Castlerock Golf Club is one of a truly great trio of links courses that lie within a few miles of each other on the Causeway Coast in Northern Ireland. Like the other two courses, at Portstewart and Portrush, Castlerock also has more than just an 18-hole layout to offer golfers.
The 2,446-yard 9-hole Bann is the par 34 relief course for the 18-hole Mussenden and it is routed through magnificent, towering dunes that sit just off the Atlantic shoreline. Created in the mid 1980s by the late Billy Kane who followed a Frank Pennink design, the Bann course is tucked away beyond a caravan park behind the clubhouse and it’s very easy for the casual visitor to know nothing about its existence. Once on the course, golfers are isolated in their own private little golfing world, hidden from view, for the most part.
The 5th is a 491-yard par five, called “Bannview” and it’s a truly memorable hole played downhill all the way to a green flanked by sand hills on three sides with the River Bann running all the way down the right side of the fairway – wonderful! This is the tough wee course the juniors practice on here at Castlerock, so look out for even more fine golfers to emerge from this part of Ireland in the future.
There's just one lone bunker on the Bann course at the front left of the 3rd hole, Kellys Eye, and it really shouldn’t come into play on this 92-yarder which sports a long and narrow bone-shaped green. Rollercoaster is a cliché much used in describing a round played over tortuous terrain but it is the perfect description of what it is like to play the Bann – severe elevation changes, left and right doglegs, blind shots galore –you’ll find them all here on a modern course steeped in old fashioned golfing values.
James W Finegan on the course: “As for the third nine, called the Bann course, it is a jewel. Just under 3,000 yards and closer to the sea than the eighteen [Mussenden], it sticks resolutely to the duneland, its fairways and greens are elusive targets, and honest shot-making is called for (but not brawn) hole after hole.” From Where Golf is Great – the finest courses of Scotland and Ireland.
We arrived for the start of our 4 day trip to Northern Ireland with what we thought would be a nice easy ‘dust off the cobwebs’ type 9 holer before tackling the mussenden (main course) in the early afternoon, however what we got was in my opinion a bastion of 9 hole golf courses , which not only rivalled the main course but after much deliberating on our flight home concluded that it was probably the most enjoyable round on our trip, which also included Portrush and Portstewart golf clubs.
The Bann course is a 9 hole short course consisting of five par 4’s, three par 3’s and a solitary par 5 , although not long it is extremely tight , and in the wind we faced on the day a take your medicine golf course. YOU MUST! hit the ball where you can see it we were told and generally an iron or hybrid aiming for the largest parts of fairways is advised. The par 3s are mesmerising and the par 5 5th from the tee with the river running down the right hand side was as good as it gets. All the par 4s were strong barring the opening hole (which is the only average hole imo) with my favourite being the 6th where after driving to the top of the hill at around 200 yards a 120 yard shot down to a small green in the center of steep dunes with a pond short left really puts you under pressure, which might equate to why i hit it 20 yards right!
The greens were in excellent condition even after a weeks rain and fairways were surprisingly firm and true. Bunkers were also as you would expect from a top course. The rough was punishing and penal mainly forfeiting your chance of birdie, which happened on more than one occasion. A tough test in the 25mph winds we faced but on a good day a really good round for sharpening up your iron play and short shots to the green.
Arriving back at the clubhouse and overlooking the first and last hole you be hard pressed not to be wowed by the whole package that the club offers and how we couldn’t help but feel a little jealousy that for the locals this was 27 holes of golfing bliss on their doorstep. At £20 a round i don’t think there’s a better 9 holer in the uk and if i’m back in the area i would make a b-line to come back for the Bann course which i would have to play again. I would go as far to say this is a must play, and some of the best value for money golf i’ve played.
Also just to note the friendliest clubhouse we’ve experienced from any of our golfing trips, with members really excited that we’d come to play their course, and who also spent time to talk us through our upcoming rounds at nearby courses.
There's just one lonely bunker on the Bann course at the short par three 3rd.
The Bann course is routed through some gigantic dunes and it is a mystery to me why this territory was not used more for The Mussenden course.
It covers some good golfing land with sea views, and borders the Bann River for quite a stretch.
The 9-hole course is not well known outside the club, and is not quite as well maintained, although the greens are in very good condition.
Playing the Bann for the first time is a magical mystery tour – there are a number of blind tee shots, and greens are small and tucked in dells or behind dunes.
The emphasis here is on FUN!
Interestingly there are no bunkers on the course at all. Perhaps the knock on this wee course is that it is too tight and a little too penal – personally I would widen the landing areas a little on fairways and around greens to allow the natural dune slopes to bounce the ball back into play.
But I have to say it is pretty wonderful the way it is now.
We loved the Bann Course!
Peter Wood is the founder of The Travelling Golfer – click the link to read his full review.
The Bann is the most exciting, fun and engaging 9-hole links courses that I have ever played. It’s truly a little diamond and one that should be savoured at least once by everyone who visits Castlerock.
You need to think your way round this quirky layout to have any chance of scoring near handicap. The greens are small, fairways quite narrow and with the views over the estuary to contend with, it’s tough to stay in the zone.
The Bann occupies a near perfect parcel of links land and the sweeping short par five 5th hugging the coastline is maybe the best hole of the 27 at Castlerock. Some will scoff at the Bann’s lack of bunkering and modest yardage. I couldn’t wipe the smile off my face. Immediately after putting out on the 9th I headed back to the 1st to play it again.
It would be a serious mistake to simply tick off the big names and overlook the Bann when visiting the Causeway Coast.
Castlerock has a superb relief 9-hole layout called the Bann Links, designed by Frank Pennink in 1986. If you’ve got a spare hour, 90 minutes at most, I would urge you to give it a quick whirl. It actually enjoys the best of the duneland, at the mouth of the River Bann, and is a fantastic warm-up for the main course.
You must walk a good five minutes through a neighbouring caravan park to locate the first tee but once you are there, and have played the modest, lay-of-the-land, getaway hole, it’s non-stop fun with lots of quirk! You will play to rollicking fairways, greens in secret dells and to flags atop of plateaus.
Don’t mistake this for anything less than serious golf though; there are several top drawer holes. There are only nine of them in total and the par-34 layout measures a princely 2,446-yards but it packs a big punch.
If the club wanted to they could pinch some land from this course to enhance the main links but that would be to the detriment of this delightful short and sporty course.
The back-to-back one-shotters (3 & 4) are a true joy, as is the entire course. The first of these successive par-threes is just 92-yards but has a terrifyingly narrow volcanic entrance - the solitary bunker on the entire course is way down to the left and a steep drop to the right - whilst the next is do-or-die in terms of hitting the green.
The 2nd, 6th, 7th and 8th are all medium to short par fours and each one plays really well whilst the 9th – another par-three – has the most unusual green where a back right pocket could potentially hide the flag from view off the tee thanks to a huge dune!
It’s a serious nine holes but I’d suggest you do not take it too seriously and just enjoy the ride.
Ed is the founder of Golf Empire – click the link to read his full review.
Hands down the best nine hole course I've played! While the course does not have any bunkers, they really aren't missed. The course really lays on the most spectacular piece of land on the parcel, next to the river 'Bann' on the coast. The course is tucked between dunes and it has a wide variety of short holes, blind tee shots and small greens. The par 5 fifth is one of the most scenic par 5's on the Irish island. It really should have been part of the Mussenden Course. The Bann really is a good warm up for its bigger sister, but we played it afterwards and still it did not disappoint! My playing partner and I agreed though, that Castlerock should have consisted of a more roomy 18-hole course than the compact 27, with parts of the main course being laid out on duller land.
After calling the day before to ask if there was anything we needed to know about the 18 hole course, the man in the shop said no and then we arrive and were told that they were playing off mats on all holes, and only 13 holes were in play. Personally, I think that constitutes as something to need to know.
We decided to play the 9 hole course as it was mat free and the greens were apparently better. This turned out to be perfect because we managed to play 18 holes as there are a few par 3’s.
The course itself is very narrow and there are a few blind shots but is one of the best 9 hole/short courses I have played. The par 3 9th in particular where we couldn’t see the flag on the green because it was behind a giant dune but we were safe in the knowledge that if we hit to the middle of the green, the huge left to right slope would take my ball towards the flag. Really exciting to climb over the dune and see who’s ball was closer!
Lovely friendly atmosphere in the clubhouse afterwards and am really keen to go back and play the main 18 holes.
I played the Bann course on an afternoon in April 2006, having enjoyed the delights of the Mussenden’s eighteen holes in the morning. Conditions were very breezy and this, allied to the tricky terrain, made scoring very difficult indeed.
Bad enough that many fairways kinked, dipped and rose (all at once it seemed, at times!), taking the wind factor into account meant some shots were played aimed at punishing rough on the fringe of fairways in the hope that the ball would return to the cut stuff on landing.
All in all, this was a fantastic golfing experience on the so-called relief course at Castlerock.