Northern Ireland is often considered unfavorable by many outsiders due to its deep-seated political and sectarian problems.
The murder in April of the new IRA of Irish journalist Lyra McKee, and subsequent threats against anyone helping the police identify who shot her, was another blow to her international reputation.
Then, the decision to organize the next Open Golf Championship, from July 14 to 21, the first time since 1951, is a great boost for local morale. It is also an opportunity for the outside world to see the Six Counties in a positive light.
Fantastic place: views of the city of Portrush, the coast and the golf course
Reaction has been enthusiastic and tickets to the event at the Royal Portrush Golf Club sold out a while ago.
Rory McIlroy, from Northern Ireland, who won the Claret Jug Open at Royal Liverpool in 2014, says: "Royal Portrush is one of my favorite golf courses in the world. I think it will be a fantastic place & # 39;
I have been to Ireland many times, but never in the North. The people of Ulster have a reputation for truculence: The first to be offended; The first to be offended is a cynical comment that I heard more than once in London.
But during a four-day golf trip, I never found this supposed character deficit. In fact, people were noticeably more educated and cheerful than those I find in London and Oxfordshire.
Challenging: the greens of Royal Portrush courses are spectacular but they do not forgive
After spending the night at the ultramodern Ten Square Hotel in downtown Belfast, we play at the 18-hole Belvoir Park Golf Club, a mature wood course of exquisite design that is as close to the center of the city as the giant cranes of the Harland & Wolff, Samson and Goliath shipyards are visible from some streets.
After lunch at the club we visited the Titanic Belfast on the docks, a moving and skilfully dedicated exhibition dedicated the last hours to the transatlantic condemned more than a century ago. A more moving experience than the movie, curiously.
On the outside, an elderly Japanese couple was helped by friends to climb a model of the liner's bow. There they searched with great dignity to reproduce the pose of the film by Leonardo DiCaprio and Kate Winslet.
Then, we walk to the nearby Games of Thrones: Traveling exhibition. Having never seen the television show, it did not mean much to me, but those who were fascinated.
The exhibition staff explained the costumes, weapons and other artifacts of the series in what I felt was an appropriately silly and respectful tone.
Enchanting: Sunset in the green in the fourth hole of Galgorm Castle
Our next 18 holes the next day were at Galgorm Castle, Ballymena, home to the Northern Ireland Open, one of the best parks in Ireland. A nice walk in the park (followed by lunch) compared to our afternoon pits: in the spectacular and rugged Strand Links course at Portstewart, near the World Heritage site of Giant's Causeway.
We stopped behind three women's teams. As we struggled up and down dizzying slopes, hunting in the relentless gorse for our balls, they went on. They had already left the course when our four exhausted quartets wobbled until the 18th.
After playing 36 holes in one day, we had dinner and slept in the charming Bushmills Inn Hotel, an old inn near the oldest whiskey distillery in the world.
The next day, we faced another challenge: playing at the 7,317-yard Dunluce Links, at the Royal Portrush, in front of the workers and officers preparing for the 148th Open Championship.
Peter McKay at Royal Portrush, which has been described as a masterpiece of golf architecture
It is described as a masterpiece of golf architecture. The club boasts: "Unbelievable and unimaginable test greens, combined with the unpredictable weather of the North Atlantic, make this course an admirable test even for the most experienced golf enthusiast." We fans (no!) We enjoy a delightfully sunny weather. And the North Atlantic for once declined to roar. However, we were tested to the fullest. I was glad that the stands erected for the spectators, especially the giant horseshoe on the 18th hole, were empty of witnesses of our course that crossed progress.
The way the participants of the Open handle the ravine, 236 yards, par 3, 16, known as Calamity, will be something that will be seen on television. My second trip (the first that navigated the ravine) marvelously crossed the & # 39; carry & # 39; 180 yards, bouncing on the bench to the left of the street and rolling to the green. Unfortunately, I took three putts to the hole, which meant I was in a miserable six in a par three holes.
Northern Ireland is published as Made for Golf, which includes no less than 95 courses. And while the Open is exhausted, why not be there for this great occasion, soaking up the atmosphere and enjoying the big screen TV in the excellent pubs of Belfast? And all golfers must make a point of playing at Royal Portrush before permanently retiring to the 19th hole.
Peter McKay was a guest of the Ten Square Hotel (tensquare.co.uk), the B & B doubles from £ 140 per night and the Bushmills Inn (bushmillsinn.com), the B & B doubles from £ 180 per night. British Airways (ba.com) London to Belfast from £ 102. More information at ireland.com/golf.