Castlerock no longer just a hidden gem

Castlerock no longer just a hidden gem
Castlerock Golf Club

Castlerock Golf Club

The return of The Open to Royal Portrush next year means more than just a huge shot in the arm to the economy on both sides of the border.

It's also a massive plus for the suite of golf courses on Ireland's north and northwest coast, and Castlerock Golf Club is just one of those hidden gems that can expect to reap the benefits.

Founded in 1901, the scenic links on the Bann Estuary was a childhood playground for five-time European Tour winner Michael Hoey and so close is the course to the Shandon Park man's heart that he was on hand earlier this week for its official re-opening of the revamped Mussenden Course.

Dr Martin Hawtree was called in to look at the bunkering just over a year ago. But in the end, the club decided to follow his advice and completely revamp six green complexes, enhancing the links to such an extent that it may be only a matter of time before the club decides to modernise all 18.

Castlerock Golf Club

Castlerock Golf Club

"We had intended improving and reshaping the existing bunkers, but after consultation with Dr Hawtree we felt that only reshaping the bunkers would still leave some weak holes," explained General Manager, Bert MacKay.

"In addition to this some of the bunkers would have to be constructed against the grain of the typical links style to fit in with the landscape, so the plan evolved into an eight-hole project.

"The concept of the eight holes was then created in drawings after several consultations with Martin and his team. We then ultimately engaged with Esie O'Mahony and his team at Sol Construction to bring to life Martin's vision."

The club broke ground in August of 2017 but while they initially hoped to revamp eight holes, the plan was tailored to comprise just six — the first, second, 11th,  13th, 15th and 18th — with the work believed to have cost around £600,000.

Due to issues with the clay seems that ran across the course, it was felt eradicating all of these issues and putting all resources into these areas was key for a polished finished product.

The result is magnificent and Hawtree, whose work in Ireland features the likes of Ballybunion, Lahinch and Portmarnock to name but a few, was delighted that he was able to realise his vision which has resulted in the course being reduced in length by 25 yards in total with dogleg second reduced by 41 yards and the 13th lengthened by 16 yards.

The first green has been extended and features a run-off area and two new bunkers. The severe dogleg at the second has been removed along with the buckthorn that lines the right side with the new green greatly enhancing the hole.

The 11th was raised and now also feature in a swale to the left side of the fairway around 60 yards from the green.

The 13th has been pushed back 15 meters due to the large volume of clay underneath the green, bringing the burn more into play while the par-five 15th called for the reconstruction of the fairway with three strategic bunkers turning an average par five into a very fine hole.

The 18th green was completely re-contoured, softening the large ridge running through the green, creating more pin positions.

The bunker to the left of the green has stayed in position, but the slope leading into it has been softened, giving the impression of it popping out of the ground.

"I had a complete vision at the start," Hawtree said with a smile "The biggest satisfaction is arriving on a Monday, seeing what Esie has done and throwing up my hands in horror to say, 'That's not what I want.' 

"But within three or four hours, with a little retouching, we were always able to come up with something that we wanted and that was the most satisfying aspect of my job. The vision grows and seeing it all come together is very satisfying."

Castlerock measures just 6,800 yards from the tips and therefore has no ambitions to host an event like the Irish Open.

While will be one of the qualifying courses for the North of Ireland Championship next year when the Open is played at Royal Portrush, the club’s ambition was simply to make the course more enjoyable for the members and the stream of visitors that will come with the increase in visitor numbers to the north coast.

“We just wanted to improve the golf course for the members,” MacKay said. “We wanted to correct some of the holes that were a little unfair and make the course more consistent.

“We don’t have ambitions to host big events. We just don’t have the space or the length. 

“We have perhaps been overlooked as a good golf course over the years. But our golf course has evolved over the last five or 10 years and we want to put ourselves on the map as a good destination. 

“With ourselves, Portrush, Portstewart and Ballyliffin, we have a nice cluster of golf courses for the North American market and other visitors. 

“We wanted to create a fairer and better course for our members and visitors and we are very pleased with the results.”

If the members are happy, more changes are sure to follow and Castlerock will welcome thousands more visitors to one of the most scenic parts of Ireland.

Factfile Castlerock Golf Club

Address: 65 Circular Road, Coleraine, BT514TG


Telephone: 028 7084 83 14


Green fees:

£85 Mon - Fri; £95 Sat-Sun.

Society rates:

From £40 (min 12)

Buggy hire:


Club hire:


Electric trolleys:


Range Balls


Signature hole — 9th - Par 3 - 214 yards

A long par three played to a bowl shaped green surround by rough and fescue.

Expert tip

There’s room on left to bail out as you may get a friendly kick down onto the green. A brave shot will set up a birdie. However, anything missing the green right can end up in heavy rough. Requiring anything from a six iron to a driver, a great strike is needed to this lovely hole.

Nearby clubs

Royal Portrush
Roe Park

This feature first appeared in the Irish Independent’s weekly golf supplement, Tee to Green, on 10 May 2018