Kirkistown Castle Golf Club in Cloughey, County Down, is the most easterly 18-hole course in Ireland and members celebrated the centenary of their golf club in 2002. G.L.Bailie of Belfast designed the original 9-hole layout and the first green keeper, Frank Polley, held the position for almost 50 years.
The course was extended to eighteen holes in 1929 and then six years later saw the implementation of James Braid’s modifications when tees and greens were altered and bunkers were reshaped and repositioned.
Visitors sometimes wonder about a couple of large depressions on the opening holes – during World War II, sand and gravel was excavated from the front of the 1st tee and behind the 3rd green for the construction of Kirkistown and Ballyhalbert airfields and that is how these two artificial landforms came about.
Cloughey is a little village near Portavogie on the east side of the Ards peninsula and the drive down from Newtownards is one of the most scenic in Northern Ireland as the road follows Strangford Lough then crosses towards the Irish sea. Alternatively, if approaching from the south, the ferry can be taken from Strangford on the mainland to Portaferry on the peninsula, crossing the treacherous Narrow Water where Strangford Lough pours into the Irish Sea.
The Kirkistown Castle course measures 6,167 yards in overall length and is arranged in two loops of nine with a par of 69 for the 18 holes. Between the opening and closing par fives, there are five par three and eleven par four holes. Many of these par fours are very strong holes, with no fewer than seven of them measuring over 400 yards.
The signature hole is the 438-yard par four 10th, named “Long Reach” where a pulpit green sits more than thirty feet above fairway level and is very hard to hold with a long approach shot. Par here is a real achievement and to score a bogey is not too bad either.
James W Finegan on the course: “Some insist that James Braid extensively revised the original eighteen, but hard evidence is lacking. At any rate, this is very good links golf – a turf base of sandy loam makes it quick to dry – with substantive elevation changes, a number of greens on the high ground that are fearfully exposed to the wind, plenty of revetted pot bunkers to add spice to the round, and a handful of par 4s over the 400-yard mark.” From Where Golf is Great – the finest courses of Scotland and Ireland.
Kirkistown Castle is a true links golf course near Cloughy on the Eastern shore of the Ards Peninsula in Northern Ireland.
The present day layout of this no-nonsense, old-school, authentic links is attributed to James Braid and dates back to 1934 although The Club is much older having been formed in 1902.
On my visit in late-June of 2018, after a spell of extremely hot and dry weather, the sandy course played particularly firm and fast with a beautiful burnt appearance where the fairways were baked and almost crusty. This placed a real premium on accuracy because a tight lie was required in order to impart spin on the ball to stop it on the green, or at least have some semblance of control over your running approach. A shot from the semi-rough was left to lady luck to some extent – the beauty of links golf!
I would like to say early on in the review just how impressed I was with the greens. They had that lovely bronzed, glazed sheen and they ran as true as any I’ve ever putted on. On an 11-course whirlwind tour of Northern Ireland, which included the greats of County Down, Portrush and Portstewart, the greens at Kirkistown were hands down the finest.
There are several changes in elevation during the round thanks to two extremely large hillocks which the routing is primarily centered around. This makes for some invigorating drives from high ground and several uphill approaches. In all honesty some of the inclines are little too steep for my liking but they still present an unusual challenge. There are also a number of pot bunkers to avoid on a routing that returns us to the clubhouse after each nine.
Approach shots at the 2nd, 8th, 10th, 12th and 16th all play to greens in the gods whilst the inevitable downhill drives come at the 3rd, 9th, 12th and 13th.
Northern Ireland is blessed with some of the best links golf courses in the world and whilst Kirkistown, located in County Down, doesn’t fall into this bracket it would be more than a fine accompaniment to any of the bigger names on a multi-course trip. Indeed should your onward journey take you to Ardglass or Royal County Down it is worth pointing out that you can hop on the regular Portaferry to Strangford ferry to cross the entrance of Strangford Lough.
Ed is the founder of Golf Empire – click the link to read his full review.