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Scotland - The Western Isles/outer Hebrides

Now it is time to turn our attention to the west coast of Scotland and the neighbouring islands. With one notable exception there is no golf worth considering anywhere in the north west area. If you are really keen then you can contemplate the very long trip along the A838 to Durness which is a brilliant 9 holer with spectacular sea views. But unless you really want to explore this sparsely inhabited area then it is a lot of time travelling just to play one (9 hole) course.

In 2009 my wife and I took the gamble and visited the Outer Hebrides just to play two links, Askernish and Scarista. The Outer Hebrides contains a group of islands with unique and spectacular scenery. Particularly in summertime, all the main islands are well serviced by the car ferries which are always punctual and easy to organize. The island hopping trips varied from 40 minutes to three and a half hours on the ferry.

         (photo Luscantyre Beach on the Isle of Harris)

         (photo view from the ferry terminal at Ullapool)

I said we took the 'gamble' simply because the weather can be pretty inhospitable here and golf could be difficult to say the least. The summer of 2009 was kind to us and we experienced mild sunny days and unique landscapes. Our northernmost destination was to the Isle of Lewis which is connected by bridge to the Isle of Harris, famous for its Harris tweed cloth.

Scarista Links, also known as the Isle of Harris Golf Club, was our first golfing destination. We knew that not even the cockerel is not allowed to crow on the Sabbath here but we were somewhat taken back when we arrived on a Sunday. Nothing at all was open and  even the swings in the playgrounds had been padlocked for the day.

        (photo- Scarista Links sign)

On the Monday morning we met the Captain, Hugh Maclean, at 'the bunker' as the clubhouse is known. We were at the small roadside carpark...but where was 'the bunker'? Well we were actually standing on it. The clubhouse is a metal freight container set into the side of the hill. Normal payment is by the honesty box and pride of place is Nick Faldo's five pound note now used as a perpetual trophy appropriately known as the Faldo Fiver.

Scarista is 9 holes with alternate tees. The hills run right to the sea and the greens are simply the closely mown fairway grass - but what fun -loved every minute of it.

   (photo  Scarista Links)

With great anticipation we ferried down to the Isle of South Uist (North and South Uist are also connected by bridge) to play the recently 'rediscovered' Tom Morris layout Askernish. This is an amazing story of reconstruction on a SSSI site -you really should read the whole story in my expansive book Another Journey through the Links. You will pretty much have the course to yourself along with the native birds and those damned rabbits which are a major problem here. If you really want to know what it was like to play on a links circa 1900 then this is a unique opportunity. It will never be manicured or busy on every tee but you don't need much imagination early into the back 9 holes to see similarities with the best that Ballybunion has to offer.

     (photos  Askernish)

We didn't get to the Isle of Mull so unfortunately I can't comment on the golf at Tobermory. Our priority was to the Isle of Islay to play the fabuluous links The Machrie. Unless you are a devout fan of whisky and the unique peat flavour attributed to distilleries here, then I strongly recommend you stay at the accommodation beside the golf course.

Please be aware that since my visit the place got into serious financial difficulties but is now being resurrected by new (American, I think) owners. The hotel is being pulled down and new accommodation built. The old hotel had a charm of its own not matched by the somber gentleman who was the manager and who unfortunately had no rapport whatsoever with the guests.

You must play The Machrie at least twice, preferably three times. It is brilliant but there are lots of blind shots -often into the greens. My lasting memory, apart from some wet and wild weather (but that never deterred the intrepid golfer), was having to wait at the 8th green whilst the hedgehog and three sheep moved to the side. Even the light rough is thick here, so keep your eye on your ball.


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