Portstewart Golf Club was founded way back in 1894, but the origins of golf being played here date back even further to 1889. The Strand course is a bit of a hybrid, a mix of the old and the new. Major development took place in the late 1980s when the layout was updated and seven new holes were constructed in the virgin sand dune range called “Thistly Hollow”. The new Strand course, designed by Des Giffin, opened for play in 1992.
And what an exhilarating golf course this is, set amidst imposing, gigantic sand dunes with panoramic views across the Atlantic mouth of Lough Foyle to the Inishowen peninsula beyond.
The Strand is an incredibly challenging and thoroughly enjoyable golf course, with one of the best opening nine holes in golf.The 1st hole is an absolute stunner, one of golf’s most intimidating, a downhill 425-yard par four. There is a plethora of great holes here at Portstewart Golf Club; especially memorable are two of the new par threes, the 3rd and the 6th. The 3rd is a challenging single shotter, measuring 207 yards, whilst the 6th, measuring a mere 140 yards with a plateau green, is also a tough cookie and will stay in the mind for a long time.
James W Finegan on the course: “How good is the Strand course at Portstewart? For my money, just one rung below County Down and Portrush and under no circumstances to be missed.” From Where Golf is Great – the finest courses of Scotland and Ireland. One of the best and most comprehensive golf course books we’ve ever read.
Credit must go to the designer because the new holes blend seamlessly with the old holes. Sometimes, when new land is taken in, there is a punctuation between the old and the new. Not so at the Strand.
A golfing trip to Northern Ireland would not be complete without a round on the Strand course. The members here are very warm and welcoming and if you add this course to a round at both Royal Portrush and Royal County Down, you will have played three of the world’s finest links courses.
If the above course review article is not accurate, let us know by
Average Reviewers Score:
The first 9 holes in Portstewart have nothing to envy to other famous courses such as Royal County Down and Royal Portrush. Among these giant dunes the sense of isolation I experienced was unparalleled except perhaps in Enniscrone. Any of these holes is fantastic and original, but can stand the 2nd, a photogenic par 4 carved into a giant dune, the par-5 4th, the 5th, a par 4 really complicated, or the 6th, a superb par 3. Pity the back nine not follow the same trend, because, otherwise, Portstewart could match its neighbors above mentioned.
The Strand first nine are some of the nicest holes I have been lucky to play in my whole life and my luck was such I could play them twice! I was on a business trip with 24 Argentine golfers which started on a Sunday, but as I arrived Friday the chance to play The Strand course on Saturday was big and I went. But it was one of those very rainy days and after 9 holes my Irish partners decided to quit, while if needed to continue this Argentinean Boy Scout was ready!! But as I was going to play it on Monday, I just went to the bar for a hot soup and a burger …
I came back on Monday when the parking was in a sort of revolution as they were filming “Game of Thrones” on the nearby beach. It was full of trucks and the crew was all around the place. Now the day was sunny and breezy, a perfect day to play. We have to start at the Club House, which is modern but elevated above all the place and gives you a full sight of almost all the place and the beach. People in the Club were very warm and the caddies for the group were all members of the Club. They do it for fun and really enjoy sharing the knowledge of the course with visitors.
The front 9 are the nicest piece of land we had in the entire trip, going around inmense dunes with views of the beach, Ocean and in some point on a clear day you can see Ballyliffin on the other side of the Bay. Although the course is playable, any big mistake will be big numbers, no chance of getting safe after a bad shot. Hole #1 is a downhill dog leg to the right par 4 where finding fairway is 90% of the job done. Then #2 from an elevated tee downhill and then and upright second shot and #3 is a long and tough par 3. Holes #4 and #5 are great, tough and nice, before arriving to extremely nice and short par 3 6th where a miss will be a disaster, it is hard to get back to this elevated green. Then reachable par 5 7th gives you a nice birdie chance but do not miss the second shot on any side, although from the right there is some kind of recovery. Then 8th and 9th are two great 4s, where placing the tee shot is the real clue to have a birdie chance.
After a nice beer at the Half Way House, get ready for some different holes, more links style with less level changes and parallel to the River. Par 5 14th is a great one, before the last three 4s finishing where score is not easy. It is a good test, a fun place and a very nice setting, I have to say that it is not at the level of Royal County Down and Royal Portrush but it is a must, you have to come and enjoy it. It hosted The Amateur in 2014 and the R&A will not make the event on a bad course! A big star to Club Authorities, I was treated as a Member both days and everyone there makes you feel at Home. If you are off to Northern Ireland, do not forget to play here.
I played Portstewart last week. Course is a good test. Greens were lovely. Some of the holes were a bit strange, but over all an enjoyable day. I would reccommend coming and playing Portstewart if in the area, as you will no doubt have a good day, but be warned - it can be wet in November, so maybe better to wait until summer.
After we arrived in Portrush to play the links on the coast of Northern Ireland, Portstewart was the course that all the locals raved about. After playing Castlerock, both courses at Royal Portrush our group ventured to the town of Portstewart to tackle the Strand course and we were not disappointed in any way, shape, or form. This course is a tremendous test of golf. The front nine plays through an awesome set of dunes. The setting is magnificent, but the holes are truly excellent strategic tests in their own right. Our groups thought that the uphill 461 yard 5th was probably the most difficult hole we played on our trip to the Dublin area and Northern Ireland. We had started on the blue tees, and were asked to move up to the whites on #8, and in truth it was a merciful move for our group of 4 low single digit handicap golfers. This is one tough course! The back nine is not as scenic or exciting as the front, but is still an excellent test of classic links golf. The last three par 4's are all excellent holes and our group finished tired, beaten but enthralled by this excellent course. I would compare this course favorably with the excellent links at Hillside, in Southport, perhaps giving the edge to Portstewart. Great, great course. Richard Smith, Knoxville, Tennessee
We too played this course after Portrush and Castlerock. We expected little, and were therefore amazed by this wonderful golf course. Our caddie, Will, was a treat and led us around this wonderful track. The first nine are amongst the best in the world. The second nine allows you some breathing space and some birdie opportunities. The Par 3's were excellent. Fantastic clubhouse with great views. Take your camera along for wonderful photo shots. Go play this course, you won't regret it.Ebrahim Vahed, South Africa
My playing partner had given this course a big build up having previously played it. He said that the front nine is as good a nine holes of links golf as you can get and I can't say he was wrong, if the back nine was the same it would be a world beater. The view standing on the first tee was stunning with the beach to the right and the dunes out in front of you and I couldn't wait to get started. It's not a long course and probably feels a bit shorter because most of the tee shots are from the top of dunes driving down to the fairways. The greens were quick and true even in March, they must be lightening in the summer. As always in Ireland you are made to feel welcome by everyone you encounter. This course is an absolute must play for anyone who loves links golf.
This course is a real treat to play. It’s a struggle to find anything negative about this course as the condition of the course when I played in glorious sunshine in March was fantastic. The front nine is feast for the eyes with the 1st and 2nd holes setting an incredibly high benchmark with perhaps just the 3rd hole being a bit too ‘in your face’ for my taste. It’s been commented before that the back nine struggles to compete with glorious front but it’s no ugly sister and although not as visually stunning is still real links golf and a great test. The Clubhouse is one of the best I’ve seen and the lunches are excellent as is the welcome you get from all the staff. Situated around an hours drive from Belfast Int Airport, this course should be included on any itinerary of the area.
I loved my cold blustery showering day in late June at Portstewart! It is wonderful course with a stunning front nine. It is very playable for mid-handicappers. On most holes, you have a shot - not necessarily the one you would like. Unlike Co Down which is all punishment (even on the sunny day I plated it), this course is a great walk enhanced. I shall return!
Played The Strand course on a trip of the Northern Irish Links. We were so suprised with how low this course is ranked. It really is amazing! Such huge towering dunes. The first nine truly is fantastic, but we never felt let down by the back nine at all! The welcome there was second to none. If you are visiting nearby Portrush, DO NOT, miss this course. It is so much fun to play. Joey
This was the first course we played on our trip through Northern and Northwest Ireland. The first two holes at Portstewart are as memorable as any two holes your likely to play in your lifetime. A 417yd. downhill dogleg right to start with. a long hole but if your in the fairway with your tee shot then the hole is very manageable. Next is a a 360yd par four that plays well downhill and has four story high dunes along the fairway that give you a secluded feel about the hole. You second shot is uphill to a green that you want to make sure you reach. And so goes hole after hole on the front nine. Mountainous dunes and heaving fairways don't let up. No. 8 is a blind tee shot that only leaves you high rough and three stones(red, white and blue) as an aiming point. Once in the fairway (hopefully) you see that it doglegs left with a gulf between you and a raised green. I thought this hole was the best on the course. The back nine although played away from the dunes is not a respite with the same rolling fairways to contend with. The par fives on the course are not long but the par fours are, sometimes only 20 or 30 yds. difference in length between the two. the course is fair, well cared for, the fairways firm and brown the greens slippery fast and the staff is as friendly as any I've ever been to.
I played this quality links course last week in typical Northern Irish February weather - cold, wet and windy. A winter green fee of £40 was good value, when you compare it to the £95 summer fee. On a Friday, we had the course to our selves, something to do with the weather me thinks! This course should really be ranked along side the more revered Royal Portrush - I suppose Royal status and a much longer and richer history counts for a lot in course rankings. The front nine, as with previous reviews gets the plaudits and rightly so. There is a definite feel of a course like Enniscrone - heading out into the massive dunes on a thin spit of land surrounded by water, flanked by holes on the flatter landward side. The first is a cracking opener with an inviting downhill drive looking towards the giant dunes and the strand to the right. At the 2nd you could be at Carne and further out on the outward nine you feel you could be at Royal County Down, with all the whin bushes or Lahinch on the 8th, a favourite hole of mine. The inward nine skirts around the dunes and therefore is a little more exposed and less dramatic, but is still links golf of the highest order, having really enjoyed 10,11 & 14. The closing 3 holes occupy the open land in front of the fantastic new club house and whilst not being as visually stunning as what has gone before, are still good solid links holes, nonetheless. The greens, although a little brown in colour, ran very true and would I’m sure, be devilishly quick in summer. The general condition of the course was first class with tees, paths, fairways and bunkers expertly kept, although a slight quibble would be a lack of hole information on the set of tees we were playing from. The course proved fair and very playable, even in very the testing conditions, wayward shots, off the tee especially, were found, admittedly with plenty of awkward stances and lies. Overall, a great example of Irish links golf which MUST be played if you’re on a trip of N.Ireland. Definitely put this course in your bracket with RCD, Portrush and Castlerock.
No doubt, the outward nine holes are first rate. Those pyramidal dunes remind me of Carne. But the back nine peter out. What’s more, Portstewart has the slowest-playing membership in the British Isles. We played in the first tee time after the last of their Saturday four-balls, and it took five+ hours to get around—in the dark. If private clubs want visitors to subsidize their cheap memberships, they should at least let us finish our 100-quid rounds during daylight.
I agree entirely with the above review. The front 9 are some of the best golf holes I have ever played and the first tee is stunning. I share your frustration about slow play though. We played as a four ball, and were held up all the way round. We came in after 16 which had taken 4 hours 45 minutes. Absolutely shocking. Difficult to know whether this was attirbutable to members or visitors, but it seems as though when busy they have a significant problem.
We arrived on a sunny day with no wind at all and were immediately, very impressed by the view from the first tee, over looking the dunes and the Atlantic. There was no doubt that the constructions of the first nine holes are fantastic and much has been said already about the feeling you get amongst the dunes. However, some of the back nine are fairly ordinary.
Also on this visit we were disappointed to find the first nine holes were top dressed with seeding down. When we complained to the manager/secretary he was shocked and indignant that anyone should dare to complain – his stock answer was “Ah, but did your ball run straight and true”, It seemed to me that there was some recovery plan taking place on the greens – unusual to come across top dressing and seeding in late July!
They have spent 3.5 million on the new club house and it looks very grand.
Exceptional in every way. A little chaotic with new clubhouse being implemented but a fine day of golf on a very clever design. Front nine is try eye candy and as fun as you can get playing between and over dunes that rival RCD and Portrush. Second nine is more exposed to wind and IMO more difficult. Perhaps not as memorable but also of high quality. Great staff as well. Dave McGill Ohio
It is a fine course with breathtaking views and better scenery than Castlerock or Portrush. It is short of the best due to poor qulaity greens which are differently paced over front and back nines, bumpy and inconsistent in grass texture. The bunkers were poorly re-designed in 2006 and cause too much penalty for any golfer having shallow sand and incorrectly filled grading so that balls stick near the face and sides. The worst holes are 16 (which is the weekest green and no features at all) and 17 which is a total idiocy with a ludicrously unfair plateau approach taking even good shots well off line. If it were shortened by 50 yards and the green at 16 re-designed the 18 are the best links anywhere. Just to finish off: Bunkers are not protected by collars of first cut and far too difficult to make them fair, and there are too few to give features and definition especially on the outer nine. This is such a pity as the new clubhouse will be splendid after completion in 2009. Come on Portstewart you could be the best in Ireland and the best links anywhere if you put your mind to it! D Paulus (South Africa)
It seems that the course beat you up for you to post such a comment as that. Portstewart is an outstanding Links golf course make no mistake
03 April 2009
I would have to agree with Robert. Portstewart are only guilty of continual improvement both on and off the course!
23 March 2010
To D Paulus, Not sure what courses you have played in Ireland, but to suggest that the Portstewart 18 could be the equal of RCD, European, Waterville, Portrush, Ballybunion, Carne is foolish. It is very similar to Enniscrone - magnificent holes in the dunes, with a good group on the flats.
Played as part of a NI golf tour and I was blown away. As everyone says the front 9 is stunning, but the back nine is very good too. I almost felt privileged to be able to play the Strand course for £35 as a member of another of the North West Links Association courses. The previous reviewers have ably summed up the best holes so I don’t need to repeat but I personally can’t imagine a links lover being disappointed with Portstewart, which I rated slightly better than the Dunluce. Is there anywhere that can offer 4 courses within such close proximity better than those on the North Antrim coast – Dunluce, Valley, Castlerock and Portstewart?
Must have the best opening hole in golf on this course, a dogleg right with an elevated tee shot down to a fairway in mountainous dunes, with a medium iron to an enclosed green. the two nines were very different, hugh dunes on the front nine, relatively flat on the back nine - the front nine is quite hard walking if you are suffering from the previous nights hospitality! a new clubhouse is to be built shortly whilst the present one still operates - this should give even better views of the 1st hole and the Atlantic to the right. A good course, one I would rank marginally behind its near neighbour Castlerock.
Played Thurs 26th October. Fantastic front 9 holes without doubt the most dramatic 9 holes of golf ive played to date. Super condition for time of year, great greens and tees that look like they've never been played off. Why cannot the course be re-routed so that the present back 9 is played first, if this was the case most people would leave the course with the feeling that they've played the best course ever.!! Pro was really friendly and the clubhouse food was superb, altogether a must do golfing experience. Far better than Portrush and should be ranked above it for sure.
Can't re-route the course when the 10th is "in the country" a long walk from clubhouse.
One of the best first 7 holes you will find anywhere. The back 9 is not as impressive but very good anyway. Liked it better than Portrush. A great challenge. What a pity their clubhouse is not to the level of the course. 2nd minus would be that it is almost impossible to book a round by email as they never reply which is quite annoying if you don’t live in the UK….
Fantastic – the only word to describe the front nine on the Strand course at Portstewart. If you think of playing here as a mere limber up before a round at nearby Royal Portrush then think again – you will find this place is no golfing pushover. Another reviewer of this course speaks about the new holes on the front nine being for ‘dune junkies’. I could not agree more – what a buzz you get from the opening drive on the first until you reach the wee halfway house at the turn. You are on a high and needing the relief of a more sedate back nine to come back down to earth again – not that the back nine holes are bland in any shape or form; they are just more sedate in comparison to what has gone before. A power of work had just been done over the winter of 2005/6 when I played, with many bunkers relined and pathways resurfaced by the look of things. Another reviewer speaks of the clubhouse being smokey and uncomfortable – that is no longer the case as there is now a non smoking policy in the dining room and members bar. Mentioning the bar, what an elevated view of the coastline from there with the waves crashing onto the shore below. This is very special terrain with linksland to die for (if only they had gone even further into the dunes when the course was reconstructed in the 1980’s…) Portstewart has a very members club feel to the place and I, as a visitor was made very welcome throughout the clubhouse. Playing a top course is not about teeing it up and keeping the blinkers on for 18 holes – a large part of the enjoyment is about the feel of the place and the views afforded of the surrounding land. Portstewart scores heavily in that category and it goes straight into my top 10 played. It is well worthy of its inclusion in the elite list of ten links courses promoted by the North & West Coast Links of Ireland. Jim McCann
Played this course in sept 2005 and like other people really enjoyed it. Thought the first was a great hole and one to get your adrenalin flowing. I think this is better than the first at Castleock which I rate very much. This is definately another course to play along with Portrush, Ballyliffin and Caslerock if you can. Whilst i thought the front nine was very good - i was not in total awe of it. The course was a bit scruffy in places but i'm sure this was unusual for this time of year. I liked the isolation of it all and would recommend it to everyone. It's a pity the clubhouse didn't live up the the courses's high standards. Very smokey and not very comfortable which is a shame when all you want to do is sit back and relive those last few hours.
I’m sure that the Top 100 connoisseurs out there already realise that there’s some good golf to be had on the north Antrim coast, but I bet few people realise how good it really is. I have recently come back from playing some of the finest courses in the British Isles- Ballyliffin, Portrush, Castlerock (that Bann course is awesome) – but for me, the highlight of the trip was Portstewart. The Strand is a course for the dune junkies, the dunes are simply gigantic and the front nine is routed directly through them. The scene is set from the off, the 1st has to be one of the best opening holes in all Ireland and things just get better and better. The only anti-climax is the back nine, which in my view is let down particularly by the last three holes. But and it’s a big BUT, the Strand’s front nine is worthy of the trip on it’s own. I’d rather play the Strand front nine once than the whole of Royal Portrush twice. Simply stunning…Des Giffin thank you.
A very strong statement ….”This is the finest front 9 I have ever played bar none”. The variety of holes, the setting, the degree of difficulty and the real quality is as good as it gets - a brilliant job in the way these holes have been cut through the dunes. The back nine is good also, the winding in and out of the dunes are left for the front nine – so not so stunning in terms of the visual effect but the Strand course must not be missed.
First off, we arrived early on a sunny and breezy morning. We had phoned ahead the day before and the club had kindly agreed to bring staff in early to produce breakfast – a very daunting Ulster version of the “Irish fry”, which ensured that no-one was hungry during the round!
The view from the first elevated tee is breathtaking, looking down the fairway which dog legs right around some dense looking bushes, set against a backcloth of some imposing sandhills. 45° to your right, you look straight down The Strand beach and the Inishowen peninsula of Donegal in the distance. An inspiring start to the round. From the back of the first green there is a sharp climb to the second tee called Devil’s Hill, a mere 366 yard par 4, but you have to thread your tee shot between two more imposing looking sandhills on either side. If you manage to get your tee shot into play you are left with a short iron up to a three tier green which slopes steeply from back to front – you don’t want to be long if the pin is at the front! The 3rd is the first par 3, a 218 yard downhiller off the back tees – (the course measures 6,895 or 6,571 off the front tees) and this green is protected by some shaved banking which will collect your ball if you are slightly off line and leave you a tricky chip, pitch or putt back on to the green. The 4th, known as “Thistly Hollow” is an intimidating par 5, to quote the course planner “only one way to play this hole, drive up the middle – 2nd up the middle – 3rd don’t be short!” – sound advice. Standing on the raised tee at the 5th, the stroke index 1, 461 yd par 4, it’s not immediately obvious what line to take, as the tee boxes are offset from the line of the fairway, which seems quite narrow (it is called the “Rifle Range”). A good drive is still going to leave you with a good whack uphill, through a gap protected on either side by a couple of sandhills to a three tier green which slopes from back to front and left to right – my par here was the highlight of my week. And so the front nine continues to wind its way through the sandhills offering a combination of striking landscape and big threat to off line golf shots, but a pleasure to play nonetheless. These nine holes were only added to the course in 1992, but you would never guess that they hadn’t been in play as long as the rest of the course.
The back nine by comparison is almost bland but that is more to do with the magnificence of the front nine. The challenges on the back nine are more subtle with every hole offering something to make you think about what you are doing. The view from the 10th tee allows you to see most of the rest of the course dropping down towards the River Bann, although the tee shot itself is blind, over sandhills and gorse. The 11th features a deep swale before the green, foreshortening the distance and collecting many an underhit second shot, leaving a tricky pitch up to the green a good seventy feet above you. The 13th and 14th are both par 5s leading you uphill back towards the clubhouse. The 17th is the highlight of the home stretch, although it takes you away from the clubhouse back towards the river. It’s a 436 yd par 4 and is the stroke index 2 hole featuring another deep hollow in front of the green, which is on a small plateau – the ever helpful course planner advises “ don’t miss this green to the left (or to the right!)” and I would add that you cant be short (the hollow) and you don’t want to be long either (bushes)! Other than that it’s a pretty straightforward hole! And just so you don’t feel too comfortable, there’s a 464 yd par 4 to take you home, into the sea breeze, with 11 strategically placed bunkers waiting to collect anything off line.
The stairs up to bar remind you that you’ve just had a hard round but to sit with your drink and look back out over the course leaves the pleasant glow of another day’s great golfing experience.