“One of the things that separates this tournament from some of the others is that we come back to the same course every year, and that’s a very nice, familiar feeling,” defending champion Rory McIlroy told Travel + Leisure of the The Players Championship on the PGA Tour in Ponte Vedra Beach, Florida. The occasion was an Under the Lights Experience on the TPC Sawgrass iconic island green, a mere 137-yard shot, but the nemesis of many pros. The champion demonstrated how to hit the perfect shot as flood lights brightened the target on a chilly evening.
McIlroy was busy prepping for the tournament, set to take place March 10-15 at Sawgrass, but he had another familiar place and idyllic golf destination on his mind: his hometown of Holywood in Northern Ireland. Rich in popular tourist sites and historic venues, the area’s best attractions, according to McIlroy, are its friendly, welcoming people. The golf pro, an excellent example of Holywood’s genial citizens, recalled some of his favorite places, including the golf club where he got his start and opened an academy.
Holywood is set on Belfast Lough, a sea inlet on Northern Ireland’s east coast, just a few miles from Belfast. Parks, museums, shoreline views, and natural beauty are among reasons to visit. Below are a few suggestions for travelers to the Holywood and Belfast area, but be sure to make time to meet some of the friendly locals in a shop, pub, or beer garden.
Ulster Folk Museum
Set on 170 acres overlooking Belfast Lough in Holywood, the museum is the place to learn about how people lived and worked there in the past. Experience what life was like more than 100 years ago, with costumed guides, cottages, farm dwellings, schools, and shops.
Explore art, natural science, history, and technology in Belfast’s comprehensive museum. A section on “the Troubles,” the country’s violent political and civil conflicts of the 1970s, recalls the period through artefacts and art.
Holywood Priory Church
The site dates to the 7th century, with ruins of a 12th century abbey and church. Stroll among the gravestones and explore the remains of the buildings and tower.
This popular attraction takes you to the shipyard where it all began, with interactive galleries, special effects, rides, reconstructions, artefacts, and the SS Nomadic, Titanic’s original tender ship.
Holywood Golf Club
Set in the hills of County Down, this is the golf course where Rory McIlroy started playing the game. He recently opened a golf academy with state of the art equipment. Play the course or stop in to see replicas of McIlroy’s trophies and enjoy the restaurant “1904”.
This UNESCO World Heritage Site is a unique geological formation left by volcanic eruptions 60 million years ago. Hike or stroll among the 40,000 hexagonal basalt columns and learn about the legend of the mythical giant Finn McCool.
Castle Ward, Dark Hedges
Game of Thrones fans will recognize the 18th century Castle Ward mansion and estate overlooking Strangford Lough not far from Belfast as Season One’s Winterfell. Also visit the tunnel of twisted beech trees featured in Season Two as Kings Road. Additional Game of Thrones filming locations can be found throughout Northern Ireland.
Away from his hometown, a special place for McIlroy is the 800-year-old castle where he got married and returned for a vacation with his wife. In County Mayo in the Republic of Ireland, the castle is set on the shores of a large lake, with falconry, fly fishing, horseback riding, and golf.