Best Scottish Isles Courses
EVERYBODY knows all about the fabulous golf courses for which Scotland is famous (The Old Course at St Andrews, Royal Dornoch, Carnoustie, Turnberry, Royal Troon, Muirfield et al), but the home of golf also has a few surprises up its sleeve.
Did you know, for instance, that there are 38 courses located on 26 islands? There are 18 nine-hole courses, 18 full-length courses, one 12-hole course and even a 13 hole layout located on islands stretching from just off the west coast all the way up to the far north.
They come in all shapes and sizes. There's the spectacular nine-hole course on Barra - like most of the island courses, it is exposed to the elements, and there will be days when it is the last place on earth you would want to be. If you are looking for an immaculately-prepared course, Barra is not for you,but if you are looking for a challenge then it is well worth a visit. Don't expect too many home comforts though - there is no clubhouse. It is the most westerly course in Britain and the views are spectacular.
The most northerly 18-hole course is located on the beautiful Isle of Whalsay, which is part of the Shetland Isles archipelago.
Naturally enough, most of the Scottish islands ave just one course although Skye, Shetland, Orkney and Mull each have two and the Isle of Bute has three. And then there is Arran, which has a population of 5,000 people yet boasts three 18-hole courses, three nine-hole and a 12-hole course, all of which are more than 100 years old.
Green fees tend to cost between £10 and £15 a round, but if you choose to visit Iona you will find the cheapest 18-hole course in Britain - it is free. This has arisen due to the islanders maintaining the 18 hole links course with views onto the North Atlantic for their own pleasure and that of visitors.
Where to start? Well that would be Askernish on South Uist, originally designed by Old Tom Morris and restored to its full glory in 2008. Morris described the land on which the course is built as the finest links turf he had ever seen.
The first hole is a 480-yard par five which dog-legs to the right. The fairway is narrow, with trouble on both sides and a wide green that slopes from left to right, meaning that you can easily leave yourself with a long putt. The seventh is a 410-yard par four which is the most difficult hole on the course. It features two drops in elevation, a valley, dunes and crashing waves running all the way up the right side. Do NOT slice your drive. The 14th is a great par four measuring just 326 yards. At 250 yards the fairway narrows to just 10 yards wide, so you may want to leave the driver in the bag. The finishing hole measures 546 yards. From the tee you can't see the green but aim at a white house in the distance. Your second shot will take you left over an ancient cattle pen to a wide entrance. The 18th green is huge, so three putts are a distinct possibility.
Green fees are £40 per round, with a winter rate of £25. Full membership is a scarcely-believable £200 a year!
If you plan to visit the isle of Arran you should splash out on an Arran golf pass, which costs £99 and allows you to play all seven courses on the island.
The pick of them is probably Shiskine, which feaures 12 holes and is a par 42. It was established in 1896 and expanded to 18 holes but six holes were lost to agriculture during the second world war.
The first is a par four measuring 356 yards and demands accuracy from the tee. There is out of bounds all the way up the left and your approach shot is blind. Make sure you don't go through the green with your second as plenty of trouble lies in wait. The fifth is a great par three measuring 212 yards. It is often played in a cross wind to a green that falls away on three sides. Go too far here and you will be walking off with a bogey. The ninth is a par five measuring 478 yards. There is plenty of room here, so the temptation is to go for a big drive. Caution is required with the second shot as a burn lies in wait. Clear the burn and you face a blind third shot. The 12th and final hole is a par three that is rather more difficult than its distance of 120 yards might suggest. If the wind is blowing from the south you will be hitting a long iron; on a calm day it is a wedge. There are two bunkers to the left and one to the right. The views from this hole are stunning.
The green fee is £25.
And then there is the 18-hole course on Iona. To reach the course you walk to the west of Iona where, after ¾ mile, you will find a gate that leads to the machair - a Gaelic word which describes an extensive, low-lying fertile plain. Machair sand has high shell content. The Iona Machair was once farmed by the monks of Iona and, more recently, was a place of common grazing shared by the Iona islanders. It now doubles as a grazing area and the island’s golf course. The grass is kept closely cropped by the sheep and cattle. There is no clubhouse but don't let that put you off. You will hear the and see the Atlantic Ocean and the constant cry of seabirds. While the course is free to play, scorecards cost £1 at Iona Post Office.
Craignure, a nine-hole course established in 1895, is located on the Isle of Mull. It fell into disuse and was reopened in 1980 and was changed again in 2012, when it was reduced from 18 to nine holes to reduce maintenance costs. There are some challenging risk and reward holes, especially the seventh and the ninth. The seventh is 310-yard par four crossed by the Scallastle River, so make sure you lay up. The ninth measures 430 yards and can be a monster if played into a headwind. Once again, your drive must avoid the river. This is a course that calls for accuracy from the tee. The rough is thick and punishing but the views from all parts of Craignure are spectacular.
A daily ticket costs £15, while the annual subscription is just £120.
Tobermorey Golf Club is regarded by many as the best nine-hole golf course in Scotland and is also on Mull. The opening hole measures 356 yards. You drive onto a plateau, from where you should be able to get a look at the green. The marker post you can see is approximately 185 yards from the tee. The secret to this shot is to try to get up to the marker or just beyond it. There is about 20 yards beyond it before the ground drops away into a gulley and rough comes into play. The green has a ridge running from from to back right through the centre. The fourth is a 208-yard par three. The green gathers the ball from the right, but watch out for the out of bounds. A miss to the left will leaves a very difficult recovery. The eighth is 358 yards, with out of bounds on the right. Hityour drive beyond 250 yards and you will end up in some thick rough. Hit your approach short of the green and the ball will roll up. The ninth only measures 120 yards but a quarry on the right means you have to concentrate. The green has a ridge running from front to back through the centre.
A daily ticket costs £20.
Established is 1889, Orkney Golf Club is a par 70 measuring 5,575 yards, and it is a gem, offering a beautiful panoramic view over the Northern Isles, and the bustling town of Kirkwall. Don't be fooled by the length - the elements play their part in ensuring that this course provides a real challenge. The sixth hole is a par four measuring just 356 yards, but is the most difficult on the course. The fairway is slightly downhill for 190 yards, where bunkers encroach at each side; the top of the downhill slope is 140 yards from the green. There is a ditch across the front of the green, with out of bounds behind the putting surface. The ninth is a par five measuring 536 yards. It features a blind tee shot, but the landing area from the tee is wide. However, a ditch lies in wait. Just 100 yards short of the green is a large bunker, with another at 50 yards. And be sure to avoid the ditch behind the green. The closing hole is a par four of 290 yards with out of bounds on the right. A drive of 200 yards will clear a large bunker at the corner of the dogleg. Big hitters may attempt to cut the corner and reach the front of the green, which is protected by bunkers of both sides.
A day ticket costs just £25.
Image Credit: Orkney Golf Club Website
South Ronaldsay is a nine-hole course on Orkney that features 18 tees, creating a layout that measures 4,914 yards, with a par of 65. The third hole is a 432-yard par four, all uphill. There is a ditch at 170 yards that will come into play if the wind is blowing in your face. Clear the ditch and a rescue club or long iron will get you there or thereabouts. It is immediately followed by another tough par four, this one measuring 438 yards. It is a dogleg with a ditch at about 260 yards, but the hole plays downhill. You have to decide whether or not you want to take on the ditch. It might be as well to play short of it and then take a medium iron. The sixth is a par three measuring just 146 yards, but there is a burn at the back of the green that must be avoided. The ninth hole measures just 289 yards and can be reached with the wind at your back, but a burn runs the full length of the green, so it might be safest to take an iron from the tee and go in with a wedge.
A day ticket will cost you £15, paid to an honesty box in the clubhouse.
Rothesay Golf Club, founded in 1892, was redesigned by James Braid 16 years later. It measures just 5,419 yards but is hilly and a proper challenge. The course circles around Canada Hill which at about 400ft gives spectacular views of the Firth of Clude, the Cowal Hills, Lochs Ridden and Striven, the Mull of Kintyre, the Isle of Arran and the Ayrshire Hills. The great Walter Hagen played the course and said that the views could not be beaten anywhere in the world.
The second is a 400-yard par four with out of bounds on the right and trees on the left. It is a gentle dogleg, with an approach played to a small green. The third is a terrific par four. It is 348 yards long, with trouble right and left, including out of bounds on the left. You have to negotiate a slope and if you can get your drive up the hill you face an approach to another small green. The sixth is a terrific hole. It is a par five that measures 515 yards and you must hit an accurate drive. Go right and your ball will sail out of bounds. There are also plenty of trees lying in wait and a well guarded green. The closing hole is a wonderful par three. It measures 240 yards and is not for the faint-hearted, with out of bounds on the left and a small green protected by bunkers.
The green fee is £20, reduced to £10 during the winter.
Skye is one of the most famous and romantic of all the Scottish islands and Isle of Skye Golf Club is a nine-hole layout that is well worth a visit. The opening hole is a lovely 317-yard par four that demands a straight drive - there is a wall on the left and thick rough and out of bounds on the right. The green slopes towards the sea, so the challenge is to keep the ball on the putting surface. The fifth is a delightful par three measuring 162 yards. It is played to a small, flat green that must be hit - going too far will leave you in the rough with a very tricky pitch. The eighth is a 294-yard par four. The drive is blind - be sure that you don't go too far because there is lots of trouble just short of the green. You should take an iron to the top of the hill, leaving an approach to a flat green with a bank of penal rough at the rear.
The green fee is £25 or £60 for the week.
Image Credit: Isle of Skye Golf Club Website
Whalsay Golf Club on the Shetland Isles is the most northerly in the British Isles, and that means it can be cold, wet and windy - but it is beautiful and offers amazing views. The course measures 6,171 yards and is a par 71.
The first measures 397 yards and is a downhill dogleg with out of bounds on the left. A burn 40 yards short of the green is to be avoided. The approach is is to a two-tier green. The ninth hole is a 457-yard par four calling for a blind drive over a marker, with the fairway falling away downhill. Stay away from the ditch 20 yards short of the green. The 337-yard 13th has a pond in front of a green that slopes from back to front. The 18th is the signature hole, measuring 360 yards with magnifcent views from the tee. The tee looks down on a fairway that doglegs left around a loch. If you can carry the ball 280 yards you can drive the green but come up short and a watery grave awaits. There is thick rough on the right and bunker at the front right of the green.
The green fee is £25.