ESCAPE TO THE ISLANDS
THE HEBRIDEAN ISLANDS - ISLE OF SKYE, HARRIS AND LEWIS
A summer visit to the Scottish Islands specifically the Outer Hebrides including the Isle of Harris to curate a selection of fabrics from the spinners that weave the famous Harris Tweed provided an opportunity to explore the Islands and tee it up on some of the island courses including some great value nine-hole courses.
ISLE OF SKYE
I had read much about the Quirang, Neist Point, the Talisker distillery and the Isle of Skye golf course and as we departed from Oban on the west coast of Scotland, 'the gateway to the 'Islands of Scotland' on the Calmac Ferry, expectations were high.
The next morning, I set off early from Portree arriving before 6am for a solo round, with green fees already paid. The Isle of Skye Golf club is a relatively new nine-hole course for Scotland, created in 1964 and designed by Dr Frank Deighton, a former Walker Cup player. The club was initially named the Sconser Golf Club and is nestled at the foot of the Red Cuillins, with stunning views of the Old man of Storr and across to Raasay. The club claims that this is the only course in the world to have all its holes named in Gaelic.
The course was empty and the surroundings still as I hit relaxed irons onto the fairway in the morning haze. Fairways hugging the coastline, tee shots towards the Glamaig, this course speaks to the soul. The course is short but every hole spectacular and a chance to score well adds to the joy.
Crossing the 7th fairway, I spotted for the first time another golfer, also playing solo and we talked on the fairway for a while. Ross, a club member and fellow early riser, spoke of his weekly routine. Every Monday, without fail, rain or shine, he would tee off at sunrise. "You can't beat it. Best way to start the week..." No arguments on that.
This reinforced the sense that this course, beyond golf, seemed to offer an almost therapeutic escape for anyone and everyone who visits. It was hard to resist playing another 9.
However, a trek up to the Quiraing was planned.
No words can fully articulate the views as you walk along the circuit loop which takes you to the top of the largest landslide area in the UK. Above the clouds, time seemed to stand still. There are so many amazing sites to see in Skye, but if you were going to pick only one, it would have to be the Quiraing.
Heading south on the Island for some well-deserved food and drink, the Cuillin Brewery and the Seamus Bar just by the road by Sligachan Bridge includes a whisky bar with over 400 single malts and offers another majestic view. A plate of haggis, neeps and tatties along with Isle of Skye's own Talisker 10-year-old finished the day to perfection.
HARRIS & LEWIS
Onto Harris & Lewis for another adventure, capturing the sunrise at Portree Harbour before setting off to catch another Calmac Ferry. The Norse word Harbredey which, when roughly translated, means the "isles at the edge of the sea" is an apt description for the location of Harris & Lewis. The islands were once ruled by the Vikings and you can find evidence in some of the names of towns, villages and landmarks. Sailing out into the vast Atlantic Ocean, the 1h 40m journey certainly felt like a journey into the abyss.
I had heard lots about the next course from fellow golf friends and family who had taken the journey to play the course. The Isle of Harris golf club located by the Scarista Beach, is renowned for its spectacular views from the opening hole to the last.
Nick Faldo once described it as one of the most beautiful settings in golf. An honesty box, which Faldo folded a £5 note into during this first visit, takes pride of place on the clubhouse bar wall.
After getting set up for a quick 9 with no tee time booked, bag packed with a half set and releasing a few more golf balls from a new sleeve, I reflected on the cinematic view across the bay. Sean Connery was also known to visit the course and you can quite imagine a scene from a Bond movie being shot on the golden sands and turquoise ocean that buffers the fairways.
The gusts were rolling in from the Atlantic Ocean, so keeping it in play was tough but the setting and the challenge of playing in the elements just added to the fun. As the August sun emerged more golfers took to the fairways, the exchange of knowing smiles further endorsing this paradise of a course.
Arguably the most stunning 9-hole course you'll find anywhere in the United Kingdom and beyond. A natural golf course and a perfect place to spend the afternoon overseeing the stunning coast line.
THE 'LOST' COURSE
Driving to Lewis on the 100 mile stretch north, the road meanders through a different terrain; flatter peat lands that go on for miles whilst passing sparse villages. At times it seems like you may be the only traveller as the sense of how far west and north the island resides increases off the British Isles (Head north-west over a fair few nautical miles and you'd end up in Reykjavik, Iceland).
The feel of the landscape is distinctly different to the other Islands, almost part of another country, another world. The Highland Cows grazing by the side of the road the only reminder that this is well and truly Scotland.
Arriving at dusk to Uig Aird, on the western tip of Lewis we were met with a sense of eeriness. Our guesthouse was set amongst a cluster of one storey buildings. Some were derelict, others were painted with vibrant art. I later discovered this was an ex-military base used as a radar station base during the Cold War but had been since sold and made into housing and an art centre for the community.
The morning brought an altogether different view as the sun rose across the Gallan Head Peninsulla (the most north westerly place in Britain). After a hearty bowl of porridge, it was onto the 'hidden' golf course: Uig Lodge Golf Course.
The course opened in 1897 and then closed in 1920. Ownership of the Lodge changed through the years and the finding of an old map of the grounds some 20 years ago led to the current owners realising golf was played on the land. This led to a restoration of the course which is now used exclusively for those that stay at the lodge.
It's small 9-hole course runs alongside a frequently low tide bay where the beach seems to go on for miles with sand dunes to be found before reaching the sea. Elly, who runs Uig Lodge was on hand to give a short tour. She describes the course as a charming pitch and putt and when nobody is staying at the property, the sheep are allowed onto the fairway and green to graze and help maintain the course.
There is certainly a feeling of a course from another time, like an Old Tom Morris design. A little more agricultural and blending more seamlessly with nature.
The guests due that morning had not yet arrived, so the clubs came out to play a few holes with the blessing of the various groundsman tending to the place. Hitting shots towards the sea, it was easy to see why this place is popular (the Lodge had been fully booked for the entire summer).
Leaving the course, we passed the Salmon smokehouse which is part of the lodge just as a large family group arrived, greeting Elly as if she were part of the family. It transpired that this family had been staying at the Lodge for over 30 years and every summer booked the venue exclusively for 3 weeks to host a rotation of family members and friends.
Striking up a conversation with the group, mention of the course brought a smile from father to son and daughter, for this is where they first learned to play the game as youngsters igniting a shared love of golf.
And their favourite part of the stay? "Sunset whiskies and closest to the pin".
Whilst the undoubted home of golf resides at the Old Course at St Andrews and more historic 18-hole golf courses that have held open championships are available to play inland, some of the finest links, natural links are found amongst the Islands off Scotland's west coast. Natural beauty and outdoor pursuits and courses with a unique challenge, the charm of a local hotell; it has it all. When you consider the other courses in North Uist (home of Askernish golf course), Mull of Kintyre, Isle of Mull and Isle of Arran and the close proximity to Edinburgh airport and Glasgow airport for those further away from the Islands, this has to be a must for those seeking some of the best golf tours Scotland has to offer.