Rory McIlroy’s Holy Grail – Holywood Golf Club & A Shrine To The Double Major Champion.

When walking into any golf club you’re confronted by a honour roll of past Club Captains, Club Champions and other achievements.

There’s also the quintessential trophy cabinet full of gleaming silverware and stunning crystal.

However in walking upstairs to the trophy room at the Holywood Club on the outskirts of Belfast the area is very much a shrine to one person – Rory McIlroy.

Welcome to Holywood - Home of Rory McIlroyOn show is a collection of remarkable photographs taken from the time McIlroy was just two years of age, including an adorable photo of the youngster bending down and concentration on a putt, and then up to his record-setting achievement in June 2011 and September 2012.

What first caught might eye was a framed photo montage of six items featuring a photo of McIlroy holding the U.S. Open trophy, his Royal Portrush record breaking scorecard of 61, a handwritten thank you note he sent to club officials and a newspaper article titled ‘Bannon has the Midas touch’ in reference to McIlroy’s long-time coach and former Holywood pro, Michael Bannon.

The article has a photograph of Bannon standing beside then nine-year old McIlroy chipping and mentions that McIlroy was heading to Florida in December that year to compete in the World Under-10s championship, and the first of many prestigious amateur winning titles.

But pride of place  is a billboard size snap of McIlroy holding the U.S. Open trophy and with the large caption – ‘Welcome to Holywood Golf Club. Home of Rory McIlroy’.

Standing head and shoulders above the array of trophies in the club’s display is a replica of McIlroy’s U.S. trophy along with two of his golf bags – one from 2010 Ryder Cup and other he used at the outset of his professional career.

Also on show is the MBE medal presented by Queen Elizabeth 11 to McIlroy following his Congressional command performance.

In driving from the city of Belfast to suburban Holywood you’re first reminded of another Northern Irish sports star in George Best, and with the Belfast City Airport named after the footballing great.

But in turning off Belfast Road and towards Holywood there’s now a new sign reminding everyone who is Holywood’s blockbuster resident.

The clubhouse is a simple looking building and certainly a far cry from some of the stately and often over-the-top American golf club complexes McIlroy has now visited since turning professional in late 2007.

Also in many ways the down-to-earth looking building is a reflection of the manners of the McIlroy family.  It’s not pretentious but simply casual and inviting.

McIlroy’s father, Gerry spent many hours toiling at the club raising a few extra Pound so his ultra-talented son could further his golfing career.

Of course, Gerry McIlroy is himself a pretty decent golfer and if you look closely there’s a picture of him with fellow Holywood team members taken after winning the 1998 Belfast and District Cup.

There’s another picture shot seven years later of Gerry’s then 16-year old son following in his father’s footsteps as a member of the victorious 2005 Belfast and District Cup side.

The town of Holywood can trace its roots back to 642 AD and originates from the Latin name Sanctus Boscus ‘of the holy wood’.

An Irish monastery founded by Saint Laisren, was built in the vicinity of a funeral mound called Ard-mac-nasca, and the Holy Wood stood on the hill overlooking the church.

King John passed through the little town in 1300 and there’s mention on a roll in the Tower of London that tells he spent a day in ‘Haliwode’.

Holywood Golf  Club - Trophy Cabinet

The Holywood Golf Club trophy cabinet is a shrine to Rory McIlroy. (Photo –

A later church was burned and destroyed by Brian O’Neill in 1572 but soon rebuilt and in 1605 a convent was built and the road leading up to Holy Wood was called Nun’s Walk.

Nun’s Walk is still in place today where at the end of the small uphill roadway you will find Holywood Golf Club.

On my visit to Holywood it was Monday morning after the Irish Open and the area around the clubhouse was busy like any other golf club with members – men, women and many juniors – busily preparing themselves to take to parkland and, in parts, a hilly Holywood course.

It is believed golf was first played in Ireland along the shoreline of Belfast Lough in Holywood.

The Belfast Golf Club was formed in 1881 while four years later the club was granted royal status and has since been known as Royal Belfast.

But in 1892 the club moved to newly acquired land near Carnalea thus depriving those living in Holywood access to the club-and-ball game.

So that led in 1904 to the formation of the Holywood Golf Club that was originally a 9-hole layout on rented ground known as Irish Hill.

An extra nine holes was added with members today facing a challenging test set among stately trees and, for the most part, commanding stunning views out of Belfast Lough and the County Antrim coastline.For the men, the course plays to a par 69 and 6,118 yards off the blue tees, 6,059 yards off the white and 5,709 yards from the green tees.

There’s just one par five, the seventh named Old Oak while there’s four par threes including the back-to-back ninth and 10th holes.

The course ends with eight par fours with the longest the 438 yard, 12th right in the furthermost point away from the clubhouse and named White House.

The women play to a par 71 of 5,257 yards with a combination of three par fives, 11 par fours and the same four par threes as the men.

Holywood’s opening nine holes, with the exception of the short par three sixth hole, are laid out to the west of the clubhouse.

The sixth is named ‘Nun’s Walk’ as you have to cross the roadway to play this downhill 124-yard par three challenge before you then cross back over the road to tackle the lone par five, the 496-yard seventh.

A feature of the seventh is a meandering five-foot wide burn that crosses the fairway about 150-yards out from the green and runs through trees to in front of the eighth tee but then cuts back again crossing the seventh just short of the green.

The challenge at the eighth is to avoid out-of-bounds all down the right side thus placing an emphasis on driving on this dog-left right-to-left 456-yard challenge.

The short ninth hole is an uphill par three that brings you back to the clubhouse and with the 10th, the fourth and last of the par threes, also an uphill challenge.

I was unsure the location of the 10th tee and happened upon three youngsters who pointed the direction, and as they hurried off towards the clubhouse I wondered if one of them could be the next Rory McIlroy.

The 11th, where there is also a burn just short of the green, and 12th holes are laid out at the highest part of the golf course and where you first get to enjoy the full spectacular views out over Belfast Lough.

And the further you walk down these two holes the better the view gets.

At the western end of this great expanse of water lies Belfast Harbour and the site of renowned shipbuilders, Harland and Wolff.  The company was founded in 1861 and its gantry cranes, named Samson and Goliath, still dominate the skyline.

RMS Titantic leaves Belfast.  What would the members of Holywood be thinking on this day in April, 1912?

RMS Titantic leaves Belfast. What would the members of Holywood be thinking on this day in April, 1912?

The company has built hundreds of ships, including 11 aircraft carriers and four cruisers during World War 11 and among them HMS Belfast now lying on the Thames River in London, and along with another 150 others ships which were launched in that time of conflict.

But in walking the course for a first time it was difficult not to remember, and on the occasion of the 100th anniversary of its sinking, the most famous ship to be built by Harland and Wolff – RMS Titanic.

The 882-foot long ship was the second of three ‘Olympic’ class passenger ships built   between 1909 and 1914 for the White Star Line.

The remaining six holes at Holywood run side by side with the 14th, named Quarry, providing the challenge of having to drive your ball from an elevated tee to a tight tree-lined left-to-right dogleg hole before hitting into a sloping green guarded by a left front bunker.

The 17th brings to you back to the clubhouse but there much challenge ahead hitting from a raised tee, and with the clubhouse at your back, the goal at the penultimate hole is to avoid the burn running just in front of the green.Now in standing on the tee of the 394-yard final hole I wondered how many times Rory McIlroy must have stood here being one hole away from winning yet another medal round.

The tee shot is over a ridge to an unsighted fairway below, and with all the trouble down the right side.  After playing your second shot remember to ring the 1904 dated bell to let those behind know the fairway is clear.

The green slopes away on the back right corner while there’s a bunker front right and a small bunker middle left to catch any errant shots.

Holywood Golf Club is a most enjoyable experience and while playing to a par 69 it’s very much a decent challenge.

Also like many golf courses in Ireland, the views over out Belfast Lough are so good to take your mind off the golf no matter how well or how poorly you may be playing.

But the greatest reward of all was the pleasure of walking the fairways where such an affable and unassuming U.S. Open champion and PGA Championship winner first honed his golfing skills.

* Click on photographs to enlarge.  All photos copyright –



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