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Sun shining on challenging Royal Belfast Golf Club

By John Mulgrew

As the sun rose higher in the sky, along with the mercury, an early tee time at one of Ireland's oldest golf clubs proved to be as challenging as it was rewarding.

Royal Belfast, located outside Holywood, is a palatial 18-hole parkland course — half of which is nestled on the banks of Belfast Lough.

As a 20-something handicapper, alongside a more proficient and consistent partner, playing off 18, Royal Belfast offers visitors a mixture of vivid green fairways and sandy white bunkers.

It's a tough, and a frequently steep-inclined terrain. And as Northern Ireland basked in temperatures in the high 20s, we took to the sun-drenched course.

Royal Belfast, which dates back to 1881, starts off with a picturesque par 4 first hole, measuring just over 400 yards from most tees.

A wayward drive to the left wasn't how I'd planned to start the round, but I'm blaming everything from a lack of warm up, to the baking sun, for putting me off.

The opening three par 4s are punctuated by a short par 3, followed by a long par 5, guarded by trees, which is cut in two by the road in.

On a day which would be considered almost too hot for golf, the par 4 eighth finally unveils the stunning vistas and expansive views of Belfast Lough.

The ninth follows the coast line to a green to right. I'll be honest. I took three tee shots here, fearing that a slightly wayward draw with the driver had left my Titleists swimming with the fishes.

But alas, the fairway and light rough to the left opens up a bit after around 150 yards, and both tee shots were sitting in reasonably good shape, considering.

The course is due to play host to the Belfast International Parkland Tournament 2017, which is running next month alongside, Tourism NI.

It's a three-day showcase, alongside Malone Golf Club, Shandon Park Golf Club, Belvoir Golf Club and Holywood Golf Club.

The competition will offer golfers the opportunity to play the parkland courses from July 3 to 5.

Prices start at £99 per person for the events.

As for our own back nine, the round was filled with a greater number of downs, than ups.

Wedges and lob shots were solid, driving, a bit messy, but second (and more often than not, third and fourth) shots from the fairway, or behind trees, proved less than satisfactory.

A cloud-free sky on one of the hottest days of the year, and as temperatures soared further still, a disastrous 12th was redeemed by a perfectly straight drive and chip just off the green, landing a par, on 13.

The last hole, heading back to the clubhouse, is a long and fairly wide par 5, and a challenging one if, like me, your drive veers to the left, among a collection of trees.

Meanwhile, speaking about the Belfast International Parkland Tournament, which is being held in the run-up to this year's Irish Open,  Eimear Callaghan, Tourism NI golf and sales marketing manager, said: “With the Dubai Duty Free Irish Open coming to Portstewart this year and The Open Championship to Royal Portrush in 2019, Northern Ireland is now a must see destination for golfers with world class courses.

“The Belfast International Parkland Tournament gives us the opportunity to promote the quality of our Parkland golf and indeed further enhance our reputation as a premier golf and tourism destination.”

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