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 laid out the course in 1892, partially on the site of the old racecourse. Just before the onset of World War I, Alister MacKenzie carried out improvements to the layout, with the Manchester Guardian reporting that the course had been “reconstructed entirely on modern principles [and] improved almost out of recognition; the holes are of better length and of superior golfing quality… features which were weak have been strengthened [and] there has been a considerable amount of artificial construction work.”
Remarkably, it seems that MacKenzie carried out most,
if not all, of the work remotely from his base in Yorkshire, relying on the
contractor to regularly mail him photographs of what was happening on site.
Philip Mackenzie Ross then made further revisions after World War II to form
the course that’s now in play today.
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, 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 Castletown is thrilling, dramatic and genuine value for money.
I must admit I never thought I’d ever get to the Isle of Man to play Castletown but I’m so glad now that I did. Old Tom Morris was certainly a busy man on the island back in the 1890s, with a hand in (at least) three courses that first saw the light of day back then. This links has since been updated but it still has the feel of an old course that has barely changed a bit in over a century.
I wasn’t quite prepared for the rise and fall of the land out on the peninsula, with the early holes climbing up then dropping back down to sea level before the fairways eventually ease back up again to higher ground towards the end of the round. It’s a thrilling ride, full of twists and turns, following an old-fashioned out and back routing that surprisingly features only three short holes, the first of which doesn’t arrive until the 8th.
“Road Hole” on the 5th is an epic par four, rated stroke index 1, and for very good reason as it bends from tee to green with OOB and the beach to the right and a huge bank of gorse on the left. The hole immediately after (“Ruins”) is another cracker, moving slightly left to the pin with a single track road cutting diagonally across the fairway around fifty yards short of the green.
On the back nine, I liked the short par three 13th, where the green is well protected by three bunkers in front of the putting surface, and the demanding tee shot across the rocky inlet on the par 17th (with a 198-yard carry from the back tees) is a real knee trembler, especially with the wind whistling in around your ears on the exposed tee position.
I just don’t know if the changes to the home hole will meet with universal acclaim as I wonder how many non-elite golfers will be happy to face such a daunting shot when they play their approach across a fearsome looking cove in front of the new 18th green. It’s certainly a bold move to push the hole closer to the cliffs and time will tell how well this is received.
I’d like to think the club might also have a re-think about keeping the cordyline cabbage palms that are dotted about the property as I feel they have a subliminally detrimental effect on the links aesthetics – whoever thought it was a good idea to plant these trees should be sent Down Under to where the palms originated!
On a brighter note, after playing here, there are now only 13 of 75 courses in Donald Steel’s book “Classic Golf Links of England, Scotland, Wales and Ireland” that I’ve still to play so maybe it’s time I gave myself a good shake and made a concerted effort to knock these off while I still have my faculties about me.
Castletown was worth waiting for, no doubt about it – and the current team of people who work here both on and off the course all seem to be pulling together in the same direction, with a strong determination to make the course and the club one of the best in the British Isles.
Ed’s earlier review mentioned an itch that he simply had to scratch. I’ve been living with the Castletown itch for more than fifteen years and I finally got rid of the annoying irritation last Monday.
My appetite was immediately whetted as I drove beyond the hamlet of Derbyhaven along Fort Island Road towards the clubhouse with the bay to the left and the 5th hole – appropriately named “Road” to the right. The anticipation was genuinely palpable. Incidentally, the 5th may well be the hardest par four I’ve ever played, where anything hit too far right will end up on the road or the beach, both of which are out of bounds. Too far left is not ideal either.
The location is idyllic – surrounded by the Irish Sea and its bays on three sides – where the only blot on the otherwise delightful landscape is the near derelict hotel lying directly behind the clubhouse. The course is routed across the Langness Peninsula (known locally as Fort Island) and along its isthmus where there’s a real sense of wild seclusion.
It was a sunny day with a fresh breeze blowing across the course making life very tricky indeed. The gentle opener (the shortest par four on the card) is in no way indicative of what lies ahead – especially in a crosswind. I won’t get into hole descriptions in any detail, but suffice to say I really liked the front nine and was stunned by the enormity of the magnificent Hog’s Back fairway at the 9th.
I enjoyed the short par for 10th and then felt there was a lull in proceedings with a few holes played over flatter ground before arriving at #15 “Langness” where an OOB wall runs down the right side of the hole and three pots lie in wait in the middle of the fairway.
The run for home along the craggy coastline is stellar where the tee shot on #17 “Gully” is as dramatic as any tee shot you’re ever likely to encounter on a links course. The home itself is being remodelled. We played #18 from the old tee next to the coast to a fairway that’s routed towards the clubhouse away from the coast and we also hit from the new tee perched on a dune top.
From the new tee there’s a new fairway hugging the coast. A decent drive will leave a longer approach on this refashioned hole to a reconfigured green that sits behind a rocky inlet. There’s an outrageous pot bunker just before the sea inlet which may catch a few errant shots. If you end up in this bunker you’ll face the most daunting bunker shot imaginable… a full 25-yard carry across the deep rocky inlet to the green on the other side. Some will lament the loss of the old 18th, but I found the new routing thrilling.
By all accounts, Castletown was in the doldrums before the new owners acquired the property a couple of years ago. The newfound lease of life is tangible, from the enthusiastic greens team, the professional, the catering staff and the management.
I loved pretty much everything about Castletown, although purists will sniff at the plastic revetted bunkers – but I’m assured these are being replaced over the coming years.
Hats off to Castletown. What’s not to like? I’m looking forward to returning once all the course improvements have been completed.
Outstanding course with amazing views, we played in windy conditions so it was really hard especially some holes (5th, 11th and 17th). The course was in great conditions and all the staff (Andi and Chris in particular) made us feel at home. Highly recommended
My second time playing Castletown in the past few years and I continue to believe that this is a hidden gem. Three years ago we played the first 9 in a pouring rain and were lucky enough to have sunny and generally calm conditions this time. Regardless of the weather this course is just fun to play with numerous challenges, lovely scenery, and some spectacular holes coming in. They are reportedly changing the 18th to bring the coastline more into play and that, coupled with 17, will be a truly memorable finish. Lastly, I have to compliment the pro shop and restaurant staff as they truly went out of their way, both visits, to make us feel welcome.
Enjoyed Castletown for fifty years. Course now on an upward trajectory, fantastic location, classic links heritage and now in great condition. With course on peninsular between two bays and the Irish Sea, the coastline comes into play on many holes. There are many memorable holes. The Road Hole fifth, a banana shaped hole, accessed from an elevated hole, the sea on the right and a thick horse bank on the left, makes a par feel like a birdie. The seventeenth, the Gully, with a long carry over huge rocks and the sea, again from an elevated tee are probably the most famous but several others are equally as good.
Can’t wait to come back.
Castletown is well worth the short flight (from London) to the Isle of Man. Most golfers — especially Americans who come over to play links golf — head to Ireland, Northern Island and Scotland, having never heard about the Isle of Man. Having played many of the courses in Ireland, Northern Island and Scotland, I am hard pressed to recall too many that offer the beauty and playing diversity that Castletown affords. This course is quintessential links golf, with a comfortable informality and friendliness and hole after hole of majestic views. I’m a big fan and am looking forward to playing it again soon.
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.