The European Tour will feature 48 different golfing tournaments around the world during 2017 and from 6-9 July, the Dubai Duty Free Irish Open will be held on the stunning coastal Portstewart Golf Course, County Londonderry.
With Portstewart only an hour and 20 minutes away from Belfast, it’s likely that the city will be inundated with golfing fans from around the world this summer.
Currently the European Tour action is taking place in China, with the Shenzhen International being held at Genzon Golf Club, Shenzhen. The tournament was only established in 2015 and in its first two years was won by Kiradech Aphibarnrat from Thailand and Lee Soo-min from South Korea. English golfer Tommy Fleetwood is tipped as a favourite to win this year’s event.
— The European Tour (@EuropeanTour) April 21, 2017
The Irish Open is also in some ways a tournament in its infancy, as in its current form as the Dubai Duty Free Irish Open, the tournament was first played in 2015. The winner of the inaugural tournament was Soren Kjeldsen and the 2016 tournament was won by home-grown golfing legend Rory McIlroy.
The Irish Open has a considerably longer history, though, first being played in 1927 and then annually until 1950, with a postponement during the war years. Although an Irish Open tournament was played again in 1953, it was then not held again until 1975, since which it has been played annually. During the period 1963 -74, Caroll’s sponsored a tournament named Caroll’s International and when the Irish Open was revived again in 1975, it was known as the Carroll’s Irish Open. In 2014 and 2015, the Irish Open was a qualifying event for the Open Championship, with the three leading players who had not already qualified and finished in the top ten going through to the Open.
This year, the Dubai Duty Free Irish Open is part of the European Tour Rolex Series along with six other European Tour tournaments which all have a prize fund of $7 million. This makes it one of the European Tour’s most prestigious events, and this year it will be hosted by Rory McIlroy’s charitable trust, the Rory Foundation.
Of course, anyone who’s attending the Irish Open is likely to be interested in seeing some of Northern Ireland’s other great courses and there are plenty on hand within striking distance of Belfast.
See the home courses of Northern Ireland’s golfing greats
Rory McIlroy is the poster boy of Northern Irish golf and he started playing at the age of two. When he was nine, he achieved his first hole in one at Holywood Golf Club, a course he still very much considers as his home. At Holywood, there’s a special display area to celebrate Rory’s success with lots of memorabilia to inspect – including early photos of the golfing prodigy and replicas of his US Open and USPGA trophies.
Just 15 minutes along the coast from Portstewart is Royal Portrush, the club that Darren Clarke has played at since he was in his teens, to which he now lives nearby. It’s one of the most beautiful links courses in the world and allegedly also one of the toughest to play. Anyone playing a round there should be sure to break their focus from the game now and then to appreciate the panoramic views. While it may be Clarke’s home course nowadays, the 2016 Ryder Cup Captain first learned to play at Dungannon Golf Club, a parkland course only an hour away from Belfast. Both courses are easily accessible for visitors based in Belfast.
Away from the golf, what other attractions will be drawing visitors attention in and around Belfast this summer?
Walk the Giant’s Causeway
No trip to the Northern Irish coastline would be complete without visiting the UNESCO World Heritage Site of the Giant’s Causeway.
Best viewed from the hills above to begin with, visitors will be stunned by the geological phenomenon that is the Giant’s Causeway – 40 thousand basalt columns which date back over 60 million years. Once you’ve taken in the view from the top, there’s a 1km walk which takes visitors onto the causeway itself.
While it’s quite feasible to simply drive to the Giant’s causeway and visit independently, there are numerous different tours available too.
Learn About The Titanic
In the heart of Belfast’s Titanic Quarter, there’s Titanic Belfast, the world’s largest Titanic visitor experience. It’s located right next door to the Titanic Slipways, the Hamilton Graving Dock and the Harland and Wolff Drawing Offices where the ship was designed, built and subsequently launched. The exhibits tell the story of the Titanic and visitors can follow a self-guided tour through nine different interactive galleries. As well as bringing the sights and sounds of Titanic to life, there’s plenty of history on the city where the ship was built.
Only opened in 2012 in time for Titanic’s centenary, the museum is permanently busy so it’s worth booking online or planning a visit early or late in the day.
If that whets your appetite for more Titanic history, then take a boat tour with Derek Booker on the Joyce Too, a red and white 35-person boat, around the harbour. During the hour-long trip, Booker will tell you all about the Titanic and other tales from the shipyards. There’s a chance of spotting seals too in the summer.
Discover How Belfast’s Prisoners Lived and Died in Crumlin Road Gaol
A tour of a Victorian gaol is a great way to get a sense of the history in any city, and Crumlin Road Gaol is no exception. When it opened in 1845, it was considered to be one of the most advanced prisons and was originally designed to hold a maximum of 500 prisoners. However, during the Troubles and up until the time it closed in 1996, up to 900 prisoners were incarcerated there.
— Crumlin Road Gaol (@CrumlinRoadGaol) April 14, 2017
A tour takes you around the prison with plenty of anecdotes along the way as you pass through areas that include the execution cell and the Governor’s office, the flogging room and the tunnel that connects the jail to the courthouse where prisoners received their sentences. For adults only, the Paranormal Tour also includes some spine-tingling tales of various ghostly activity around the prison.
What visitors will pick to see in between time spent watching the golfing action at Portstewart this July will really depend on how much time they have and where their interests lie – aside from the golf, of course! But whether they’re in Belfast for a weekend or the week, there’s certainly plenty here to keep them entertained.