Golf in the Isle of Man
I’m prepared to lay a considerable sum – perhaps even my house – that you’ve never thought of the Isle of Man for a golfing holiday. Scotland? Naturally. Portugal? Check. But Manx?
You’re really missing out, though, if you don’t take a hop over the Irish Sea to this diminutive but beautiful island. It may only be 32 miles long and 14 miles wide, but the Isle of Man plays host to nine courses that will satisfy every desire.
From the classic links experience of Castletown, set among a breathtaking backdrop of the Langness Peninsula, to the challenging Rowany, the crown dependency will both surprise and delight you.
And it’s not just on the course where you will be wide-eyed with wonder. Imagine the perfect seaside resort, with pure sandy beaches and a front that looks like a coastal retreat in its 1950s heyday, and you have the capital Douglas with its quayside restaurants and busy nightlife.
Barely a short iron away are the rugged coastlines of Gansey, Port Erin and Cregneash, the traditional village that recreates how the islanders once lived. It should, of course, be law that any visit entails a round at Castletown.
Old Tom Morris is rightly celebrated for Prestwick and St Andrews but the grandfather of golf also crafted something remarkable on the southern tip of Fort Island.
He had the resources to work with – the tumbling cliffs, rocky crags and etched coves providing perfect links terrain. But he produced a course to match the magnificent setting and Castletown is a layout that can hold its head up with any of Britain’s great links.
How you will fare depends on the wind, which can whirl from a light breeze to a howling gale in a matter of minutes.
Isn’t this how links golf should be played: the uncertainty of the conditions matching the splendour of the surroundings? It is as you work round the bays that Castletown soars.
The 5th hole, Road, moves down from an elevated tee with out of bounds on the right and thick gorse on the left. It makes your heart sing when you nail a drive down the middle of the fairway.
The final three holes run along the edges of a cliff and the 17th, which demands a 200-yard carry over the rocks from the back tees, was considered by Henry Longhurst to be one of the best holes in the game. He wasn’t exaggerating. It’s folly not to take on the challenge of Gully, even if your head says otherwise.
Peel may only be a few miles away but it couldn’t be more different in character. Pine trees and turf banks replace dunes and cliffs and the club is renowned for the quality of the greens. That fact gets in the way of some pretty impressive holes.
The par-3 10th, set in a bowl surrounded by woodland, bracken and bunkers, is the pick of the lot. Outside of Castletown, Manx courses tend to be on the shorter side – the likes of Peel, Douglas and Ramsey weighing in at a shade short of 6,000 yards off the whites.
That cannot be said of Mount Murray, which is a 6,400-yard beast despite six par 3s and two short par 4s.
It starts as it means to go on, with a 572-yard opener and the 600-yard closing hole – its challenge softened by the superb views of Douglas to the distance – leaves you in no doubt as to what is expected if you want to play to your handicap.
You can’t go to the island without spending an evening in the capital Douglas, its natural harbour home to boats of every persuasion.
The lively bar and restaurant scene is well worth a look but, if more sedate is what you are after, there’s also plenty to find in Port Erin and Castletown. The Isle of Man may be small, but it’s perfectly formed.
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