Now, many of you will be wondering why we didn’t include Killeen Castle in our articles on our recent mini-tour of Ireland. Well, the truth is we didn’t play there on this trip, we played it late last year. We did pop in during the trip to see the progress on the lodges, which you will find out about, later in this article.
Killeen Castle Golf Resort is located around 40 minutes northwest of Dublin in the small village of Dunsany. The golf course is only 15 years old but the estate it’s built on is over 800 years old. The Castle dates back to 1181. Over the centuries, it’s had a chequered history. In 1951 the last Earl of Fingal sold the grounds and the 600-acre estate became a stud farm for horse breeding.
30 years later, in 1981, a devastating fire destroyed the inside of the historical castle. In 1997, new owners purchased the estate and set about building a world-class golf course. They enlisted the help of none other than Jack Nicklaus to design the golf course and it opened in 2008 to wonderful reviews. Professional tournaments quickly followed with the course hosting the Ladies Irish Open from 2011 to 2013 as well as the 2011 Solheim Cup.
The Golf Course
The golf course has five sets of tees to choose from. In reality, two sets, the black and the blue are only for long hitters and the professionals. The black course measures 7677 yards and the blue, 7142 yards. We chose to play from the whites at 6535 yards which was much more manageable. The green and red tees are 6118 and 5392 yards respectively.
The Opening Hole
The opening hole measures 402 yards and the challenge is to avoid the sand. The ideal line is down the left although that is fraught with danger. Anything down the right half leaves a difficult approach in over yet another bunker. We managed to reach with a good drive and a solid 6 iron. Two putts and we were relieved to start with a par.
Approach to the 2nd Hole
The second hole is the longest on the course at 532 yards. For us, it just wasn’t reachable in two shots due to the bunker complexes short of the green. We played it as a three-shot hole although laying up still isn’t easy. Play your second shot to the right as it takes out the water hazard and the bunkers to leave a straightforward pitch to the green. You still have a chance of a birdie but if you don’t make a putt, take your par and run to the next hole.
First Par 3
The 6th Hole
The 6th is the first of four par 3’s on the course. Even at 163 yards, the green is a small target to hit, even on a calm day. The green is narrow but quite long so club selection is key. We went with a 7 iron and ended up in the second bunker on the right. We didn’t get up and down. It’s an easy bogey if you miss the green.
Approach to the 7th
After our bogey on the 6th, we were immediately presented with the chance of a birdie on the 7th hole. Even though it’s only 460 yards, it’s a par 5. There is a copse of trees on the right that you have to stay away from. The hole was ideal for our fade and this is the shot we were left with. 210 yards over the water hazard. We went with our 3 hybrid and ended up just short. A good chip and a 4-foot putt and we had our first birdie of the day.
Tough End to the Front Nine
The 9th green
The 9th hole is a tough one. At 415 yards, it’s not the distance that tough. It’s judging your second shot. Maybe it was the sucker pin that fooled us, but our 6-iron second shot came up short in the bunker. A poor shot out and two putts and we ended the front nine with a bogey. Look at all that room left of the flag!
The Back Nine
Approach to the 11th
The 11th is a strong par 4 at 410 yards. If you can get a tee shot away that stays on the fairway, then you can take on the green. The bunker front right makes the green look small but it isn’t. Beware a right pin as that brings the water into play beyond the green. The safe play is to aim for the left side of the green. You also have more chance of getting up and down from that side.
The 12th Green
The 12th hole is a stunner and another birdie chance if you are brave enough. At 463 yards, it’s not long but there is a wide burn running across the front and up the right-hand side of the green. We got a decent drive away and still had 195 to carry the burn. Our bravery evaporated during our swing and we pulled our 3 hybrid and missed the green left. A good chip was followed by a poor putt and we walked off with a par. It was an opportunity missed.
It’s a Mystery
The 14th Hole
Sometimes, strange things happen on the golf course. It happened to us on the 14th, a par 3 of 180 yards. Our tee shot was lovely, a 5 iron just left of the flag although a little long. We saw it land and sitting on the back fringe, but when we got up there the ball was nowhere to be seen. We have to assume it was picked up by a bird, perhaps a crow and we weren’t delusional as we fixed our pitch mark that was 6 inches from the back of the green. Strange!
The 16th Hole
The last par 3 was playing 182 yards. We went again with our 5 iron and this time it landed safely on the green. We made an easy par. A word of warning though, take enough club to reach the centre of the green. Anything short can easily end up back in the water.
The Closing Hole
The last hole is a relatively easy one at 381 yards. A decent drive will leave a medium to short iron into a wide green. Again take enough club as the green is slightly uphill and the bunkers short are deep. We hit 3 wood and then a 7 iron onto the putting surface but 25 feet left of the pin. No more getting suckered into going for the flag. The backdrop of the castle makes this hole special. Whether by design or not, the width of the green looks like it matches the width of the castle. Nice one Jack!
The course at Killeen Castle is a long walk so you can either get your steps in or, like us, take a buggy. It’s a very enjoyable resort course to play with reasonably wide fairways, water hazards and big bunkers. That is, as long as you select the tees to suit your game. The bunkers and water hazards define most of the holes and avoiding them, and the knee-high rough is the challenge. The castle is what gives this course that something extra special. It’s a wonderful backdrop to a number of holes. The course was in very good condition, both when we played it last November and when we visited again in early June.
Where to Stay
Onsite, of course! As I type this article, Killeen Castle has just announced that their lodge rooms are finished and as of the 1st of July 2023, are open for business. Hunters Yard consists of two buildings. Lodges that each contain 4 twin rooms with ensuite bathrooms and a central lounge. See the short video of the rooms below.
Hunters Yard Video
All the rooms and lounges are in a modern contemporary style and are very comfortable. The lodges are ideal for couples on a golfing break or for larger groups of up to 16.
The Nicklaus Lounge
The Clubhouse is also very modern and has recently undergone a reconfiguration with the pro shop being moved and with the creation of the Nicklaus Lounge. There are a number of lounges, all of which serve food. We ate in the Clubhouse on our visit in November 2022 and can testify to the fact that the food is excellent. We just wish we had taken photos at the time.
Continuous improvement seems to be the theme at Killeen. Every tweak of the facilities here improves the already excellent resort. It’s a special place, make sure you add it to your itinerary if you are visiting Dublin and the surrounding area. Maybe next time we will get to stay and play!
Killeen Castle Summary
The phrase “Build it and they will come” was made famous by the 1989 film, Field of Dreams, starring Kevin Costner. We have no idea if the owners were inspired by the film when they bought the stud farm and the estate in 1997 to turn it into a golf resort. However what they have achieved over the last 26 years is remarkable, and they are not finished yet. Along with the private homes being built, there are also plans to rebuild the interior of the castle and turn it into a hotel. Work has already commenced with a completion date sometime in 2025. When that work is completed, Killeen Castle will truly be a world-class resort, one of the very best in Ireland. Until then, they will have to settle for just being one of Ireland’s finest golf resorts.
Thank you to Karen Collins, the resort’s Sales and Marketing Manager and to Gerry Kelly, Ciaran Fitzsimons and the rest of the team at Carr Golf for hosting us in November 2022. Thanks are also due to Cormac Ryan, the Director of Golf, for taking the time to show us around in June 2023.
At a Glance:
- Jack Nicklaus designed 18-hole championship course
- Well-manicured course with greens that run true
- Modern contemporary Clubhouse
- Excellent bar and catering
- Wonderful, helpful staff
- Fantastic contemporary lodging
- Well-equipped Pro Shop
- 30 minutes from Dublin Airport, 40 minutes from Dublin City Centre