You can go anywhere for a cold beer or a cocktail after a round of golf, but that doesn’t mean that just any bar can be a 19th hole. The best golf bars bring a sense of the course inside, they embrace the lifestyle and the passion that golf enthusiasts have for the game, and—yes—they pour cold pints.
There are several memorable golf bars throughout the British Isles to choose from, but the following four stand head and shoulders above the rest. When knowledgeable patrons step across the thresholds of these establishments, they’re seeking the atmosphere and ambiance as much as—and oftentimes more than—the frosty pints of Guinness or Tennents that inevitably end up in their hands. No matter how many rounds you enjoy inside one of these bars, there is one certainty: during that time, you’ll inevitably find yourself longing for your next round out on the course.
The Harbour Bar (Portrush, Northern Ireland)
The Harbour Bar in Portrush is positioned exactly where you would expect it—on the periphery of Portrush Harbour. The scene that greets you as you walk into the main bar room, however, is far more unexpected. The space is covered with artifacts, memorabilia, and ephemera that reflect the bar’s coordinates being less than four miles from the first tee at Portstewart Golf Club and only a mile from the first tee at Royal Portrush.
A couple of years ago, bar manager Willie Gregg took it upon himself to redecorate the front room of the bar. Using his own collection of golfing championship memorabilia—signed items and equipment used by winning golfers (several of whom are national heroes)—Gregg turned the main bar space into a golfing shrine. Among the many signed championship flags posted on the ceiling (Gregg has a Masters flag signed by every champion going back at least 15 years), the Harbour Bar also features Graeme McDowell’s first professional bag, golf clubs that were in Darren Clarke’s bag during the Northern Irishman’s Open Championship victory in 2011, a driver head cover signed by Rory McIlroy, and plenty more artifacts, which Gregg is happy to take down to let patrons hold and see up close.
Having worked part-time at the bar since he was seven years old and full-time for the last 16 years or so (he’s now 66), Gregg has formed friendships with tour players and caddies who have supplied him with the memorabilia on display. Gregg plans to auction off those artifacts in a couple of years to support his non-profit (Willies Orphan Fund), though not before he’s amassed enough new artifacts to take their place at the bar.
“Selling good whiskey and good Guinness, that’s what I do,” Gregg says, “but I also entertain. These lovely people come to see the golf memorabilia as much as they come for a drink.” – ramorerestaurant.com/restaurant/harbour-bar
The Dunvegan (St. Andrews, Scotland)
Officially known as “Golfers Corner,” the bar at the Dunvegan over the last quarter of a century has become a Mecca of sorts for golf enthusiasts who travel to St. Andrews. The walls and ceilings of the main bar room are covered with framed photos of notable golfers and celebrities who have stopped in for a drink—everyone from Tiger Woods to Clint Eastwood have made a point to wet their whistles at the Dunvegan during their pilgrimage to the birthplace of the game.
Located at the corner of Golf Place and North Street, the bar is only a pitching wedge away from the 18th green on the Old Course. The establishment attracts visitor and local golfers alike, not to mention plenty of resident caddies, which means you’re likely to find yourself immersed in a spirited conversation about great shots, great courses, and memorable rounds played.
“It lives and breathes golf,” says Daniel Jones, marketing and communications manager for Haversham & Baker Expeditions, who adds that the bar is as much about celebrating the people who make the game and the Dunvegan special. “That extends to the customers. There are guys who go each and every year and know the staff by name.”
Should your travels take you to St. Andrews and, more specifically, to the Dunvegan, make a point to also step into the establishment’s front room, where a collection of artwork and sketches drawn by David Joy are on display. Joy is a legend of St. Andrews who is most famous for his character portrayal of Old Tom Morris, but he’s equally skilled when capturing the images of past Open champions. – dunvegan-hotel.com
The Ducks Bar (Aberlady, Scotland)
There’s no shortage of stunning golf to be played in East Lothian—the historic county is home to Gullane Golf Club, The Renaissance Club, Muirfield, and North Berwick Golf Club, among many others. And yet, when it comes to post-round libations, there’s one 19th hole that offers a bit more character and golfing charm than the rest. That’s the bar at the Ducks Inn, an establishment set inside a 17th century building, which is run by Malcolm and Fiona Duck. (If you’re looking for some banter with a passionate golfer who loves playing hickories, keep your fingers crossed that you bump into Malcolm in the bar. Fiona, by contrast, manages the inn’s daily operations.)
Golfers from all over the world converge there to enjoy a pint or a dram, admiring the memorabilia on display. As hickory golf enthusiast David Webster explains, “It’s the hang for visitors who know golf. It’s a very communal place. You’ll end up talking to random people and within two minutes you’ll become buddies with eight strangers.”
When you’re “under the Duck,” as they say, you’ll form new friendships with folks who share your love of the game, but you’re bound to try your luck at the famously difficult putting challenge that Malcolm created, where patrons stand on a bar stool and attempt to putt a ball off the stool and up the ramp of a duck-shaped seesaw positioned about 30 feet away. Those who succeed get their name on the wall; but such commemorations don’t happen often.
“Anyone and everyone in the golf world has attempted it,” says Webster, who acknowledges that it typically requires a bit of liquid courage, balancing on a bar stool with a putter in hand. “It’s insanely hard to do. I must’ve taken 50 shots at it and could not do it.” – ducks.co.uk
The Royal Golf Hotel Bar (Dornoch, Scotland)
Poke your head into the starter’s hut at Royal Dornoch Golf Club and you’ll see a collection of ball markers on display, each one gifted to the club by a visiting player. The markers cover much of the outfacing wall of the counter, as well as the bottom half of the wall running perpendicular, and they’re categorized by the location of the visitor’s home course. About 20 paces from the course’s first tee, a similar tradition takes place at the bar of the Royal Golf Hotel.
There above the bar is a collection of hundreds of bag tags on display, also gifted by visiting players. It’s a more understated nod to golf than the shrines of memorabilia found at the Harbour Bar or the Ducks Inn, and as Jones acknowledges, patrons or guests of the hotel could spend an evening in the bar’s general area and never know that the collection is there. “If you walk in that space and don’t turn left [toward the bar itself], but instead turn to the right to find a nice comfortable seat for a beverage, you might not ever see it. For people who do go to the bar and look up, it’s a neat surprise.”
In an alcove just by the bar, there’s also a shrine to Donald Ross, who learned the game and the art of golf course architecture at Royal Dornoch. As a part of that homage, a few of the course designer’s old clubs are on display, along with 18 lithographs depicting each of the holes on the adjacent golf course. But as for the bag tags above the bar, the bartender once told Jones that they’ve never taken one down or replaced any with new installments. In other words, if a visitor gifts a bag tag to the bar, it remains a part of the display in perpetuity.
“You can essentially leave your mark,” Jones says. “That’s what makes the Royal Golf Hotel bar different—the golfer is invited to become a part of the memorabilia.” – royalgolfhoteldornoch.com
What is your favorite golf bar?