Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Castlerock Leg of Mutton

What’s the craic like? is a question fired at me time and again. And time and again I say that’s it’s impossible to tell, and impossible to include in a review because during the winter months clubhouses close at 5pm or are empty at 8pm on a weekday. In terms of having an absolute blast I can safely say that Castlerock was fantastic fun. Not only did I stagger out of the clubhouse at 11.30pm, I staggered out again at 2pm the following day.

I arrived on President’s Day – it was their second attempt – and the afternoon had turned miserable. In the face of such angst, several golfers returned to the clubhouse to drown their sorrows. When I arrived later and set up in the bar, my computer out, my review of Roe Park faltering across the laptop’s screen, there was that volume that only comes from the enjoyably inebriated.

“What you doing?” A bleary eyed man stared at me and then scooted unsteadily around behind my chair to investigate. He was so close I was inclined to ask whether we were on a date. I explained what I was up to. Bad idea.

“Mr. President,” he roared. “I have a book over here writing a man.”


The President pottered over, shook my hand and welcomed me. I discovered later that his 50th wedding anniversary was the Saturday before – the day before my parents’ 45th. “They’re just getting started,” he barked with a laugh.

And then Mervyn arrived. Big Merv. He settled down in the chair opposite and we began chatting. A mine of information was our Merv. Not, he happily admitted, a proper golfer, which was amusing since two of his brothers-in-law were the professionals at Bundoran and Donegal. And as if that wasn’t enough, another brother-in-law arrived at the bar. Paul McNicol. Paul, his dad, Merv and one other caddied some years ago for a bunch of Americans who flew in to play Castlerock. The four were Michael Douglas, Dan Marino, the guy who owns the Miami Dolphins (and made his millions collecting garbage) and his son. So the game commences and they’re standing on the tee when a 13 year old walks over and asks Dan Marino who he is and what he does.
‘I’m a footballer’, Marino says.
‘Yea?’ says the boy, ‘were you any good?’
‘I was OK,’ Marino replies. ‘Actually, I was the best there’s ever been.’
If you’re non-plussed by this, Dan Marino was the quarterback for the Miami Dolphins for many years in the 80s. In essence he was the Colin Montgomerie of American Football – regarded as the best but he never brought home the big prize.

Paul had another story – he was a young boy when he caddied for Fred Daly and he distinctly remembers Fred asking him for his advice on his second shot on the par five 11th. ‘A 4 wood’, Paul responded. Fred agreed and stitched it to a couple of feet for his eagle. Paul doesn’t remember anything else – before or after – which myself and Mervyn found terribly convenient in terms of story-telling.
“So, what was it like caddying for John Daly?” Mervyn needled.
“No,” I said, holding up my hand before Paul could respond. “Not John Daly. It was Frank Daly, wasn’t it Paul?”
“Who’s Frank Daly? Mervyn countered. “Never heard of him.”
“Oh he’s some golfer,” I replied. “Not very good, plays off 15 I think.”
And so it went on.
Paul just kept on smiling, in that way that tells you he’s about to throttle you. But instead he bought another round.

Mervyn’s son is currently in America (Florida, Las Vegas and New York), and is rather sweet on Nicola, who was the gorgeous young lass behind the bar. With a smile like hers I don’t think he should stay away too long.

I found out a fair bit about Castlerock Golf Club – in all honesty I don’t remember that much – and after the bar shutters were pulled down and I’d managed to sidestep the suggestion of going on somewhere else, I sat in the camper desperately trying to remember the previous few hours. Not very well evidently.

My tee time was 7.30am but I had been warned that even that early I would encounter the early morning golfers. At 7.15 there was a heaving throng and I waited my turn. They were all three balls so I assumed it was a competition. But as I walked up the 2nd, one of the guys in front came back in his buggy and asked if I wanted to join them.

Tommy has two plastic hips – hence the buggy – and was going to Puerto Rico the next day for two weeks, so it was no surprise he was taking it easy. He plays off 14, Cedric off 12 and Jimmy off 10. Once I hooked up with them on the 3rd tee, it came down to how much money and what pairings. I played with Tommy and it turned into an excellent day’s golf. We were one down after 8 – my birdie on the par five 5th being trumped by Jimmy’s eagle. Then two down after 11 when Cedric rolled in a 30 footer for birdie. I played the last eight holes in level par and we still lost a further hole. Three down overall and yet Tommy had 42 points on his card. Apart from two blow-outs my card was good too, but it showed once again how important it is on a links course to play with someone who knows the course. There aren’t many blind shots – plenty of flags are visible – but knowing which side of the fairway to hit or how best to approach some of the tricky greens made all the difference. And while driving is mostly straightforward, you can only watch in dismay as balls roll across fairways (7, 10) or fail to clear dunes that appear closer than they are.

With Royal Portrush and Portstewart so very close by, and always getting rave reviews, it’s great that Castlerock can be mentioned in the same breath. Especially as the wicked par three 4th (OB is left of the creek which I, um, didn’t know), which is called Leg of Mutton. The other leg has strayed and is currently residing on the 9th at Lisburn.

And since a fair amount of this blog seems to be about drink, I should point out that Tommy brought along some liquid refreshment. Bishop Daly’s special brew, apparently. It appeared magically on the 12th, and I was in no position to refuse the entertainingly reddish liquid that was offered to me – even if I’d wanted to. How did it go down? I suggest you take a three iron and hit yourself in the back of the head. How did it taste? Exquisite. What was in it? I haven’t a clue, but please sir, can I have some more. Actually, seeing as I’ve already had a blog comment from Gordon, one of the Sunday morning crew, I’m hoping he might offer up another one with the special ingredients so you can all go off and get trollied.

And then it was back to the bar. Again. And after a beautifully sunny morning, it promptly began to rain.


  1. What an enjoyable read Kevin!! Now you will be aware that Tommy's mixture is the special recipie of one Bishop Daly, or so Tommy says, and therefore we are sworen to secrecy. However given we enjoyed your company and I enjoyed your comments I can tell you the ingredients but not the volumes. I would say folks could have quite some fun trying various amounts!! You will require some of the following. Poteen, Bombay Gin, Brandy balls and I know there are a couple of others. I will get the rest and enlighten you in due course. Cheers!!!

  2. My Dear Kevin

    I'm slightly embarrassed by featuring so prominently in your blog, but not half as much as "master caddy" McNicholl !

    It was an absolute pleasure to have made your acquaintance. I sincerely hope, and guess from your blog, that you enjoyed your visit to Castlerock. Hopefully you will return again before you leave the North on your epic journey, perhaps on a well deserved day or two R&R and we can join you for a round. One proviso. We don't play any of this night golf in which you appear to indulge everywhere you visit !

    Even with all the joviality and lighthearted banter, I was impressed with the obvious dedication you have towards achieving your goal. It's quite a target to set oneself and will result in you enduring considerable hardship and undoubted loneliness. Your resolve is very apparent and I look forward to reading the finished article (the free and autographed copy of course!).

    Kevin, it was a genuine pleasure. Hopefully you enjoyed it also and experienced a more complete "snapshot" of the club than you normally would expect to elsewhere.

    You are most welcome again anytime, in fact, I'm almost sure it's your round !

    Take care.


    Mervyn Hayes

  3. regarding that red liquid kevin, it is from the fountain of youth . i bet you would not have guessed tommy was 85 years old and the other two are nearing a bus pass.
    great reviews