- Alistair Tait
Get away from it all on Arran
The elderly man stuck his thumb out just after I left Shiskine Golf Club. Anywhere else in the world and I’d have driven on by. Not on Arran. Somehow it seemed the most natural thing in the world to stop and give the man a lift.
He told me the same story I’d been hearing for the previous few days: he decided to settle on Arran to get away from the rat race.
He couldn’t have picked a better place to do just that, even though this beautiful island lies just off Scotland's west coast, seemingly within swimming distance of the mainland.
Arran isn’t a place you really go to do to do anything. Sure, you can spend a day climbing Goat Fell, the island’s highest peak. It’s not quite Munro status at 847 metres (2,867 feet), but an enjoyable climb just the same. However, once you’ve done that, circumnavigated the island’s 57 miles, spotted the red deer at Lochranza, visited the Arran distillery, wandered around the Arran Aromatics shop and seen Brodick Castle, there’s little else left to do, especially if you've booked a week's holiday on the island.
That’s just fine.
You go to Arran to get away from it all. To do very little. I played golf with former Brodick Golf Club lady captain Tricia Martin when I visited the island 10 years ago. She spent her working life in Glasgow as a teacher. She found that life stressful. Arran was the perfect antidote.
“I’d find myself getting stressed as the week went on,” she said. “As I took the ferry from the mainland to Arran on weekends I could feel all the stress leaving my body.”
I also had the pleasure of Pat Adamson’s company just after she’d finished her term as captain of Shiskine Golf Club. This bona fide Arran native summed up the island perfectly when she said:
“People always ask me what there is to do on Arran. There isn’t really anything to do. We like it that way.”
You don’t really go to Arran to play golf either, with one exception. Honestly, you probably wouldn’t go out of your way to play six of Arran’s seven golf courses. There are only three 18-hole layouts – Brodick, Lamlash and Whiting Bay – and they fall into the “quirky” category: short courses with short par-4s, long par-3s and holes that crisscross each other, that sort of thing. Enjoyable yes, but not courses you’d put on your bucket list.
Your excuse for going to Arran to play golf is Shiskine. When I was there, a plaque heralded it as the 100th best course in the British Isles as voted by a British golf magazine. I don’t who voted, but they were wrong. I can think of at least 150 courses in the British Isles that are better than Shiskine. I can think of few that are as unique.
This layout in the village of Blackwaterfoot features only 12 holes. A sign on the first tee said you should play these 12 links holes in two hours and 15 minutes. Considering we live in the age of the five-hour round, we could use more 12 hole courses. Then a round of golf wouldn’t be akin to purgatory.
Don’t you just wish the Shiskine was the first ever golf course? Imagine how much more popular our game would be if 12 holes was the norm instead of 18?
The 2:15 time might actually pose a problem for first-time visitors: soaking in the views alone makes that time impossible. Quite simply, the scenery is stunning.
Shiskine sits on the western side of Arran. The Kilbrannan Sound separates the island from Kintyre and the Mull Paul McCartney made famous. Look left of Kintyre and on a clear day you can see the coast of Northern Ireland. Look south and you get good views of the island’s coastline. Get out to the third hole, the famous Crow’s Nest, stand on the raised green and you’ll wish you either had your camera or your easel.
This hole is only 122 yards short. You basically aim at the sky and hope for the best since the tee shot is played straight uphill.
Stand on the fourth green and look north up the coastline and the imposing craggy rock face of Drumadoon Point draws your attention like a high handicapper absorbing swing tips.
Willie Fernie laid out the original 9-hole course that opened in 1896. Fernie didn’t have the luxury of modern equipment, so he simply went over what was in front of him. If that meant a hole like the Crow’s Nest then so be it.
Par at Shiskine is 42 to a total yardage of 2,787 yards. There is only one par-5, two of the par 4s are under 270 yards, and the finish is a weak, short par-3. It doesn’t seem to matter. There is enough links challenge to keep you interested. Then there's the stunning scenery and the minimalism of 12 holes.
The beauty of just a dozen challenges means when you finish, have tea and a sandwich or bowl of soup, you can always play another 12. Might as well, it’s not as if you have much else to do.
Just two questions: Why did I wait so long to visit this enchanting island, and when can I return?
Photographs courtesy of Hamish Bannatyne.