I think almost every golf travel pundit would agree that Portstewart is the third best course in Northern Ireland, after the two heavyweights, Royal Portrush and Royal County Down. In golf terms, that’s sort of like being the third best looking gal at the Miss America contest.
A few years ago I would have made an argument for my favorite sleeper, Ardglass, but after a return visit last month I have to give Portstewart the edge. Before recent renovations, the course had a reputation as a one-hit wonder. The one-hit is still great, but I am very happy to say, so is the rest of the layout.
Just to clarify, the Portstewart Golf Club actually has three courses, the big show being thee Strand, which is what people men when they say “make sure you play Portstewart!” Like many British Isles links clubs, it has a second less distinguished, or “wee” course adjacent to the first, in this case the Town. The novelty is the third course, the Old, a short (par 64) quirky design right on the ocean, with incredible real estate, reminiscent of the third little known gem of par-3 course at San Francisco’s famed Olympic Club, with crazy good views of the Golden Gate Bridge.
But like I said, the Strand is the main event here, and has long hung its reputation on the very first tee shot. This dramatic opener plays into a deceptive ribbon of fairway between two imposingly high sand dunes, and many in the golf community believe it to be the finest opening shot in the game. The usual debate is between this and the first at Scotland’s Machrihanish, a very different hole over water which I have written about before. I personally give the edge to Machrihanish, but hey, being the second best opener in golf is like being the second best – well you know the rest.
After this dramatic start and several other strong holes, the rap on the course was that it lost its way on the parklandy back, but seven of the holes here are entirely new, and mostly set in real coastal dunes, and it is now a hell of a well balanced golf course.
That’s about all I have to say: if you go to Northern Ireland you would be a fool not to play Portstewart, which is as good or better than many of the most famous links courses in Scotland and Ireland. And of course, there is that first hole.
More to come on my recent Northern Ireland swing!
- Here’s a good overview of the type of first rate links golf you can expect at Portstewart.