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.
A review of Castlerock should mention the clubhouse and the staffing of the golf course as well as the actual lie of the land on which the course is built.I have rarely been at a club with such a vibe - you feel that staff are really trying hard to provide a service to the members and guests. And out on the course itself , there seemed like a small army of green keeping staff tending to the tees, fairways and putting surfaces. The Mussenden Links is a great links track and deserves to be in the top 100 on the website alongside Portstewart (Strand) which is only several long drives away across the river Bann - and the club seem very proud of their ranking too because a copy of these website pages have been pinned to the noticeboard in the gents locker room!
The greens were fast and true when I visited in late April, 2006 and the member I played with told me they had been that good throughout the winter. Tee boxes were immaculate and greenkeepers were repairing divots on several holes as we played.Some bunkers needed raking but that was the only small criticism I could raise with the condition of the course. I didn’t like the OOB to the left of the burn on the par 3 ‘Leg O’ Mutton’ fourth hole (onto the fairway of the 14th hole) - the only time I’ve seen something like that before was on the Machrie in Islay – but I did like the idea of the large halfway house after the 9th hole which obviously gets well used in the summer season.
The bunkerless short 9-hole Bann course is well worth playing too; just don’t think a short course like it will be a pushover as there are blind shots galore and some of the small punchbowl greens are very hard to find, especially if the wind gets up like it did for me. It is certainly a pity that some of those holes in amongst the dunes could not be incorporated into the big course but maybe it’s also good to have an alternative track for members to play when there’s many guests competing on the Mussenden in a week long competition like the ‘Black Bush’ in June every year.
Castlerock should not be overlooked when playing links golf along the north coast of the Ulster province.