Isle of Arran
Golf break/golf course review: Playing the eight entertaining courses on this picture-postcard western Scottish island for £110 might well be your best decision ever, suggests Golf World. We’ve highlighted our favourite six.
A golf break ‘off the beaten track’ usually means an exotic destination in Asia we barely knew existed, a now-flourishing former Eastern Bloc country, or a green oasis of reclaimed desert. Yet there are plenty of ‘different’ golf breaks closer to home, and the island of Arran is surely one of the very best. This is holiday golf in every sense; the courses are relatively forgiving and the island – as one of Scotland’s most popular tourist spots – caters seamlessly for visiting golfers.
If it is ‘championship’ challenges you seek, look elsewhere. But if you are intrigued by fun courses in picture-postcard locations, read on. Getting there is easier than you may think, and part of the experience. Your task is to arrive at Ardrossan (either in your own car or a hire car via Glasgow or Prestwick airports) and catch the 55-minute ferry to Brodick. It can be a very slick and stress-free operation and once on the island, you never drive for more than 30 minutes between courses, usually much less. Few places offer as much time and breathing space to savour the experience than Scotland’s seventh largest island (pop. 4,629).
Day 1: Brodick and Corrie
It takes just three minutes to roll off the ferry and arrive on the 1st tee of Brodick, founded in 1897 and steadily improved ever since into one of Arran’s finest. It starts and ends gently on flat land, including a nice elevated drive for first shot of the trip after your journey, before the pretty par-3 3rd takes you to the edge of the river. The 4th plays over the water and begins the most interesting section, one defined by mature trees as it creeps alongside the river.
A triangle of holes in one corner of dense forest is followed by a seven-hole loop in a links-like out-and-back routing, with all enjoying views of the harbour, beach and sea. The 11th to 13th stretch runs right alongside Brodick Bay. The 15th brings you back over the river, a nice hole in a beautiful spot that neatly sums up this very pleasant course, one that is a cut above in terms of consistency what we expect from ‘holiday golf’. And even if it generally flatters, it has an exacting end on a plateau green with the stream in front. The green and surrounds slope left, so it is so easy to find yourself pitching up the slope from next to the tennis court. In summary, a super start to the trip.
Along the coast in a northerly direction is Corrie, which enjoys arguably the most dreamy of Arran’s all-world locations. Your quaint Corrie experience starts by dispensing your green fee in an Honesty Box if the Tea Room next to the 1st tee is closed.
It continues with a short par 3 to a sloping green and then at the 2nd a shot over a marker post to a tiny, rectangular green in a cosy spot. So far, so very enjoyable, and that continues with a par 4 of 250 yards that plays up towards mountains in a truly exquisite scene. After hitting over a gully onto a ridge, you are greeted by the most strikingly purple heather you’ve ever seen. It also has a distinctively square green, which turns out to be a theme of Corrie, just as it was with many courses established around the time of its birth (1900). The 4th and 5th are par 3s that play down then (blindly) uphill before the 6th plays to a severly elevated green in its own little amphitheatre in the corner of the property. Corrie’s criss-crossing routing is often a health and safety executive’s nightmare but the 7th takes that to a new level as you play across the 3rd fairway. The 8th is a similar story, not least because the custom is to hit your drive on it before putting on the 7th to save trekking back up the hill.
The course closes more regularly with a stream that winds up the right then across the fairway. It’s easy to be blocked out for the approach, which would be the last of many blind shots in a round of 1,915 yards more enjoyable and memorable than courses of three times the scope.
Day 2: Whiting Bay and Lamlash
Whiting Bay could delight you or it may horrify you. You genuinely might even give up after a few holes of this criss-crossing, steepling hillside experience. We fall into the former category though. Established in 1895, it begins with a hole straight uphill with a T for a marker post. Into the wind, it is a beast, mildly ridiculous and a test of faith that better is to come. Your drive may only have gone 120 yards in distance (and 50 yards in elevation)but your now-lofty location allows you to savour the most amazing scene, a panorama that takes in the bay, the pretty village and the Holy Isle. It is par 63 and 4,092 yards, but yards and par should often be ignored here because of the terrain’s acute slope; par 3s that are so steeply uphill must be considered par 4s while downhill two-shotters are more like par 3.5. You are wise to ignore par and play matchplay.
Whiting Bay’s flatter top section is spellbindingly beautiful, mixing mature pines, heather and bracken. It is pleasing to the senses, the bursts of colour mixing with the smell of the pines and bracken. A gurgling stream adds to the charm and a little to the test, while blind shots add to the entertaining bewilderment. To some, it won’t really be a golf course, to others it is sensational fun.
Nearby Lamlash is not dissimilar; hilly, with blind shots, amazing views and memorable quirkiness. In holes such as the 3rd, featuring an ocean of ripe bracken, it has ‘proper’ golf holes, the flag tantalisingly visible in the distance and framed by the greens of forest, gorse and fern. One of best holes on the island, and begins a five-hole stretch mixing heather, bracken, pines and pleasingly springy turf of a moorland ilk. The front nine’s solid holes are then topped by the back nine’s numerous ‘top of the world’ views.
Day 3: Shiskine and Machrie Bay
Shiskine is easily Arran’s most famous course and successfully blends great entertainment with a dash of more ‘normal’ golf. It’s predominantly fantastic fun and despite having a third fewer holes with which to impress our panel, is a fixture in our Scottish Top 100. Laid out in 1896, Willie Park is credited with shaping such a compelling course in such a spectacular location. It starts with a straightforward hole along the beach that is not a portent of the high jinks to come. A blind approach at the 2nd – and its accompanying views of heather, gorse and sea – is the queue for the feast to start. Next it is a 128-yard blind par 3 played up a steep hill decorated with a fusion of bracken, gorse and heather, with Shiskine’s signature rockface beyond the green. You come back down to the beach with another short hole that in many other courses would be the hole. Here it is actually comparatively mundane, even if it is the images of this green, taken from the beach with the rockface behind, that are those you are likely to know Shiskine by.
In fact, only now does arguably the best run of holes begin. The 5th plays along the shore, a sporty par 4 of humps and hollows with a fairway divided by a runway of bracken infused with heather and marram. The 6th continues beachside and ends with a shot towards a marker post that guides you to a sunken green in an amphitheatre of heather, bracken and gorse; very possibly the very best of Shiskine. Still along the beach, you then fire over the mound that is the 6th’s backdrop to play the totally blind 7th (then use an ingenious way to signal the green is clear). Seven holes in, this is good enough already for its Top 100 berth, and even if the remainder is relatively less explosive, is a ‘must play’.
Finally, just along the road is Machrie Bay, a relatively flat course with wide fairways lined by gorse. It starts and finishes with holes sitting on a strip of linksland alongside Kilbrannan Sound with views towards Kintyre. There is also a kid’s play area, tennis courts and a cafe to entertain non-golfers in your party.
When to go
You are dealing with an especially unpredictable area of British weather. This outpost is noted for its rainfall while also being warmed by the Gulf Stream. Pack your waterproofs at any time of the year – but equally you could go as early as April or as late as October and not need a jumper.
Where to stay
There are no play-and-stay options but that is more than compensated for by the myriad options for every taste and budget. You can barely drive for two minutes without passing accommodation of some sort, even in the more remote spots. We’d advise choosing somewhere around Brodick for one night then moving base to the south-west of the island for a second night. That said, stay around Lamlash and you are within 30 minutes of all the courses.
How to get there
You have to get the ferry (Caledonian MacBrayne) from Ardrossan in North Ayrshire to Brodick, which takes less than an hour and permits cars and minibuses. Costs for a foot passenger are minimal and for a car they rise to around £30 return.