The Isle of Man is very different from anywhere else in the British Isles. It doesn’t belong to the UK, or the EU. It’s self-governing, with its own currency, culture and postage stamps. During the first two weeks of June, the place goes motorcycle mad. The T.T. – the world famous motorcycle event – is staged on the island’s mountain circuit.
Castletown Golf Links is located at the southeastern tip of the island, on the rocky Langness Peninsula, better known locally as Fort Island. On a clear day, the distant Cumbrian Mountains can be seen. The peninsula is designated as a Site of Special Scientific Interest, with a number of formally listed ancient monuments, including an Iron Age fort. The triangular headland is bordered on three sides by the Irish Sea and is connected to the mainland by a thin strip of rocks. It’s breathtaking.
Old Tom Morris originally laid out the course back in 1892 and Philip Mackenzie Ross revised it after the Second World War. Little has changed since.
Castletown is full of natural hazards – wild rough, rocky beaches, gorse and, of course, the wind. The course is laid out high above sea level and, with no sand dunes, there is no protection from the elements. The upside to this are the unrivalled, panoramic views of the Irish Sea. It’s hard to imagine that any other course could possess more coastal frontage than Castletown.
There are many great golf holes at Castletown, but one of the best, and most memorable, is the par four 17th. The tee-shot must carry across a deep rocky gorge. Try not to let the sea – crashing into the rocks below – disturb your concentration.
Some people draw a parallel between Castletown and Turnberry. Mackenzie Ross is certainly a common denominator, as is the dramatic rocky coastline. Turnberry is perhaps a sterner test, but we think Castletown is more thrilling, dramatic and much better value for money.
If you’ve got an itch sometimes you’ve just got to scratch it… even if it’s in a hard-to-reach place! And in my personal quest to play all the true links golf course in the British Isles that was exactly the case with Castletown.
It’s sad I know, but I’ve got a Great Britain & Ireland map on my office wall with a pin pushed into all the venues still to play and the one that occupied Castletown Golf Links, on the Isle of Man, has been bugging me quite some time now.
Set in a truly stunning location on Langness Peninsula the links at Castletown is just about as raw, rugged and rustic as they come (never underestimate the value of the 3 Rs!) It is a style of golf that suits my eye and lends itself to pure links golf, often played along the ground and where missing on the wrong side is treacherous but equally fun in terms of recovery. Situated mostly above sea-level the course is flanked by a couple of bays on two sides and dramatic cliffs on the third; a stretch of coastline which if not the better of Turnberry then certainly its match. Because you are mostly some way above sea level the panorama is not only exceptional but also varied.
Rabbit holes litter a few of the fairways, dry stone walls come into play, rocks protrude from the links at times. All magic stuff and befitting of the surrounds. The land is quick draining and with wispy fescue and clads of heather the scene is set for great golf.
Not dissimilar to the island’s “Three Legs” symbol the links plays to three distinct limbs. The first tee and 18th green, located close to the clubhouse and an abandoned hotel, are on a protrusion of land jutting out into the sea. Meanwhile, at the furthest point the seventh hole extends back towards town whilst the 15th green is the end-point of the course towards the south.
The routing of the course is tantalising good with several high points early on, a little dip in the middle before a grandstand finish of the highest order.
I was particular impressed with the majority of the first ten holes. The first is an awkward little son of a bitch…. but all the better for it! With a wind whipping off the left the hole plays as a 253-yard par-four and should be an early birdie opportunity, and at the very worst a safe par, but the raised knob of a green can cause innumerable problems.
Holes six through to ten are absolutely rock solid in terms of design with lots of low-level ground contouring, fine green sites and rollickingly good golf to be had. The first every Derby horserace was held on this section of the course – most likely the 7th hole.
The pick of the bunch may just be the short 8th – the first par-three we encounter – its plateau green location is so good it doesn’t require a single bunker. I also enjoyed the ninth with its hogback fairway and an approach which feeds in from the right.
There’s nothing particular wrong with holes 11 through to 15. In fact taken individually they are all very good holes with some excellent green complexes and putting surfaces but as a run of holes they lack the magic which the rest of the course has in abundance. They are mostly played on flatter land, or in the case of the 14th and 15th slightly uphill, which into the wind did feel like a bit of slog.
All is quickly forgiven as we turn for home and play three holes along some of the most impressive coastline you will encounter and this makes for a closing stretch which is just about unmatched.
Castletown is probably not visited by enough people to raise its stock in the golf course ranking world. The top 100 website – of which I am a big admirer – ranks it as number one of the Isle of Man but it does not make their top 100 GB&I list and because it understandably does not fall into the English links section it is difficult to see just how close it comes to making it. It can’t be far away though and in my opinion I would probably have it in there so hopefully it’s knocking on the door and next time it may just squeak in.
Ed is the founder of Golf Empire – click the link to read his full review.
Wish I had not read this outstanding review as my itch is now amplified. I have 8 of top 100 links to play and Castletown is beckoning.
If Castletown Golf Links were in Scotland it would be easily a top 100 course. I couldn't believe how good the course is, the layout is fantastic, and the tee shot on the 17th is something that feels like it belongs on the Monterrey Peninsula (minus the weather). So many holes hug the coast, and the ones that don't are still loads of fun. Between fun elevation changes, changing hole directions, and cleverly placed bunkers, Castletown is definitely a fantastic course that doesn't get nearly enough recognition. Nobody will say it's the most challenging course, but it is easily one of the most fun I've played. If you are ever on the Isle of Man go and play Castletown Golf Links, you will not regret it.