65 Circular Road,
- +44 (0) 28 7084 8314
5 miles N of Coleraine
Contact in advance - limited at weekends
Ben Sayers, Harry Colt
Castlerock is a seaside village, located on the Causeway Coast. The course lies at the mouth of the River Bann, where it meets the mighty Atlantic Ocean. On a clear day, the Isle of Islay is visible to the north, and to the west, the rolling hills of Donegal.
Castlerock Golf Club was founded in 1901, originally as a nine-hole layout. The famous Scottish club maker, Ben Sayers, extended the course to 18 holes in 1908. In 1925, Harry Colt made further modifications.
Living in the shadow of its famous neighbours, Portstewart and Royal Portrush, Castlerock Golf Club is every bit as good, and should not disappoint. This is one of the toughest links courses around, with some fantastic holes. Play close to your handicap and you are doing exceptionally well.
The wind is huge factor and when it blows, hold on to your hat. This will no doubt affect scoring. So much so, that in 2001, during the Ireland PGA International, Paul McGinley registered the course record of 64 on a calm day. The previous day, when the wind was up, the eventual winner Des Smyth, was the only player to score better than par. As with most links courses, you must keep your ball in play. Your short game must be of the highest standard because these greens are very quick, even during the winter. Maintaining concentration is important all the way round, because there are no easy holes at Castlerock.
The 4th, a 200-yard par three, is the club's best-known hole, called “Leg O’ Mutton”. The tee-shot is played to a raised green, with the railway line running the full length of the hole on the right and a meandering burn running diagonally from right to left. Do not try to bump and run your approach shot to the short par four 6th – the hidden burn runs across the front of the green. The 15th is a great par five, called “Homewards”. A blind tee shot needs to be struck slightly right of centre, providing a great chance to score well. The 18th is a lovely finishing hole – a tough dogleg to the right and the highest, double-tiered, green on the course.
James W Finegan on the course: “The entire course lies neatly between the railway and the river and the sea… Many holes meander through inviting duneland, but equally many occupy less attractive ground, among them the famous and very much inland 4th… This highly penal if rather ordinary-looking hole demands a straight, solid strike.” From Where Golf is Great – the finest courses of Scotland and Ireland. One of the most enjoyable golf course books we’ve ever read.
We recommend a visit to Castlerock as part of a triple deal (with Portstewart and Royal Portrush). In 2003, the actor Michael Douglas visited Castlerock and he loved the course – a fatal attraction, you might say!
Castlerock also has a 9-hole course called the Bann. The layout is similar to the main Mussenden course, and the par five 5th is considered to be “one of the most scenic holes in Irish golf” – we can’t disagree. The club is is 'twinned' with Niagara Golf Club, considered to be North America's oldest existing golf course (1875).
In 2017 Martin Hawtree was commissioned to renovate the Mussenden course and phase one of the project commenced in October of that year with updates to bunkers and greens (under the stewardship of SOL Construction) across six holes. Phase one is was completed in April 2018 after a 13-hole composite course (using eight Mussenden and five Bann holes) had allowed members to play through the winter whilst the work was being carried out.
I returned to the Mussenden course the other day to have a look at the renovation that took place over the winter. With Martin Hawtree as the architect and Esie O’Mahony of SOL GOLF overseeing the construction, I expected a good job to have been done and that’s exactly what I found.
What started out notionally as a bunker renovation project across the entire course evolved into a more concentrated effort across six holes, with fairways, greens and bunkers all receiving some attention. It made sense to upgrade the greensites of the opening and closing holes as part of the upgrade plan as the 1st hole sets the tone for the round and the 18th leaves a lasting impression.
Removing the unsightly buckthorn to the right of the fairway on the doglegged 2nd hole was also a smart move, as was bringing the green forward almost fifty yards, away from the housing on Circular Road which runs along the perimeter of the course. That improvement ticked environmental and safety boxes in one go.
The most pressing issue of poor drainage was also met head on at holes 11, 13 and 15. It’s hard to imagine such a problem could have arisen so close to an enormous dune beside the 11th green but the former sand hill was put to good use, raising the putting surface and green surrounds on 11 and 13 to overcome the aquatic difficulties.
Hole 15 is still a work in progress but, once the new fairway is properly bedded in, the adjacent 3rd hole will also profit from less water running down the side slope onto it. All in all, the improvements have significantly enhanced the course’s appearance, even though a large proportion of the changes have taken place below ground level.
Course Manager Charlie Edgar and his green keepers must be commended for the work done over the last few months in tandem with the SOL staff. The maintenance and conditioning bar has now been set high at a course which has lived way too long in the shadow of its more famous near neighbours.
Castlerock shouldn’t be missed. It’s a classic links on a fantastic parcel. Dunes, burns and elevation changes make for an interesting course with lots of variation. The second half of the front nine is where it really gets going, with some cracking strategic and long par 4’s and the magnificent 8th, a long one shotter which narrow green makes it look daunting from the green. The back nine is more open but also very enjoyable. The finish however is wordlclass. The 17th is one of my favourite par 5s in the world. Visually stunning with the sea clearly visible and playing towards it and also a great strategic hole with a massive fairway bunker that catches everything right of the middle at 100 meters into the green. The 18th is a wonderful dogleg right playing to a highly raised green with two levels sloping severely back to front. It reminded me of the 18th at Sherwood Country Club, given the clubhouse that is only meters behind the green. Then don’t forget to play the Bann course while you’re here anyway! MO
Played Castlerock the day after Portstewart and it comes a very close second; the outstanding front 9 at Portstewart just edging that course home. Castlerock lures you in with a sedate start but when you make the turn back toward the clubhouse at the 6th, the fun starts especially if the wind is blowing. The next 7 holes provide the sternest of challenges, whilst 13 & 14 allow you to catch your breath, before a very tough finish (don't be fooled by the simple looking 145 yard par 3 16th either!). There are some beautiful views here too, especially from the 17th tee looking back across the course, toward Portstewart.
A course of extremes in terms of fairly flat terrain (but still interesting with a stream running through a number of holes), on the front 9, moving to more dramatic dunescape on the back. Standout holes front 9 are 4, 7, 8 & 9. All holes on the back 9 are interesting, scenic and of excellent design. This back 9 is as good as Portstewart’s. The real mad topography is on the Bann course, which is also a treat to play. Lovely course and if you are in the area playing the marquee courses, don’t miss a round here.
Three of us visited Castlerock for the first time in early August and found it to be a thoroughly enjoyable experience. The Mussendon course offers a solid and varied test of links golf and whilst undoubtedly being overshadowed by nearby Portrush and the back nine at Portstewart, it's well worth a visit. The greens were the best we encountered on the trip and the conditioning throughout was immaculate, although there were a few areas of fearsome rough leading to a higher than usual lost ball count. The 9-hole Bann course runs amongst some of the best duneland on the site which makes it an absolute must play if you have time but there is more than enough to keep you interested on the main layout with humps and hollows, a meandering burn and some fantastic views from the raised tees and greens. The par 3's are all good, particularly the 4th situated between the burn and railway line and the 9th nestled between sand dunes. The run of holes between the 6th and 10th are particularly strong with the 8th, interestingly named "Bulldozer", being a real beauty. The last three holes, including another strong par-3 at 16, and the challenging 18th are a fitting way to finish to an excellent day's golf. Brian W
Two things that characterize many of the great links courses are present at Castlerock: a railway and a caravan park. Wonderful golf is a third characteristic its Mussenden Links shares with better known layouts. The first two holes are a pair of short doglegs that require thinking and accuracy from the tee to position one’s ball for the most advantageous approach. Though I did not find the next three holes particularly special, at the 6th one starts an unrelenting stretch of fun golf. That hole channels the 1st at the Old Course, with a serpentine burn fronting the green. The 7th and 8th are a pair of par 4s, both with a definite line of charm off the tee and both with excellent green complexes. There follows a par 3 where a right corner hole location requires a blind shot……think Dell hole. At the next two holes the approach to the green falls away from the player, features that will penalize the player who doesn’t play the proper approach on Castlerock’s very firm fairways. The fun continues right to the end, particularly at the par 5 17th, which requires a well-executed second shot. Castlerock’s greens are nicely contoured, providing additional interest to ones’s round.
While not quite in the `same category as nearby Portrush, Castlerock does have two strong nines and the two courses make an excellent pairing for a golf holiday in northern Ulster.
I just checked that it’s two days shy of nine years since I last posted a review for the Mussenden course at Castlerock – where has the time gone I ask myself? Just like my last visit, I really enjoyed my round here and was suitably impressed once again with the staff in all areas of the clubhouse.
Out on the course, the two-tiered greens on the opening hole and the water-fronted 6th caught my eye this time around, as did the long par three 9th, with its punchbowl green nestled in the foot of a sandhill. The two downhill holes at 10 and 11 permit a wee freewheel at the start of an inward half that culminates in a terrific right hand dogleg to a seriously elevated home green in front of the clubhouse.
On the down side, I’m still not convinced the somewhat contrived 4th deserves its tag as “signature hole” on the course (the 6th, 7th and 8th are all better holes, for instance) and I also felt the greens on holes 3 and 16 were too severely canted from left to right to be considered “fair”.
I really do think the club should have a serious think about using some (or even all) of the land where the Bann course is laid out to develop what would certainly be a very good Mussenden layout worth a five ball rating, rather than the good course which it is that is currently worth only four balls.