Isle of Harris Golf Club: Scarista Links Golf Course
SCOTLAND - The Isle of Harris can be found in the Hebrides, the group of islands located to the extreme north west of Scotland. Such a location makes it quite easily the most remote place that I have ever played golf.
Access to Harris is possible by a variety of different routes each requiring a certain degree of planning and determination. Ferries run from Uig on the Isle of Skye (accessible by bridge) to Tarbert on the Isle of Harris (about 20 minutes drive from the course) or to Stornaway (about 90 minutes drive from the course) on the Isle of Lewis from Ullapool on the North Western coast of Scotland. It is also possible to fly to Stornaway from Glasgow or Inverness.
The fact that it is possible to drive from Stornaway on the Isle of Lewis to the Isle of Harris Golf Club without having to take any ferry or bridge is not as remarkable a feat as you may expect. This is because Lewis and Harris are in fact one land mass- they are divided only by a range of rugged hills. In days gone by, the impassable nature of this terrain meant that you had to travel between the two ends of the island by boat. Hence the north and south parts of the island were referred to as separate isles.
The terrain of inland Harris is unlike any I have encountered previously. It is a combination of what I imagine the surface of the moon to look like and something off a Hollywood set. Rocky outcrops are scattered across hills and valleys interspersed with small circular lakes. There is an incredible feeling of isolation brought about largely by the harshness of this landscape.
The course is found on the west coast of the island. On the road towards the course, looking out to sea, it is possible to see uninhabited Taransay, the location for the BBC 'Castaway' television programme. A production that saw ordinary members of the public attempt to survive the year 2000 isolated from the rest of civilization without the creature comforts most have become accustomed to.
For the golfing visitor, the setting of Harris Golf Club is simply awesome. The following are genuine quotes from journalists and writers who have had the good fortune to play the Scarista Links:
'...sloping to the Atlantic, the course is one of the most spectacular on earth...' (Ian Wooldridge, Daily Mail)
'...the course, clinging to the side of a hill which runs down to the Atlantic Ocean, and Scarista Beach, whose sands make Malibu look like a playschool sandpit...' (Vic Robbie, Daily Mail)
'...the course is set on one of the most beautiful beaches in the world...' (Jennifer Harper, Press & Journal)
While the surrounding scenery is breathtaking, the course itself is simply a delight. There are just nine holes; each created in the way the golfing gods intended. There was no course designer in the modern sense of the term. The layout is truly natural, formed only by the actions of the sea, sand and wind. Small greens nestle in natural hollows, bunkers are created where the harsh climes have prevented grasses taking root, the ever present wind puts doubt in the mind of all but the most confident.
Each hole provides a very different challenge. The first\ tenth hole, although less than three hundred yards in length, is a tricky par 4. The blind tee shot introduces you to the whimsical ways of the Scarista links as you drive away into the unknown, setting out on a wonderfully different golfing experience.
The second\ eleventh hole, again relatively short, offers one of the most dramatic tee shots that I have ever faced. With the Atlantic Ocean crashing into the rocks to your left, you must drive out over the water in order to find the safety of the fairway beyond. The green is the first of several to nestle in amongst the nooks and crannies of this golfing wonderland. When Ronan Rafferty, European Ryder Cup player and Sky Sports commentator came to sample the delights of Scarista Links, he singled out the second as a highlight of the course.
The ninth\ eighteenth is the longest hole on the course, a 483 yard par 5. Uphill and with a tight fairway bounded by long grasses, it provides a tough finish to a unique round of golf.
The green fee for a day golfing at Scarista is a very reasonable £10. However, this fee is not paid to an assistant in a pro-shop or to a secretary in a clubhouse, for there is no pro-shop or clubhouse; green fees are paid into an 'honesty box', a rare arrangement that serves only to add to the magic of the place. When Nick Faldo visited in the early nineties prior to flying out to the Masters, the fee was £5. Faldo signed his £5 note, and ever since the club members have competed annually for the 'Faldo Fiver'.
An alternative to paying the green fee is to become a life member of the Harris Golf Club. For the grand sum of £150 you can become entitled to a lifetime of free golfing at Scarista, the necessary application and payment can all be made via the club's excellent website.
Harris Golf Club allows you to get a taste of how golf was first played. It is a unique experience that I enjoyed probably as much as any round of golf I have ever played. The Isle of Harris is a desolate, yet enchanting place. I sincerely hope that one day I get the chance to go back to play the Scarista links and sample the scenery for a second time.
Isle of Harris Golf Club
Isle of Harris
Secretary: Angus MacSween
Isle of Harris
Tel: +44 (0)1859 502331
Visitors are welcome at any time with the exception of Sundays, when there is no play on the course.