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.
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.