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Northern Ireland: A brilliant cocktail of golf, natural beauty and Game of Thrones legend

Joy Chakravarty

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Photos: Northern Ireland Tourism Board

Travel Thursday: Sports Lounge uncovers the best golf courses of Northern Ireland along with prominent tourist attractions of the region. So, pack your bags and get ready to explore…

County Antrim: Everywhere you went to during the week of the Open Championship—from the awe-inspiring Titanic Museum in Belfast to the overflowing pubs in Portrush—one sign was bound to welcome you: ‘Northern Ireland – Made for Golf’. sports articles

For the golf-crazy Irish fans, punch drunk on the run of Major success that started with Padraig Harrington and continues with Graeme McDowell, Darren Clarke, Rory McIlroy and now Shane Lowry, the return of the Open Championship to the island for the first time in 68 years was an occasion to celebrate. Additional tickets had to be issued by the R&A after the initial lot was sold out within a week, and a record 237,750 people visited Royal Portrush during the championship. sports articles

The golf course itself, considered by many as one of the finest links courses anywhere in the world, forms the heart of this small County Antrim town, which had just 7,355 residents during the last count in 2012. sports articles

Before the Open Championship, more than 200,000 overseas visitors flew into Ireland to play golf and contributed approximately €270 million to the economy and accounted for over 1.7 million bed nights (figures by Failte Ireland). That number is expected to increase exponentially following the massively successful hosting of the tournament and Lowry’s magnificent win. sports articles

However, Royal Portrush is not the only must-play golf course in the region and golf is not the only reason to visit this part of the world. The rugged coastline and the quaint towns are set amidst immense natural beauty and has attracted thousands of tourists. sports articles

Another big contributor to the growing number of visitors in Ireland is the ‘Game of Thrones’ Factor. Ever since HBO started televising the global phenomenon and chose Northern Ireland as its location, the number of tourists has grown by leaps and bounds.

Sports Lounge has compiled a list of some of the fantastic golf courses and places to visit around Portrush and the acclaimed Causeway Coast in County Antrim…

ICONIC GOLF COURSES

Royal Portrush Golf Club: Do we need to make a sales pitch for this golf course now? Let’s just say that this amazing course, originally designed by four-time Open champion Old Tom Morris in 1888 and redesigned by Harry Colt in 1929, should be in the bucket list of every golfer.

Perhaps the greatest tribute to how amazing the course was, was paid by the 156-man field at the Open Championship. None of them had anything negative to say about it!

Ballycastle Golf Club: Just 18 miles away from Royal Portrush, and involving a drive down the scenic Coastal Causeway Route, is the superb Ballycastle Golf Club. Established in 1890, it is a unique mix of links and parkland holes.

The first five holes are parkland style, flanked by the Rivers Margy and Carey with various trees and natural hills as the main landscape. From sixth onwards, you encounter 13 excellent links style holes with views of the famous Antrim Coastline.

Portstewart Golf Club: Portstewart has championship pedigree too. Home to three lovely courses, the Strand was the host venue of the 2017 Dubai Duty Free Irish Open on the European Tour.

Located just 15 minutes away from Portrush towards Derry-Londonderry, the Strand course has a number of challenging holes, starting from the par-4 first, where you have to hit your tee shot down a fairway surrounded on both side by huge mounds. Some critics have called the front nine of Portstewart the finest collection of opening nine holes.

TOURIST ATTRACTIONS

Dunluce Castle: This is the closest attraction to Royal Portrush Golf Club and forms a magnificent backdrop to several holes. Built somewhere in late 16th, early 17th century, it was headquarters of the MacDonnell Clan. Make sure you travel a little way further and get a picture of the castle with Royal Portrush Golf Club behind it.

Drive down the Coastal Causeway Route: This is 120 miles of sheer bliss, beauty and awesomeness. It starts at Belfast and ends at Derry-Londonderry. Along the way, you will witness the jaw-dropping beauty of the Nine Glens of Antrim, the Carrickfergus Castle, Cushendum, Torr Head, Giant’s Causeway and much more. One word of caution: carrying a valid International Driving Permit is a must in Northern Ireland to rent a car.

The nine Glens of Antrim: The nine glens (valleys) of Antrim are places of immense beauty. There are several cities that are part of the glens—like Cushendall, Cushendun, Ballycastle and Glenarm—and you’ve got to stay in one of the local hotels for a night or two to take in the whole place. A few hours to enjoy the wilderness and the waterfalls of Glenariff Forest Park is massively recommended.

Mussendun Temple

Game of Thrones shooting locations: If you have watched Game of Thrones, you’ve got to keep a few days to visit the locations where the series was shot. Many of these are in County Antrim, and some are down south in County Down.

Some of the spectacular places in Co Antrim include the Ballintoy Harbour; Cushendun Caves; the Mussendun Temple, which became Dragonstone; the Glens of Antrim; The Dark Hedges; Murlough Bay and the beaches of Portstewart. sports world

You can also try and locate the 10 Game of Thrones Doors, which were carved out of a giant beech tree that fell during a storm in 2016 and depict scenes from Season 6. They are put up in various places across the country.

It would be advisable to download the very helpful Game Of Thrones Filming Locations Northern Ireland App. Just makes everything simple and informative. sports world

Giant’s Causeway: You reach the Giant’s Causeway, and you wonder – who made this? How did they make it? A World Heritage Site, it is a wonder of nature. Thousands of polygonal basalt columns form the Causeway and is believed to have been created 60 million years ago. Legend has it that it was built by a giant as a pathway to Scotland. In reality, it was a result of volcanic activity in the region many moons ago. sports world

Bushmills Distillery: If you like your whiskey (The ‘E’ an addition of the Irish kind), this is a must-make pit stop. About seven miles from Portrush, this distillery was opened in 1608. Save some pounds for the merchandising shop at the end of the guided tour, which gives you an excellent idea of how this world-famous triple-distilled Irish whiskey is made. sports world

Carrick-a-Rede Rope Bridge: Built by salmon fishermen in 1755, crossing this rope bridge near Ballintoy takes some courage. It is 20 meters long, 30-meter high above the rocky outcrops of the Atlantic and connects the mainland to the tiny Carrick-a-Rede island. The one-hour walking trail from the car parking offers some stunning views of the coastline and the ocean. sports world

The Dark Hedges: It’s hard to pick a favourite when you visit a place like Northern Ireland, but this was mine. An enchanting array of 250-year-old beech trees, forming a tunnel with their branches over a road that it slightly longer than a long par-5. It was part of Season 2 of Game of Thrones, but you don’t have to be a fan to enjoy this ravishing, and dare I say, slightly haunting, sight. Try reaching there early in the morning, or late in the evening to experience the light filtering through the trees. sports world

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Rookie Gauri Karhade wins maiden pro title in sixth attempt

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Gauri Karhade in action during final round

Hyderabad: Rookie Gauri Karhade playing only her sixth event as a pro on the Hero Women’s Pro Golf Tour, stunned the front runners, amateur Shreya Pal, and the seasoned Gaurika Bishnoi, to land her first title on the circuit. She stayed calm and held her nerve to shoot a final round of 73 for a total of two-under 214 and win the 12th Leg by one shot over Gaurika Bishnoi (75) and Afshan Fatima (70).

Afshan Fatima, who made a great charge on the front nine with a two-under 34, held the lead midway through the back nine but dropped crucial back-to-back bogeys on 15th and 16th to fall into a tie for second with Gaurika at one-under 215.

Playing the final group, overnight leader, Shreya Pal began with a flourish on the first with a birdie. But she dropped three bogeys in the next four holes. Gauri, starting the final day two behind leader Shreya and one behind Gaurika, was steady and she parred the first five holes, as Gaurika also dropped a shot on second.

Then it was Gauri’s turn to make a mistake with a double bogey on sixth, but Gaurika dropped a bogey on seventh and Shreya dropped a double bogey. That opened the door for Gauri. Meanwhile, Afshan was making a charge with three birdies against one bogey on the front nine.

After nine holes, it was still a very tight battle. Gaurika, who was four-under for two rounds, was still two-under after 45 holes. Four players, Shreya, Afshan, Gauri and Ananya Datar were at one-under after the front nine.

On the back nine, Gauri and Afshan found birdies on 11th and Gaurika bogeyed to let Gauri and Afshan move into the lead with the two-shot swing. Gauri dropped a shot on 12th to fall back and Afshan was sole leader.

Gauri and Afshan both birdied the 14th at which stage Afshan was ahead at three-under and Gauri was two-under. Gaurika stayed at one-under. Shreya, now five-over for the day after a bogey on 12th, fell back to even par.

Then it was Afshan’s turn to make mistakes and she made two in a row on 15th and 16th that allowed Gauri to sneak ahead. She only had to stay calm and get her pars. She did just that. None of the three, including Gaurika, made birdies on the last two holes, leaving Gauri as the victor.

Gaurika, unable to find birdies the whole day, ended Tied-second with Afshan, who after a great 14 holes made crucial errors to throw away a chance.

Gauri, who started playing at the age of 10 and learnt her early lessons in Thane and Kharghar, has honed her skills at the Poona Golf Club and now resides in Mumbai.

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Korn Ferry finals: Ace golfer Anirban Lahiri gets positive start

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Lahiri had a rough start as he started from 10th and bogeyed 11th and 14th to go two-over.

Columbus: Indian ace golfer Anirban Lahiri started his campaign on a positive note, he shot four-under 67 to be placed at tied-fifth in the first round of the Nationwide Children’s Hospital Championship here. The tournament is the first one in the series of three-event Korn Ferry finals.

The 32-year-old PGA Tour golfer was down by two strokes when he began his round with bogeys at the 11th and 14th holes. But the resilient Indian fought back with six birdies, including back to back birdies to finish the round. He had five birdies in a brilliant second nine, after starting the day at the 10th tee.

“I got off to a bad start but played good as things went on. I dropped a shot on 11th and then hit a bad drive but I started getting more comfortable later on. The greens were slower than what I have played in recent months. But then I was getting more comfortable with the surfaces as things went on,” Lahiri said.

Conversely, another Indian contender Shubhankar Sharma conceded a double bogey on the first hole and battled his way to a 75 that left him outside the top 100.

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Vani snatches lead in Round 2 of 11th leg

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Hyderabad: Vani Kapoor moved into sole lead despite a late double bogey in the second round of the 11th leg of the Hero Women’s Pro Golf Tour at the Hyderabad Golf Club on Thursday. The 25-year-old NCR golfer, who is playing her first domestic event this season and has come back after two months while recovering from niggling injuries, had three birdies against two bogeys and a double bogey in her card of one-over 72.

Vani is now four-over 146, but three shots clear of her nearest rival Gaurika Bishnoi, who shot the day’s best and the week’s first par round of 71.

Gaurika, one of the only two players to have four birdies in the second round, birdied first, sixth, ninth and 17th, while dropping shots on second, seventh, 12th and 14th. Amateur Shreya Pal was the other player with four birdies, but she dropped numerous shots including a triple bogey on the par-4 18th for 76.

Ananya Datar overcame a rough front nine of five-over 40 with a one-under 35 in the back nine for a 75 that brought her to 151 and put her in shared third place with overnight leader, amateur Sneha Singh (78).

Sneha, the 15-year-old Hyderabad golfer who was outstanding on the first day, had a tough day despite three birdies. She had eight bogeys and one double bogey for seven-over 78 that saw her slip to Tied-third place.

Vani birdied the second, gave the gains back on the long Par-3 fourth and birdied the par-5 sixth as she turned in one-under. On the back nine, she dropped a shot on 12th, but birdied the Par-3 16th. Just as it seemed she was set for a big lead, she dropped a double bogey on Par-5 17th to fall back to one-over for the day and finished at 72.

Neha Tripathi (77), Gurjot Badwal (78), amateur Shreya Pal (76) and Khushi Khanijau (75) occupied the fifth to eighth places. Siddhi Kapoor (78) was ninth, while three players, Suchitra Ramesh (78), Gauri Karhade (79) and Amandeep Drall (82) were Tied-tenth.

Ridhima Dilawari and Gursimar Badwal were among the five players tied at 13th with a total of 160.

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