Northern Ireland's Royal County Down has been considered the top golf course in the world. (Getty Images) Northern Ireland has one Open Championship host: Royal Portrush Golf Club's Dunluce Links.  (Getty Images) The first at Ardglass is one of Northern Ireland's finest golf holes. (Courtesy of Ardglass G.C.) No. 4 on the Strand Course at Portstewart: one of Ireland's finest par 5s. (David Cannon/Getty Images) Castlerock Golf Club is a solid links minutes from Portrush in County Antrim.  (Brandon Tucker/GolfAdvisor)

North Stars: Top 5 golf courses in Northern Ireland, according to Matt Ginella

Earlier, we shared Golf Channel travel expert Matt Ginella's top 5 courses in southwest Ireland, which is the most popular golf tour for Americans in Ireland.

But Northern Ireland has received huge buzz in recent years, largely because its homegrown stars, Rory McIlory, Graeme McDowell aand Darren Clarke, keep winning majors. The country also hosted a widely successful 2012 Irish Open at Royal Portrush, and the R&A announced earlier this year that the venue will host another Open Championship, likely in 2019.

Ginella discussed Northern Ireland with Kelly Tilghman on Golf Channel's Morning Drive.

Video: Ginella picks his top 5 golf courses in Northern Ireland

1. Royal County Down Golf Club

2. Royal Portrush Golf Club (Dunluce Course)

3. Ardglass Golf Club

4. Portstewart Golf Club (Strand Course)

5. Castlerock Golf Club

I can't argue much with this list, as these are the go-to five courses to play when visiting. In my opinion, Northern Ireland can go toe-to-toe with Ireland's popular southwest in terms of appeal for golf groups. Here are a few things the North can boast over the southwest:

• The best one-two punch in golf: Royal County Down and Royal Portrush.

• A great city to explore. Belfast is a great size for tourists and has all sorts of sites, from historic and uplifting to more graphic and hostile histories of The Troubles. It's a fascinating -- and now safe -- place to poke around.

• Southwest Ireland has the Ring of Kerry, but Northern Ireland's County Antrim has the remarkable Giant's Causeway, as well as Dunluce Castle ruins, Carrick-a-Rede rope bridge and more unique sights. And of course, whiskey at the Bushmills Distillery.

• The roads are superior to most of Ireland (especially northwest Ireland), should you plan on self-driving during your golf tour.

• Speaking of the northwest, it's a natural add-on for longer trips to include the Glashedy Links and Old Course at Ballyliffin, the Dunes Course at Enniscrone, the Sandy Hills Course and Old Tom Morris Course at Rosapenna and more.

The country also has more links golf coming, and not soon enough. Bushmills Dunes, located between Giant's Causeway and Royal Portrush, features a David McLay Kidd design currently under construction, as well as a fantastic, eco-friendly hotel. Sadly, Alistair Hanna, the founder of the project who spent 20 years working to get it built, passed away in July at the age of 69 after a four-year battle with cancer. But the project is in good hands with Mark Parsinen (who built Kingsbarns and Castle Stuart) and Mike Keiser, who is serving as an advisor.

Aug 14, 2014

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Brandon Tucker

Managing Editor

Brandon Tucker is the Managing Editor for Golf Advisor. To date, his golf travels have taken him to over two dozen countries and over 500 golf courses worldwide. While he's played some of the most prestigious courses in the world, Tucker's favorite way to play the game is on a great muni in under three hours. Follow Brandon on Twitter at @BrandonTucker and on Instagram at BrandonTuckerGC.