Royal Portrush (Valley) Clandeboye (Dufferin) Thirteen miles east of Belfast, on the outskirts of Newtownards, lies one of Northern Ireland’s top golf clubs. There are two very different courses here and the Dufferin is the main event. It is a quality course routed over heathland-like bumpy terrain at the top before slipping down into more classic parkland mode. This is where the big trees dominate and holes curve graciously between them. Fairways are often generous but the trees need to be avoided constantly. It is not long so be straight. The par four 4th is Dufferin’s best and hardest hole, curling left, tightly through the trees. The green is completely surrounded by trees and gorse, so a precise approach is required. The second course, the Ava, is short, quirky and has lots of spirit. Narin & Portnoo Stand on the 9th tee and prepare to experience the beauty of Narin & Portnoo… Ireland’s splendour… and the Atlantic Ocean. No other tee box in Ireland comes this close to the sea. It is inches away and when you play the enchanting, short and downhill par four 8th you get to see it all. The 10th promises something similar. Fresh and inspiring, raw and beautiful, this is the essence of Irish links golf. The entire stretch of holes at the farthest end of the course, from the 6th to the 11th, is astounding, with fairway shapes and thrills so natural, so unbelievable that it qualifies as the best stretch of holes in Ireland. And there’s some fierce competition for that title. This remote outpost of links brilliance ripples with life and intrigue and is now undergoing a major revamp by Gil Hanse. 134 Portsalon Portsalon still embraces the mantle of hidden gem. Perhaps that is a result of its north Donegal location but, for those prepared to make the journey, they will discover a natural links of beauty and quality, rippling through a captivating setting of mountains, beach and sea. Not only does the acclaimed Ballymastocker Strand press right up to the dunes through which Portsalon rumbles, but it comes in to play on the 2nd hole. You’ll also have to cross a river… twice. There are many more classic links holes here, streaking alongside the beach and over strong, swinging dunes. The back nine may slip inland but, if anything, fairways and holes become more shapely and show off more of the views. There is one final special flourish to note… the superb and natural greens, two of which are doubles. Royal Portrush (Valley) The Valley has always played second fiddle to its Dunluce Championship sibling, but this is a par 70 course designed by Harry Colt, and recently upgraded by Mackenzie & Ebert. Routed over the lower land between the gargantuan dune that defends it from the sea and the Dunluce that rises above it on the other border, this is a terrific, tumbling links. The fairways are beautifully unpredictable, the greens sit over humps and hollows and you’ll be tested all day long. It may start out looking straightforward but it only takes a few holes for you to appreciate the shapes of the land (especially the end of both nines) and the challenges of the greens. A new finishing stretch has packed quite the extra punch, bringing the biggest dunes into play.