Castlerock stands out in one of Ireland’s most desirable golf neighborhoods

Castlerock stands out in one of Ireland’s most desirable golf neighborhoods

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Castlerock stands out in one of Ireland’s most desirable golf neighborhoods

CASTLEROCK, Northern Ireland – From the clubhouse restaurant at Castlerock Golf Club, general manager Bert Mackay can see his two biggest competitors, which also happen to be two of his biggest allies.

Just to the east across the River Bann is Portstewart, which will host the Dubai Duty Free Irish Open next week. Beyond that, just down the coast, is Royal Portrush, which will host the 2019 British Open.

For years Royal Portrush and Portstewart have been must-visit clubs for overseas golf groups. In recent years Castlerock has received a bigger share of that lucrative international business.

Mackay said green-fee revenue is up 62 percent over 2014, when he arrived. Much of that business, he said, comes from major American and Canadian markets. He said more than 60 percent of Castlerock’s business is generated by tour operators. The club’s peak prices (£95, or $121) are half that of Royal Portrush and £55 less than Portstewart.

Mackay also has gotten aggressive at long-term bookings; more than £70,000 worth of play already is booked for 2019, much of that in the weeks surrounding the British Open.

“I still don’t understand it, but people over here have a reluctance to open tee sheets,” Mackay said. “Our tee sheets are open until 2020. I don’t understand why, if people want to give you money, you’d turn that down. You’re going to have to make hay when the sun shines.”

All of those lucrative international visitors supplement a membership of 1,100, the vast majority of whom live within a 45-minute drive of the club, Mackay said. The modest £640 annual subscription guarantees members prime tee times, 27 holes of golf and a full practice area.

“For where we are and what we offer, we are still the cheapest golf club in this area,” Mackay said.

Mackay hopes to provide his members and international visitors an even better value in the coming years. The club, founded in 1901, is weighing renovations to its Mussenden Course, which was designed by Ben Sayers and refined by Harry Colt.

Tentative plans call for architects Russell Talley and Martin Hawtree to begin work Oct. 16 on three new holes and two new greens, with work to be completed by mid-December and ready for play by early spring. It’s all part of a longer-term renovation that includes bunker work over the next two winters.

“We’re going back to trying to restore some of the main characteristics that Harry Colt and Ben Sayers wanted in the golf course,” Mackay said.

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