Guide to Ballycastle Golf Club
Golf fans enjoying a break along the dramatic coastline of County Antrim in Northern Ireland can’t resist pausing for a round or two of their favourite game. Many head for the championship links of Portrush and Portstewart yet a short drive to the east is a challenging course that is like a microcosm of Ireland itself.
Fast-flowing rivers, the steepest wooded hills, manicured greens and an ancient ruined abbey are just a few of the features that are sure to provide a pleasurable test for every golfer. It’s such a unique course it’s hardly surprising that Damian McEvoy enjoys being Ballycastle’s PGA professional.
History of the Course
In 1890, twenty-six golfing enthusiasts led by Naval Commander Alfred Malcolm Causton established Ballycastle Golf Club. It was nicknamed the Warren Links due to the large number of rabbit holes that kept appearing in the turf.
Just one year later, Ballycastle collaborated with eight other clubs to become an influential founding member of the Golf Union of Ireland. Ballycastle was a particularly forward-thinking club and encouraged ladies to play there from 1897.
In 1906, the nine-hole course was completely restructured after the purchase of further land enabled the fairways to be lengthened. The course was finally extended to eighteen holes in 1926 and has since remained mostly unchanged. Today the links are regarded as some of the finest in Ireland.
Ballycastle’s hill-top golf course at the end of Glenshesk, one of County Antrim’s famous Nine Glens, is set amongst some of Northern Ireland’s most outstanding natural scenery.
There is the rugged beauty of the Causeway Coast with northerly views across the bay towards the idyllic Rathlin Island with its three lighthouses. Gaze just beyond it on the clearest of days, and it’s possible to catch sight of Scotland’s Mull of Kintyre.
The majestic Donegal Hills lie to the west of Ballycastle while to the south-east are the peaks and valleys of the Antrim Glens.
How to reach Ballycastle
Ballycastle is situated on the northern tip of County Antrim not far from the famous limestone steps of the Giant’s Causeway. From Portrush, it’s a short, twenty-mile journey eastwards along the A2 that takes no more than twenty-five minutes by car.
It’s a similar distance from Coleraine and around five miles less from Ballymoney in the south. The nearest ferry crossing from the UK is at Larne, approximately forty miles to the south on the eastern coast.
Tournaments at Ballycastle
One of the most prestigious of Ballycastle’s competitions is the annual Causeway Coast Tournament. It’s Europe’s largest open competition for amateurs and regularly attracts more than one thousand golfers from all over the world.
For an entire week in June, Ballycastle shares the tournament’s duties with golf courses at Castlerock, Ballyliffen and Royal Portrush. The competition was known for many years as the Black Bush Tournament in honour of a famous whiskey by Bushmills, the competition’s sponsor.
Other tournaments include the Louis Sweeney Cup, an open contest for gentlemen which is held in March and the Wetherall Cup, a similar competition for ladies which appears in August.
If you want to test your skills, Ballycastle hosts several amateur competitions including one for gentlemen on Wednesdays all year round.
You can purchase various equipment, snacks and refreshments at the well-stocked shop situated in the clubhouse. The Golf Shoe Restaurant serves excellent breakfasts of bacon, sausage, scrambled eggs and beans.
The fried potato cakes are particularly delicious. After you’ve worked up a healthy appetite tackling the fairways, you’ll appreciate the Golf Shoe’s afternoon fare which includes burgers, battered cod, chips and a great selection of paninis.
How much is a Round of Golf at Ballycastle?
Ballycastle Golf Club is accessible to visitors and members at any time of the year. Visitor’s fees throughout the week are £75. A special concession for married couples is £85 during the week and £95 on the weekend and public holidays.
Young players under the age of eighteen can play for £10 on weekdays rising to £15 on Saturday and Sunday. A set of golf clubs can be hired for £20. Manual and electric trolleys are £3 and £10 respectively. £40 will acquire the services of a caddy. Golf buggies are available for £25.
Ballycastle presents golfers with the unique challenge of playing an exciting mix of parkland and natural links set over a variety of steep elevations. The River Margy, the River Clary and the local road form a boundary around the first five holes. Several woodland spinneys are a dominant feature of the landscape.
Close by is the ruined Bonamargy Abbey which has stood upon the hillside since 1485. As the resting place of the sixteenth-century chieftain, Sorley Boy Macdonnell and successive earls of Ulster, the abbey and its grounds are out of bounds to golfers.
In poor weather conditions particularly during the winter, some holes may be unavailable. Ballycastle is a surprisingly compact course with steep hills and narrow fairways that require the most accurate shots to stay within par. With several holes barely visible from the tees, your instinctive play will be tested from the start. The course covers 5,876 yards with a total of 71 par.
Holes 1 to 5
These are set in beautiful parkland bordered by two rivers and a road. The unkempt graveyard of the prohibited Bonamargy Abbey is often the last resting place of many a lost ball.
1st Hole: 456 yards/4 par: You need to make an excellent start at this tricky hole. There is an angled, narrow fairway that runs parallel to a line of trees.
2nd Hole: 351 yards/4 par: Another sharp turn in the fairway.
3rd Hole: 166 yards/3 par: A relatively short, enclosed fairway that runs parallel to the road and a winding spinney.
4th Hole: 408 yards/4 par: An angled fairway bordered by woodland.
5th Hole: 259 yards/4 par: A dead straight fairway that runs through a corridor of trees.
Holes 6 to 10
You will find these holes lying on the other side of the road. The woodlands are replaced by prickly gorse bushes and dunes near the coastline. You’ll notice the landscape becoming much steeper. If you are not too enthusiastic about climbing steep hills laden with equipment, consider hiring a golf buggy before setting off.
6th Hole: 319 yards/6 par: Known as the Hog’s Back. The fairway running parallel to the road is one of the most generous to be found at Ballycastle. However, you’ll need a straight aim as the sharply undulating landscape leaves the hole obscured from the tee.
7th Hole: 404 yards/4 par: The incline of the hill continues to increase on this angled fairway that runs alongside the coastline.
8th Hole: 327 yards/4 par: A reasonably straight but undulating fairway that heads inland.
9th Hole: 353 yards/4 par: There is an undulating elevation to negotiate along the gently curving fairway.
10th Hole: 115 yards/3 par: A wild shot on Ballycastle’s shortest fairway can easily miss its mark on the steep terrain.
Holes 11 to 18
These holes work their way up the steep incline of the cliff before running across the summit ready to drop sharply on the other side. You’ll need accurate play to compensate for any stiff breezes that often blow in from the sea. Many golfers find it easy to be distracted by the truly magnificent views afforded by this section of the Ballycastle course.
11th Hole: 347 yards/4 par: There is an acute angle in this undulating fairway.
12th Hole: 489 yards/5 par: A steep climb along another undulating fairway.
13th Hole: 146 yards/3 par: A relatively short and straight approach to the green that’s narrow enough to require high concentration.
14th Hole: 355 yards/4 par: A reasonably straight fairway with a commanding view of Ballycastle Bay and Rathlin Island.
15th Hole: 402 yards/4 par: You’ll be aiming along an angled fairway towards a green that’s above a steep wooded hillside.
16th Hole: 294/4 par: A beautiful straight fairway suddenly turns towards the end at an angle of around 75 degrees.
17th Hole: 183 yards/3 par: Known locally as the Pitch. Don’t forget to take a last look back at the fantastic views of such a stirring landscape before hitting off from the tee. The green is at the foot of a severe drop of more than a hundred feet.
18th Hole: 502 yards/5 par: A long but kinder fairway that runs parallel to the road and leads conveniently to medicinal tea or stout at the 19th.