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|Castlerock is a good second option near Portrush in Northern Ireland. (Brandon Tucker/TravelGolf)|
Northern Ireland is home to Royal Portrush and Royal County Down, considered two of the finest links courses in the world. But nearby Castlerock Golf Club is a worthy golf course to include in any Northern Ireland golf vacation.
CASTLEROCK, County Londonderry, Northern Ireland -- When you tee it up on a "solid second" golf course, wherever it may be in the world, you generally expect it won't offer all that a world class course would - whether it's length, conditioning, scenery or courteous bag boys.
You hardly ever expect it to exceed the heavyweights in any category, which is why the fantastic greens at Castlerock Golf Club in Northern Ireland come as such a pleasant surprise. They're that good - in many ways better than those at nearby Royal County Down and Royal Portrush, perennial world top-10 golf courses.
The Mussenden links in the seaside town of Castlerock is not among the super-elite class in the British Isles. It lacks championship length (just 6,747 yards) and has a few unremarkable, flatter inland holes. But it has enough going for it to be easily worth a stop on your Northern Ireland golf tour - right between Portrush and nearby Portstewart. It's about half the cost as Portrush and R.C.D., but that doesn't stop it from bearing greens in as good of shape as you'll find anywhere.
"People come and tell us our greens are in better shape than Newcastle (RCD) and Portrush," said Ian Blair, head pro at Castlerock. "And that's true all year long."
The speed, firmness and undulations of these greens make approach shots, chipping and putting a joy. They're true enough to have plenty of confidence at 10-15 footers. The green complexes themselves aren't as penal either, especially compared to the nightmares that lie just yards off the greens of RCD, but you'll need a variety of shots to score here as well.
The greens and course have had over a century to mature. The course was originally established around the same time as all the late 19th century golf courses in Northern Ireland as a result of the railway expanding north and west along the coast from Belfast. It's been changed and lengthened from time to time, and the first hole had to be moved inward as housing encroached the fairway. They're also currently working on upgrading the course's bunkering.
The opening holes at Castlerock start out farthest from the sea and hug a railway to the right. Unlike most links courses that have their most famous holes nestled against the water or in the highest dunes, Castlerock's feature hole is along this inland stretch: the par-3 4th, named "Leg ‘O Mutton." It plays from an elevated tee down to a green guarded in front and right by the Bann River which winds through the course and empties into the Atlantic. Train tracks run down the right side.
The highest dunes start coming into play on the 7th, the "Armchair," a 418-yard par 4 that plays uphill to a green encompassed by dunes. It also finishes among some of the most dramatic land on the property. The 17th is a downhill par 5 (one of five par 5s here) that played with wind behind you, is little more than a driver and short iron into the hole - but deep bunkers lie right of the fairway. On the 18th, you tee off through two huge dunes back towards town, before doglegging right up an elevated green in front of the clubhouse.
Castlerock Golf Club is about a half hour's drive west of Royal Portrush and Portstewart, as well as near the top of the north on the A2 Causeway Coastal Route.
Be sure to include it if you plan on spending a few days up north and have time to play more than just RCD and Portrush. It's a fine "solid second" along with Portstewart, Portsalon, Ardlgass and Portrush's Valley links. There are five par 5s here, making it a par 73, but at just 6747 yards.
It's also a bargain, especially considering the top shape that it's in at just about 50-60 pounds during the high season.
Castlerock is also home to the newer Bann Links - a full-length, nine-hole course that plays on some of the club's finest dunesland.
Radisson Roe Park Resort: Located in Limavady in western Northern Ireland, the Roe Park sports a new $2 million spa, multiple dining and bar facilities, a good-value parkland golf course and a practice center, making it a good first stop if you want to prep your game before hitting the coastal links. The spacious and modern facilities make it a year-round favorite for groups and corporate retreats.
Ramada Portrush: Overlooking the sea, this modern three-star option in the heart of Portrush is just minutes from the namesake course and convenient to other local attractions such as the Giants Causeway and the Bushmills Distillery. Portrush is about a half hour's drive from Castlerock.
September 19, 2007
Brandon Tucker is the Managing Editor for Golf Channel Courses & Travel. To date, his golf travels have taken him to over two dozen countries and over 500 golf courses worldwide. While he's played some of the most prestigious courses in the world, Tucker's favorite way to play the game is on a great muni in under three hours.
Any opinions expressed above are those of the writer and do not necessarily represent the views of the management.
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