The views of The Island of Arran from any of Ayrshire's coastal courses make you want to experience such a beautiful looking place 'up close and personal'! So why resist? Hop on a ferry and discover for yourself one of the most relaxing hideaways in Scotland.
Referred to as ‘Scotland in Miniature’ because of rugged mountains to the north and the south's pastoral plains, this Lilliputian Isle also offers delectable food, delicious whisky, stunning vistas and no fewer than seven delightful golf courses.
It is highly recommended and your friends and car can sail across in less than an hour for the cost of one reasonably cheap round of golf. We're talking around £60. The ferry crossing is short; 50-minutes from Ardrossan on the mainland to the town of Brodick and if you're really keen, you can be teeing up on Brodick's 18-hole course within 10 minutes. Brodick is a short course by mainland standards but offers pleasant views to Brodick Castle and across Brodick Bay to the town and beyond. To be sure, this is holiday golf - as are all the courses on Arran - but then that's why you want to go, for a totally relaxing break!
If you thought the views of Arran from the mainland were good, wait till you get close-up to the island's golf courses. Corrie Golf Club is a midget in terms of length with only 9 holes and tiny wee greens. But I find it so enjoyable mainly because of its utterly breathtaking backdrop. Sheltered and towered over by Goat Fell, Arran's highest mountain, you come over all tingly standing on the first tee and the thrills don't quit until you come off at the finish. Seriously, there are fewer more awesome settings for a golf course - in the world.
Lochranza is another miniature track - no big deal from a playing point of view but what's different is the wild red deer that come down from the mountains to graze on the sweet green grass. You'll also find a few does strolling through the village keeping an eye on things and giving visitors the perfect photo opportunity. As well as its 16th-century castle, Lochranza also has its own whisky distillery, The Isle of Arran Distillers offering tempting tours with a wee dram to finish. It's also worth noting you can catch another ferry from Lochranza across to the Kintyre Peninsula, cutting out much of the driving to reach one of our most favoured Scottish golf destinations, Machrihanish, Machrihanish Dunes and the Village at Machrihanish - much more on all of that later when we visit in September 2017.
To the south of Brodick is Lamlash Golf Club, again with breathtaking vistas of the Holy Isle, now a Buddhist retreat. Carry on south from there and you'll reach Whiting Bay, rather steep to begin with but lots of fun holes on offer high above the town.
'The Hage' Was Here!
There's one course that stands out for me on Arran not because of some great championship tests or breathtaking vistas but because of an amusing little tale that is associated with it. Back in the 1930's Walter Hagen had been encouraged by a Scots-American friend to visit a remote island course called 'The Machrie'. Over for what turned out to be his last visit to Scotland, Hagen decided to take the trip and invited fellow pro, Joe Kirkwood to join him. The pair arrived on Arran only to discover they were on the wrong island and headed for the wrong golf course. This was the Machrie Golf & Tennis Club on Arran as opposed to the more prominent 18-hole track on the not too distant Island of Islay - the latter famous for its whisky yet sporting one of the finest links courses in the country.
To the great delight of the locals who had somehow gathered in significant numbers (bear in mind, this is decades before cell-phones and I presume there would be only a handful of landlines on the island) some 200 spectators amassed - making me wonder if this was all an elaborate set-up!
Anyhow, with great good humour, Hagan and Kirkwood agreed to play the wee 9-holer at Machrie Bay, taking on two locals lads, one a cross-hander and the other a 'wiggler' according to the news story of the day. Kirkwood emulated the cross-hander whilst the ‘Hage’ had a go at 'wiggling', both entering into the spirit of the occasion and no doubt delighting all who witnessed. As it happened the locals dominated the first 9 holes and were 1 up at the turn though the match ended 3 and 1 for Hagen and Kirkwood. I've never actually played Machrie Bay but maybe I will the next time I'm on Arran. You never know who might show up.
And that takes us just a couple of miles further south to the village of Blackwaterfoot and the inimitable Shiskine Golf Club. The lady secretary there told me of the time Hugh Grant showed up with his father on a little Scottish golf tour. I wouldn't get too excited about that - but she clearly did! What I would get excited about is playing Shiskine. Everyone I know who has made the journey to the west side of Arran falls in love with this mighty midget, one of the most delightful little links in Scotland. I've played it a dozen times and coincidentally that's exactly how many holes there are at Shiskine Golf Club. There are golf pundits purporting that 12 might just be the ideal number for a golf course. In the beginning, Prestwick Golf Club, the birthplace of the Open Championship only had a dozen and Jack Nicklaus has been promoting a 12-hole circuit near his home patch in Muirfield Village, Ohio as the ideal length. Theoretically, it does save time - but in Shiskine's case, once you've sampled the joy of these 12 stupendous links holes, you immediately want to go round again. Perhaps 24 is the perfect number!
For more information please visit www.ayrshiregolfscotland.com