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 at here at Castlerock, so look out for even more fine golfers to emerge from this part of Ireland in the future.
There are no bunkers on the Bann, but it really doesn’t need any to protect the undulating little punchbowl greens. 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 new 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.
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.
For me, the Bann is one of the most exciting, fun and totally engaging 9-hole courses that I have ever played. It is truly a gem and one that should be played at least once by everyone who visits Castlerock. You need to think your way round this quirky little course to have any chance of scoring near handicap. The greens are small and the fairways quite narrow and with the views over the estuary to contend with, it’s tough to stay in the zone. This is a spectacular tract of land and the Bann a wonderfully natural course.