WBGD’s First Test of Irish Links Golf, at Castlerock Golf Club

Castlerock Golf Club was to be the first links course on our mini Tour of Ireland. It is one of three fantastic links courses along seven miles of Northern Ireland’s rugged Antrim coastline. The other two, Portstewart and the world-famous Royal Portrush will feature in upcoming articles.

Castlerock started life as a 9-hole course in 1901 and was extended to 18 holes in 1909. Now it has 27 holes, the Mussenden Championship course and the Bann 9-hole course. Ben Sayers, the renowned Scottish Clubmaker, designed the initial 18-hole layout which Harry Colt then remodeled in the 1930’s. The course was then revamped by Martin Hawtree in 2018.

European Tournament Hosts

The Club will co-host the DP World Tour and Ladies European Tour Joint event, the ISPS Honda World Invitational, alongside Galgorm Castle in August 2023. So it was a little daunting that our first test of links golf in Ireland would be hosting the European Pros in 3 months’ time. We needn’t have worried, we would not be playing off the tees they will, thankfully!

The Mussenden Links

The championship course measures between 5880 yards to 6780 yards and can be stretched even further for Pro events. We chose the white tees at 6480 yards and judging by our scoring, it was the right choice.

As usual, we will highlight the holes that we think sum up the essence of the links. This doesn’t mean that the holes we don’t select are not great holes. It’s just our opinion, the holes that gave us the best feeling, whether we scored well on them or not.

The first green

The opening hole is a short par 4 of just under 350 yards. It plays left to right, not quite a dogleg but not far off it. There as small dunes on either side of the fairway so it was a 3 wood off the tee for position then a wedge to a green that sits on a plateau. Don’t go long like we did, it’s a very tricky up and down from the back of the green.

Testing Par 3

Leg O’Mutton

The 4th hole, the strangely named Leg O’ Mutton, is a par 3 and played 184 yards. The out-of-bounds and the railway line are just off the green to the right and the burn to the left, it’s a tough hole. You play from an elevated tee so wind is always a factor. Anything on the putting surface requires a good shot. Get a 3 here and you’ll be delighted.

Your 2nd shot to the 7th

The 7th, Armchair, is a test of your ball striking. A 407-yard par 4, it is statistically the hardest hole on the course. A good drive and it’s still a medium to long iron in. It plays uphill and the green sits atop a steep slope. Any shot that doesn’t quite make the green will roll back a good 20 yards, we know that from our experience…

Disaster Strikes

The small 8th green

The 8th hole, Bulldozer, was our disaster hole. From the elevated tee, you hit a club that will get you to the corner. Hit it too far and you will end up in the dunes where finding your ball will be down to the luck of the Irish. Your second shot is uphill to a green you can’t really see much of. There is an embankment to the right and a steep slope to the left. This was the only hole on the course we didn’t score on. We lost a ball off the tee, then another trying to hit the green. Hopefully, you will have better luck than we did when you come to play here.

The Quarry hole

We don’t know if the 9th hole is Castlerock’s signature hole, but it’s the prettiest-looking hole on this course. The photo above was taken from behind the back tee which is 215 yards to what looks like a tiny green. From the white tee, it’s 193 yards and for us, it was a 3 hybrid into a wind off the right. Tough hole especially if you miss the green. We took our par and ran up the hill to the next tee and wondered what the back nine had in store for us.

Will Your Luck Hold Out?

The approach to the 12th

The 12th hole, Spion Kop, is all about where your tee shot finishes. At 420 yards, if you finish on an upslope or downslope, you will struggle to reach the green. It’s an undulating fairway with two large mounds around 230 yards off the tee so it’s a bit down to luck whether you can go for the green or not.

The 14th hole

The 14th is another pretty-looking par 3. At 182 yards, it’s a test, especially in a wind from the right and into you. Find the green with your tee shot and you should make a straightforward par although there is a bit of slope and turn on the putts. The 15th is a 510-yard par 5. It’s a blind tee shot over a hill. The marker post is the ideal line; even with a good tee shot, it was a 3 shot hole for us.

Hawtree’s Summit

The 16th, Hawtree’s Summit, is the final par 3 and it’s the shortest of them all at 145 yards. It’s named after Martin Hawtree who carried out the course renovations in 2018. The green, as well as the 17th tee are the high points on the course so any wind will play havoc with your tee shot. The green slopes left to right so the pin position, which is back left in the photo, is the toughest on this hole.

Selfie Spot

Inishowen

As you walk off the 16th green and go towards the 17th tee, the Club have provided their very own selfie spot. As you can see from the headline photo, the Club have chosen the high point on the course and the background has views over the course and out to the Atlantic Ocean. It also helps if the sun is shining!

Get a good drive away on the 17th hole, Inishowen, and you have a chance to reach this par 5 in two. Playing downhill and only 485 yards, this hole is all about the second shot. If you avoid the large and deep bunker on your right, it’s downhill to the green so a good second shot will give you what is really a giveaway birdie. Needless to say, we made par…

Your second to the 18th green

The 18th hole is, in many ways, a replica of the first hole. It’s the same shape, left to right, except that your tee shot is downhill to the corner and then uphill to the green. Get a decent tee shot away and it’s only a wedge to the green. Make sure you get up the slope. Anything short will roll back down if it avoids the bunkers.

Mussenden Links Summary

The championship course at Castlerock is a lovely test of golf. We found it not too difficult to score on. We were level par off the white tees apart from that blob on the eighth. Like most courses, if you hit the fairways you have an excellent chance of playing well. The two holes we birdied don’t even feature in this article. The two that we bogied, the 7th and the 12th do. It just shows you that we tend to feature the testing holes, but again, it’s all about opinions.

The Bann Course

The 9th on the Bann course

Named after the River Estuary that you can see from many tees on the Mussenden course, the 9-hole course looks a cracker. We didn’t have time to play it but if the 9th on this course is anything to go by, it looks like a great test. At only 141 yards, it’s a case of hitting the green or lose your ball. It must be a nightmare to play when it’s windy. With a par of 34, it’s less than 2500 yards but it’s tight. Maybe we will get a chance to play it on our next visit!

Thank you to Bert McKay, the General Manager for hosting us and it was great to meet Robert Irvine, Castlerock’s new Scottish Professional. Even though he doesn’t officially start to the 1st of June, Robert was in the pro shop meeting and greeting all the members and visitors. We wish Robert every success for the future at Castlerock.

At a Glance :

  • Traditional Irish Links
  • Easy walking and great test of golf
  • 27 holes plus practice area and short game area
  • Well stocked pro shop
  • Welcoming staff
  • Portstewart (3 courses) and Royal Portrush (2 courses) nearby
  • Just over an hour north of Belfast City Centre

Jim Callaghan has been a Category One Golfer for over 45 years. Recently retired from Club Management, he now walks the fairways of some of the best golf courses in the UK, Ireland and Europe and writes about the experience of playing and staying at them for worldsbestgolfdestinations.com

Now in his 60’s, he is still carrying his bag, although maybe not for much longer!

If you would like Jim to visit and write about your venue for FREE, email him at [email protected] or call him on 0044 (0) 78522 88732

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