A no-nonsense, old-school, authentic links

Kirkistown Castle

Kirkistown Castle Golf Club

Kirkistown Castle Golf Club

Date Reviewed
June 24, 2018
Reviewed by Ed Battye
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.

The very welcoming professional told me that their signature hole is the 10th – aptly named “Long Reach” it is a ballsy 435-yarder played to one of these perched greens. Residential housing down the left is obviously out of bounds whilst heavy bunkering is also present at the most undulating fairway on the course before you turn to the left and fire to a green atop a plateau with a steep ramp flanked by whitethorn, gorse and long rough. I’m not sure what the prevailing wind is but I was thankful for some assistance on the drive, however, this made stopping the ball on the green much more difficult. Whilst I’m not sure it is a great golf hole it is certainly fraught with danger. I can only imagine some of the disasters that have struck club members on this most difficult of holes. The 2nd is a miniature version and has an old castle tower ruin at the side of the green.

The collection of two-shotters offers an excellent mix and variety. The 3rd and 7th may just be driveable under favourable conditions but the 6th, 12th, 13th, 17th and aforementioned 10th all exceed the 430-yard mark and add some real bite to the course; the approach to the 13th is particularly enjoyable and calls for some shot-making. The 5th, 9th and 15th are another three holes which really stood out for me and whilst they may not grab the headlines they add plenty of copy to this engaging tale of links golf.

There are only two par-fives on this par-69, 6,167-yard layout and these come at the first and last. What’s most interesting about this dynamic pair is that they share the same fairway. Golfers on the 18th have priority and it can make teeing off on the first a little awkward whilst you have to wait for players to clear the ‘danger area’ marked by a couple of blue posts. The latter is the better hole, thanks to a deep man-made depression to the left and a fine green complex, but the first is nonetheless a reasonable getaway hole.

The quintet of short holes is also worth mentioning as a group because they are all good. The 8th (devilish bunker front right) and 16th (wicked putting surface) are two of the holes that play to elevated greens and are not to my personal taste but require good strikes regardless and the 4th is just a classic links par-three with delightful bunkering. The other two are called “Wee Dunt” and “Big Dunt” and as you can perhaps imagine one is not much more than a pitch at just 127-yards whilst the other pushes the 200-yard mark. Both are played in the same corner of the property and in the same direction.

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.

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