Sandy Herd laid out the original 12-hole course at Peel Golf Club in 1895 but a decision was taken just before The Great War to extend the layout to eighteen holes. There’s uncertainty as to whether Herd or James Braid undertook this work.
We do know that Braid was at Ramsey in September 1929 as that club has paperwork to support his visit and the presumption is that he was also at Peel to recommend improvements for the Manx Championship the following year.
The club belongs to The Association of James Braid Courses, so the club must have presented that organisation with appropriate membership credentials. Peel is also included in the book James Braid and his Four Hundred Golf Courses by John F. Moreton & Iain Cumming, where the authors have this to say about the layout:
“Peel, on the west coast of the island, is a testing, undulating course into which Braid incorporated a local feature, the sod hedges which cross some of the fairways at critical points. These are the equivalent of stone walls, hedges etc. They reduced the need for fairway bunkers on several holes and presented the golfer with an interesting problem.
Two of the par three holes offer exciting downhill shots to greens surrounded by gorse and bracken and the 18th is a typical Braid finishing hole, a long par four, doglegging to the right, hugging ‘out-of-bounds’ to a generous, flat green.”
Holes of note include the par four 4th (with its large, rectangular-shaped green positioned behind a little ditch), the par three 9th (played slightly downhill to a Biarritz-style green), and the par four 11th, which skirts the edge of an escarpment on its way to a wonderfully contoured green.
There was an awful lot of golf related activity on the Isle of Man in the 1890s. Old Tom Morris was involved at Castletown, Ramsey and King Edward Bay, George Lowe was laying out a 9-hole course at Rowany, and Douglas started out with a 9-hole layout on the Kirby Estate, which was owned by George Drinkwater, the club’s first president.
Peel also got in on the act at this time, appointing Scotsman Sandy Herd (who later won the Open in 1902) to set out a 12-hole course for the club. In all likelihood, it was also him who added another six holes before the start of World War I, though his efforts now appear to be overshadowed by modifications that may or may not have been made by James Braid in 1929.
The course that’s now in play ninety years later was a big surprise on my recent golf trip to the island. It didn’t take long to determine that this was a cut above all the others I’d visited, apart from Castletown, of course. The opening couple of holes and the closing hole occupy duller ground but they’re more than adequate to get you away from the clubhouse then return you back again.
Early on in the round – standing on the elevated tee of the 3rd hole, in fact – you can see there’s some decent movement in the ground and the routing takes full advantage of this terrain, even though this means that holes are largely laid out on a northwest–southeast axis, bounded to the south by the River Neb as it cuts through a deep gorge on its way to the sea.
I loved the tough par four 8th, played uphill to the green, followed immediately in the opposite direction by the downhill short par four 9th, where the green is protected by four bunkers to the front, right and left of the putting surface. On the back nine, the 12th was another terrific short par four, again played downhill from a raised tee position into the lower corner of the property, with OOB to the right and plenty of sand to avoid.
There’s lots to like about Peel, whether it’s greens with interesting contours, nicely shaped greenside bunkers or little grass banks running across fairways that have to be negotiated. Trees appear to be well managed and the general conditioning was certainly above average. For sure, a golfing excursion to the island would not be complete unless you’d teed it up here.
Castletown is bound to be the reason why many intrepid travelling golfers head to the Isle of Man, but there’s some interesting golf to be savoured elsewhere on the island for those who’d like to mix things up.
Following an eight course tour of the island last week, I might recommend almost all the Isle of Man’s courses, as each has something of interest – even for the most discerning golfer.
Peel is undeniably an understudy to Castletown, but there’s plenty here to enjoy near the island’s west coast. Parkland-styled holes on flatter ground start and end proceedings and while these holes are fine, it’s the moorland cum heathland holes later in the round that will be remembered for the exciting ground movement which pitches and rolls dramatically.
I simply loved the par four 4th played through a chute of trees to a greensite which is fronted by a stream and a boundary wall backboard. The 10th is a gorgeous short drop par three across a little valley to a sunken green that’s framed at the back by a copse of fir trees. The long par four 11th plays from a high tee across a valley where there’s a heroic carry from the tee across gorse bushes.
Sod hedges, well-drained ground, solid conditioning and some genuinely entertaining holes make Peel a must-play course (for me at least) if visiting the island with golf clubs in tow.
I haven’t mentioned the mountain views either, which are also pretty special. However, either mountain and coast backdrops come free of charge at most of the golf courses that are scattered around this delightful un-sung island.