulars walking dogs, some others cold plunging, and many walking up and down the strand. It’s not overly crowded, at least while we were there, and one of those beaches with a lot of room and finely packed sand on which to roam.


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What was a favorite golf-related moment or memory you will keep? It could be a hole or a shot or finish that had you in awe or just feeling a little grateful about being there. 

Brendan: It will be hard to ever forget your first visit down to the 5th green at Royal Portrush. For comedy’s sake, I will also cherish my calamitous tee shot at the 16th at Portrush. Golf in the Portstewart Dunes on that front nine is also pretty spiritual. Hard to whittle it down! I am bad at this!

It's easy to see how this green made an impression on Brendan (Photo: Fried Egg Golf)

Cameron: There was a story Andy brought up on one of the podcasts but it was just one of those joyous links moments that can only make you laugh. After playing the first five holes at Castlerock either straight downwind or with a helping breeze at the very least, we turned to play into a hard left-to-right hurting wind on No. 6. I actually hit a solid drive but it didn’t matter; neither myself, Andy, nor Brendan were able to clear the small burn five yards short of the green, all of us from inside of 120 yards. Not only were we not able to clear it, it turned out that none of us even made it to the water. 

The deceptively benign No. 6 at Castlerock (Photo: Fried Egg Golf)

Matt: The back nine on the Dunluce Links at Royal Portrush was a particularly memorable few hours. Playing stunning hole after stunning hole and realizing what kind of world class golf I was walking over was extremely enjoyable. It was clear to me at that moment that this is one of the greatest golf courses in the world, and I was just delighted to be there among the dunes. A similar feeling was present on the majestic front nine at Portstewart-Strand. Despite feeling unwell physically, the towering dunes and brief moments of sun shining through the clouds made for a special walk and invigorating feeling.

A taste of the tasty back nine at Royal Portrush (Photo: Fried Egg Golf)

Andy: While working (flying the drone) as the other three people on this roundtable were playing, I hurried to catch up on the fifth at Portstewart. I was walking down the hill towards the fairway and saw the group and the two massive dunes that front the green, and I just was in awe of where we were and what we were getting to do. Portstewart is not the best golf course you will play. But it might be one of the most memorable thanks to that setting and those massive dunes.

Lunar dunescape, No. 5, Portstewart (Photo: Fried Egg Golf)

One recommendation – place, person, thing – you would say could not be missed?

Brendan: I am a simple man at this point in my life. I like the places and activities that make me feel most present in that moment and place. The Harbour Bar accomplished that. There was nothing but the conversation and Guinness in front of me. It’s probably a bit of a tourist spot, but not because it’s made great efforts to become one. And it’s not some charmless chain. On this trip, it was a classic must-see spot, but also one that provided a few moments of stress-free clarity, wherein work and the next task or plan were set aside in favor of present company and place.

Cameron: I would say make absolutely sure you get to Castlerock and then, once there, make absolutely sure you play the Bann course. Pack plenty of golf balls. 

Andy: It’s something that we missed because of the renovation of the front nine, but after walking around the back nine I wouldn’t miss the Valley Course at Royal Portrush. I just hope the new front nine being done by Martin Ebert fits the character of the fascinating green sites and subtle features of the back nine on the Valley Course.

Matt: Ironically, I’d say make sure to appreciate everything off the course. Ireland is a wonderful place full of the most delightful humans you’ll meet. There is so much natural beauty within the landscape and places you go. Be sure to make time to visit the beaches and dunes, hike the Mourne mountains, interact with the store owners and locals, and immerse yourself in Irish culture. That’s how to make the most out of your trip to Ireland. Many of my fondest memories from the trip were outside the gates of the golf clubs.

If you couldn't tell by how often it's come up in this journal and others: visit The Harbour Bar (Photo: Fried Egg Golf)

What do you most regret not getting to do or see while we’re up in the Causeway Coast area?

Cameron: Bushmills. I would not consider myself a whiskey snob but I do enjoy the stuff. The landscape isn’t dotted with distilleries the way Scotland is, which is actually kind of nice – fewer options can be a relief sometimes. Plus, everything I’d heard was that Bushmills is absolutely worth the time, so I’m pretty bummed we couldn’t make it happen. First-world problems! 

Andy: I would have really liked to play a couple of the small courses like Ballyreagh and Portstewart’s Old Course. But what I really wanted to see, and I think it was closed during our time on the Causeway Coast, was the Carrick-a-Rede Rope Bridge.  It’s a rope bridge that was built in 1755 and is still operational today. I am not sure if I would have walked across the bridge, but I would have at least liked to see it. 

Matt: I would have loved to spend more time exploring Belfast. We were on a run-and-gun schedule moving from place to place with little spare time. Seeing some of the popular spots and big-city attractions would have been a nice addition to all of these smaller towns. 

Brendan: I mean, I wish we had another week or two up there. Playing golf in Dublin before our flight out, a few people highly recommended going out and about in Derry-Londonderry, saying it’s an awesome place to experience. I would not say the Dubliners we talked to were quick to praise various places as fun or “hot spots” up north, either, so I assumed it was a genuine, hard-won recommendation. We were only 20 or 30 minutes from there and I wish we’d gone over for a half-day and night.

This whole North Coast causeway area is one of those places in the world where it feels like you want to stop your car every 500 yards or so to look around and take it in, whether that’s a golf course, some coastal cliff landscape, or a main street in one of the towns. I wish I’d immersed myself a bit more in Portstewart the town, where the club pro quipped on our first morning that there are more coffee shops than houses. I also wish we’d had time to play more of the lesser-known short golf courses you pass by, especially the few set on top of cliffs next to the sea, like Ballyreagh or the Old Course at Portstewart. They looked like a great way to burn a couple hours playing some alt-golf in one of the most beautiful places in the world.

Portrush from the air, as if you needed more incentive to daydream about Irish travel (Photo: Fried Egg Golf)

Golf Played and Recommended 

Royal Portrush – Dunluce Links 



Castlerock – Bann short course

Golf Not-Played But Wished We’d Seen if Time Permitted

Royal Portrush – Valley Course, closed for some significant front nine renovations by Martin Ebert (note Andy’s comment above)

Ballyreagh – A par-3 course on top of these seaside cliffs between Portrush and Portstewart.

Portstewart Old/Town Course – Also seaside and on a cliff setting, this looked fairly empty when we drove past multiple times but we were intrigued by the holes we saw and wanted to spin around it for a couple hours we sadly did not have. It’s a sub-5000 yard course, and looked like it would make for a great complement to a larger round, or a great option for a day you don’t want to be too golf-heavy.

Bushfoot – A fun course attached to the Bushmills distillery that was oft-recommended. 

Food and Drink Spots Visited

Lost & Found – A fabulous coffee shop in Portstewart that we visited three times in two days. The food menu is one of those where it’s hard to choose what to order and you could eat off it all day, not just breakfast. The entire area is brimming with coffee shops, many of which came recommended in advance of our visit. This is the one we landed on based on a coffee shop owner’s recommendation in Newcastle. 

Harbour Bar – Not much more needs to be said here. A must-visit even if it’s just for one beer.

Harbour Bar Bistro – We ate dinner here and it was pretty good. Scene was lively and crowded, and the bar both before and after sitting down to eat adds to the choice. 

Urban – We had a nice dinner here in Portrush one night after being run ragged all day. A strong menu with options. Highly recommended. 

Harry’s Shack – A fish place that is right on the beach in Portstewart, just down the hill from the golf club. Locals who have lived there forever also recommended it, so it is not just a tourist trap. You park on the sand for a quality lunch or dinner.

Kiwi’s Brew Bar – We landed here after a long day playing in some miserable weather at RCD and then driving up to the coast. It was perfect. A pretty basic menu Americans might love, with pizza and sandwiches that met our approval. Great music and room to stretch out and watch golf (or anything else) on TV.

The Rock – Coffee, sausage rolls, and breakfast made by a charming woman behind the counter in this part-cafe, part-crafts shop adjacent to the train station in Castlerock. It was a good option before golf across the street.

This piece is part of the Eggsplorations: Northern Ireland series, sponsored by Tourism Ireland. Check out the whole season’s worth of written, audio, and visual content in our Eggsplorations hub and if you take the trip based on our recs, have an amazing time.