Castlerock Golf Club in Northern Ireland has reopened its main Mussenden course after a series of winter works led by golf course architect Martin Hawtree.
Castlerock, which was founded in 1901 and extensively redesigned by Harry Colt in the 1930s, while he was working at nearby Royal Portrush, sent out a questionnaire to members around eighteen months ago to elicit their views on prospective course work. This survey led club leaders to conclude they needed a bunker update programme, as there were three or four different styles of trap on the course.
The club engaged Hawtree to advise them on bunker upgrading, but the architect reached the conclusion that characteristically ʻlinks-likeʼ bunkers would not work given the shapes of contours found in the greens and their surrounds. Hence the project expanded, and became a more general renovation, focusing mostly on greens and surrounds. Members approved the works, which were paid for largely out of club funds, at an EGM last August.
Six holes have been reworked so far. The first green has been slightly extended to create new pin locations, while a pot bunker in a swale 20 yards away from the green has been removed, and two new bunkers created. Probably the biggest works were on the second hole, where Hawtree has moved the green to reduce an extremely sharp right to left dogleg and to attempt to reduce the risk of players driving onto the adjacent road. A considerable amount of buckthorn on the right side of the hole has been removed and replaced with a range of faux dunes. Architect Hawtree conceded that these mounds do not look good at the moment, as they need marram grass and other characteristic links vegetation to soften the shaping.
At the eleventh hole, a par five whose green backs onto a burn, the green surface has been raised by 50cm to alleviate some quite severe drainage issues – club officials said the new drainage outfalls had been running at full capacity since their installation.
Esie OʼMahony of contractor SOL Golf, which carried out the works, said that Castlerock, despite its seaside location and its range of tall dunes, was not everywhere characteristic links soil, with substantial patches of clay found in places. This meant that, in some areas, the clay had to be excavated and replaced with sand mined elsewhere on the property. Under the thirteenth green, the contractors found a clay layer 50cm thick, too big to remove, so architect Hawtree changed his plans and instead raised the green surface away from the clay.
All the greens were regrassed with the turf that had previously been lifted from them, ensuring no disconnection in grass species for the greens staff. O’Mahony said that his team had lifted and relaid 30,000 sq m of turf. Where the local turf was insufficient, as for example on the par five fifteenth hole, which has had its fairway substantially reshaped, a local source supplied the new sod. The greens have a new Rain Bird irrigation system, designed by Aquaturf.
The club’s general manager Bert Mackay said that Hawtree had provided ideas and drawings for all eighteen holes, but that members would enjoy their new look course for at least this year before deciding if and when to proceed with phases two and three of the renovation. “But phase one is the biggest piece of work,” he said. “For a golf club of this size it was a considerable investment.”