Castlerock is a seaside village, located on the Causeway Coast. The Mussenden course (named after the nearby temple which is perched dramatically on the cliff edge) 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.
The club was founded in 1901, originally as a nine-hole layout, and was extended to 18 holes in 1908 by the famous Scottish club maker, Ben Sayers. In 1925, Harry Colt made further modifications to the course.
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 exceptional holes. Play close to your handicap and you are doing very 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.
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. 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 was completed in April 2018 then phase 2 was carried out over the winter of 2019/2020, installing new bunkers, run off areas and mounding around several greens, along with the addition of new tees on another three holes.
Castlerock is a fine course and has some excellent holes. I particularly liked the opening two holes…both shortish par 4’s doglegging from left to right that give you the chance to play your way into the round. Hole 4 is very good par 3 with OOB right and brook running across the green and to the left. Holes 8 - 10 are excellent but the stretch thereafter is relatively bland until you reach 17 a brilliant par 5. The tee shot is from an elevated tee and you have to thread your approach past a huge blow-out bunker set around 120 yards from the green….this was one of the most memorable holes on our trip. The 18th is also a very nice hole moving from left to right before the player approaches the long narrow green raised above the player. The only disappointment was that all bunkers were out of play and some of the greens were tined.
Lovely links course. The mix of holes by the railway and holes in the dunes confuse you as to whether you're in Scotland or Northern Ireland. Didn't get the chance to play the 9-hole course, but that looked great and worth playing as a warm up for your main 18.
A very good course for sure but not in the same group as RCD or Royal Portrush
On arrival you can’t help but be taken aback by the clubhouse and the surrounding course. Weather in the previous week hadn’t been kind but the course didn't show any signs of wear and tear. The fairways were hard and true as were the exceptional greens and the course was quiet for a saturday afternoon in October.
We first played the 9 hole Bann course in the morning and we’re blown away (metaphorically) so we were really looking forwards to the afternoons round on the premier 18 mussenden course, however and don’t get me wrong the mussenden is a really good course it just didn’t quite hit my expectations. The course is situated in superb surroundings but i do feel the best views, layout and holes are on the Bann course and should have been incorporated more into the mussenden. Holes 7 and 8 on the mussenden were excellent and tough, but very beautiful holes and hole 18 was a very good hole to finish. What disappointed slightly was that a lot of the holes were just ok nothing special holes that seemed to follow one another and i didn’t overly love the par 3 4th hole that i’d heard such good things about.
Whilst myself and my playing partner both enjoyed the round (in which i had my best score of the holiday) I couldn’t help feel that value for money wise it doesn’t quite match some courses i’ve played or some of its close neighbours.
To summarise whilst there’s no doubt castlerock is one of the top golf courses in northern ireland i was left feeling like i needed a little more , a couple extra top holes or a real signature stand out hole.
A quick note the special warmth we received from the pro, staff and members at castlerock. Without doubt the best we've ever experienced. We stayed in the bar for around two hours after we’d finished and we chatted to every person present. A truly special atmosphere.
We will definitely be coming back, but probably just to play the Bann, maybe twice round.
The Mussenden Links at Castlerock is a fine golf course that should be played either before the start of the playing the bigger courses in Ireland/Northern Ireland or at the tail end when you want to have some fun and laughs. There are challenges at Castlerock Mussenden and there are numerous holes that can restore confidence in one’s game.
This Ben Sayers/Harry Colt design is joyful. I know the wind can blow very hard here, but it can also be calm. On the day we played it was a medium level wind, not really high enough to blame a poor shot on the wind but enough breeze to take the wind into account.
I agree with several of the earlier reviews with regards to the holes they highlighted.
We played the white tees at 6506 given some of the skills and age of some members of our eight players as we had a four ball team match. The back tees do make the course more compelling on several holes such as one which adds 22 yards, eleven which converts a short par 5 under 500 yards to a medium length par 5 of approximately 530, and eighteen which adds 25 yards.
There are several good holes here such as two, four, five, seven and eighteen.
The highlight of the golf course is the fourth hole, a par 3 of 200/184 played along a tight railroad line to the right and a burn crossing diagonally right to left in front of the green. There are four pot bunkers surrounding the green. The burn is not much of an issue compared to the railway line. The green has sections with more slope. I scored a double after leaving my first bunker shot in the bunker to a tight pin back right.
There are some nice smallish dunes on the golf that add to the visual beauty but I do not think really have an impact on the way one plays the golf course. A good example is the first hole which is a slight dogleg right where the mounds are not truly tall enough to influence the shot. The two small pot bunkers on either side of the green are more influential on this short par 4 opener. The green does have some nice tiers and undulations to it but overall it is a gentle opening hole.
The second is another sharp dogleg right which I did not care for although the green is well defended by four small pot bunkers and the green slopes towards the bunkers.
The third is a bland par five that is likely more of an issue when the wind is in one’s face. There are three scattered bunkers down the fairway and three by the green but the hole is not much of a challenge. The green does have some nice undulations.
Holes five and six are both too short to present any real challenge to the person who knows the golf course. The defenses are obvious and easily avoided. Five is a par five with the railway line down the right side and a fall off behind the green while six has the burn crossing in front of the green. The sixth green’s undulations are all in the front half.
Seven is the number one index and I thought a very nice mid-length par 4 with the green situated slightly uphill in the smallish dunes although I thought the green should have had bunkers.
Eight plays into the dunes as a mid-length par 4 but for whatever reason it does not seem “finished” to me as it is lacking in strategy and the green is perhaps the least interesting.
I liked nine, a longer par 3 named “Quarry.”
For me the golf course loses a bit on the back nine. They are not “bad” holes here, I felt they were okay but nothing really interesting from a strategic standpoint. Fourteen and seventeen are perhaps the other holes worth mentioning as more challenging due to the greenside bunkering and slopes near and on the green. Seventeen has some changes in terrain to consider.
Ten is a mid-length par 4 slight dogleg left with some nice slope in the green.
Eleven is a mid-length par 5 with the burn at the back of the green and four bunkers fronting the green. However, the tee shot is fairly open and this is a legitimate chance at eagle or birdie.
The next stretch of holes leading up to seventeen are “nice” holes but with not a lot to them. Fifteen could have used more defense to it. Sixteen is a short par 3 with good bunkers surrounding it and fall offs on all sides but the green itself was relatively flat.
I liked the finishing hole, a short par 4 that can be driven if downwind even if the green is elevated and relatively close to the clubhouse. It is a lovely elevated tee shot hitting down through the turn in the dunes and then
slightly back uphill to the green.
One reviewer noted that if they were to build one eighteen hole golf course here instead of having 27 holes then they could perhaps have one of the finest links golf courses in the world. I do not doubt that as I peaked every now and then at the Bann course which has more wild, higher, and interesting dunes. More than half of the green sites looked both challenging and interesting. There is no doubt in my mind that a very good routing with interesting green sites could have been built. Adding another 700 yards to test the best players in the world would be fun to see. I realize high wind can make a 7500 yard course possibly unplayable for even the best players in the world, but this land is nearly perfect to have attempted it.
The course as presented is too short for the best players and the course could use another 30 or so bunkers, particularly for the tee shot. The use of the burn is good but could have been better. The course is well conditioned and the greens run smoothly and have adequate undulations. Overall, this is a course I would rate as not quite achieving its potential.
Unless one is going on to play courses nearer to Dublin or northwest, or west, and there is only limited time to do so, a stop at Castlerock to play the Mussenden Links is worth it. A good player might not be truly challenged here, but it will be an enjoyable experience both on the golf course and in the very friendly clubhouse.
Challenge is clearly a key attribute of our game, but I feel this (clearly discerning) reviewer places a little too much emphasis on length & difficulty when attributing value to a layout.
It brings to mind the words of Golf Magazine’s architectural editor:
“ If the architecture of an eighteen hole course isn’t interesting at 6,200 yards, there is no chance it will be more interesting at 7,400 yards. Distance and toughness are far less meaningful measures of a design’s worth than the simple test of how badly one wishes to play the course on a regular basis...how has our original game, featuring a quick and enjoyable stroll outdoors, with engaging puzzles to solve, taken a back seat to the unimportant values of length and difficulty? How did the discussion become so messed up”?
BB, my bigger issue with Castlrock Mussenden is the lack of strategic bunkering as the tee shots and approach shots don't always bring a question into one's mind: the type of shot is relatively obvious and it is often with a short club in one's hands. The routing, green complexes and greens are relatively straightforward. There is not much of a puzzle to solve here unless the wind is high. But every course becomes more difficult in high wind or bad weather.....
With regards to my comments on additional length and for the top pros, I am not trying to suggest a course always needs length to add difficulty (look at Merion East, for me one of the three hardest courses in the world and the member tees are less than 6200 yards), it is more of a "what-if" question of how would the top pros do here and why did they not build a single 18 hole course given the chance? I never thought the top pros could shoot what they shot at either Lahinch Old or Royal Portrush. I did correctly predict the winning score at my home club during the BMW because it lacks strategic decision making for the pros. Their games amaze me so I am always curious not only for the lowest score ever on a golf course, but the lowest score in a tournament. However, courses should not be built for the top .01% as the game of golf would not survive.
Thanks again Mark. Perhaps we are not too far apart on the distance topic after all. I can get preoccupied with what modern equipment has done to old classic courses. This makes me wary to say they are too short. Perhaps pro’s should play with a different ball so that older courses become more relevant for them. But length is also relative within a generation of golfers, irrespective of equipment advances. so if I often had a short iron in my hands on a course, then I too may say a course could do with a bit of length. Watch this space in future reviews - (but don’t hold your breath as I’m not a long hitter, so it would be a real miracle of my driver)...
The Mussenden course is routed through sand dunes adjoining the Bann River estuary, the Atlantic Ocean, and the local railway line.
There are some gigantic dunes on the property, but most of the really wild territory is occupied by the Bann course.
The Mussenden course wanders through some lovely dunes, along the railway line to the river Bann, across a few burns, and through flatter territory and then back into the bona fide dunes terrain.
The course is well maintained with very good playing surfaces. There are some average holes and some exciting holes.
I particularly liked the short dog leg par 4 first hole with its natural dune setting. Hole 4 (Leg o' Mutton) is a par 3 with railway running on the right hand side of the hole, burn on the left, and some revetted pot bunkers protecting the front of the green.
Hole 6 (called Burn) is a short par 4 with a burn running across in front off the green. Hole 8 (called Bulldozer) is a strong dog leg par 4 requiring a long and accurate tee shot to set up an approach to a green protected by dunes each side. Hole 9 (called Quarry) is a par 3 set in an old quarry site surrounded by rough and wild terrain. Hole 17 (called Inishowen) is a par 5 through lovely linksland to a natural links green.
The Mussenden Course at Castlerock is wonderful links golf, and combined with golf at Royal Portrush and Portstewart makes a genuine links golf destination.
The turf is fast and running and the greens are superbly maintained. I don't regard it as a championship course, but rather a nice links course with some outstanding holes.
Start your Northern Ireland trips here and brush up on those bump'n'run shots before you hit the serious business at Portrush. And if you have time, nip out and play the 9-hole Bann Course – you won't be disappointed!
Peter Wood is the founder of The Travelling Golfer – click the link to read his full review.
Castlerock is a course I find difficult to review, mainly because while there are some great holes there are also some quite boring holes. I split the course in 1, 2, 4, 8, 9, 10, 17, 18 that I really enjoyed and 3, 5, 6, 7, 11, 12, 13, 14, 15 and 16 that I am really not fussed to play again.
I would recommend going to play and I would recommend also play the Bann the 2nd hole is lovely.
Both courses are in great condition and it is very much worth a trip to play. The members were also very friendly and the egg and bacon sarnie was not bad either.
Castlerock… simply rocks! I’ll admit straightaway that the Mussenden Links at Castlerock in County Londonderry is right up my street.
It’s an authentic, genuine, rugged links course that does everything you would expect of it and at times much more. It’s rough around the edges but that’s the way I like it and this natural layout certainly delivers.
One of the things I most liked about the course is the wandering routing. Quite often during the round I had lost my sense of bearing as the holes twist, turn and intermingle with each other.
You also have to try and shape your tee-shot for maximum benefit which is another thing that always ticks a personal box of mine. On my visit in June 2018 the course played so firm and fast that I didn’t hit driver once, it was really running with parched fairways. Several of these undulating fairways have speed-slopes which if you hit can eek out some extra yardage. The course was very brown, had been burnt to a crisp and played absolutely exceptionally.
A couple of modest left-to-right dog-leggers get us underway… The next few holes are not the best on the course but use up a lot of the poorer terrain early on in the round which is always preferred. Whilst we are playing these holes the promise of duneland awaits us to the left and we finally reach it at the excellent 7th where we play to a rumpled fairway before firing to an elevated green set amongst the sandhills.
This commences a very good run of golf holes and although 12, 13 & 14 are more lacklustre the finale is superb also. The 12th should perhaps be noted for the unusual landform in the middle of the fairway where a gigantic hummock protrudes upwards and can wickedly deflect a ball left or right.
On the run for home the par-five 17th should be singled out for praise and is another vying to be the best on the entire layout, certainly visually. From a photo-opportunistic teeing ground you play from this elevated position to a collapsing fairway which is guarded by a central bunker at approximately 250-yards with two further deep pits, and I mean deep, about 80-100 yards further on. These must be played over if you are down the right but with a favourable wind you can get home in two.
The last is also a fine finisher; hopefully after a drive that has curved around the dunes on the inner elbow of this left-to-right dogleg you will play up to a raised green sat proudly in front of the clubhouse.
All-in-all Castlerock delivers a true links treat. It’s not perfect and doesn’t live up to the very high standard of nearby Portrush or Portstewart but it’s certainly the next best thing going and at times can be included in the same conversation.
Ed is the founder of Golf Empire – click the link to read his full review.
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