Ireland has become something of a pilgrimage for golfers, and the industry has boomed, thanks in large part to the #1 ranked golfer being a Northern Irelander.
So before we got too old and snarky to enjoy it, my dad and I decided to take a trip to the Emerald Isle for a little golf vacation.
Round 1, Wednesday, Holywood Golf Club
There is nothing quite like stepping off an airplane after a 15-hour travel day and playing a quick nine holes at the home course of Rory McIlroy.
Oddly enough, the Holywood Golf Club is fairly nondescript as far as Irish golf courses go. It feels like a run-of-the-mill golf course, although it is very neat to play the course that bred a major champion. There is also a humbleness about the place, and walking around, the thought that a major golf champion honed his skills on those same fairways is quite an experience.
The best part of the day was walking through the clubhouse and stumbling upon McIlroy’s 2011 US Open Trophy just sitting in the case next to the local club championship trophy. We actually walked right by it before stopping and doing a double take to make sure our tired eyes were not just playing tricks.
We unfortunately did not bump into his dad, who is allegedly known to haunt the clubhouse on a fairly regular basis.
Round 1a, Thursday, Portstewart Golf Club
Before I say anything about Irish golf, let me describe the environment, because it is unlikely that there is any place on earth quite like this.
It is damp.
Not wet, just damp. It is nothing like the humidity of Florida or the rain-drenched Washington and Oregon coastlines. The moisture of Northern Ireland has an altogether different feel.
In fact, I played the entire round in a sweater, while rain casually fell from the sky, and I was hardly wet at all. Even our hats stayed dry. But the whole place has an element of dampness that spawns the lush greenery that made Ireland famous.
Now for the golf, and boy does it ever start with a bang. Portstewart hosts an absolutely stunning and mind-numbingly difficult opening nine that winds its way through massive sand dunes right on the edge of the Atlantic Ocean.
The course is immaculate, with deep sod bunkers, which only my dad managed to find himself in, and gorse that was thick enough to swallow anything from golf balls to small children.
If you are unfamiliar with gorse, count yourself lucky. I would consider a shot into the middle of a lake more findable than anything hit into the mess that lines every fairway.
The back nine is a little bit more open, with the back and forth style popularized by links golf courses, and both #16 and #18 finish right against the clubhouse.
Portstewart has fallen back in terms of popularity a little bit thanks to Royal Portrush about 10 minutes down the road, but it was certainly no picnic.
Tomorrow's round will be at Royal Portrush, so check back for part two of the Northern Irish Chronicles.