The inclusion of Colonsay in the book “True Links” - a bible of all the real links golf courses in the world – brought me to Colonsay. I’ll admit that there is no other reason I would have visited, however, by the time I departed, less than 24 hours after arriving, I felt guilty for staying just one night, being a box-ticker and have vowed to return to this magical place where the air is cleaner, the sea is clearer and where an undeniable pureness exists.
The location of the golf course on the western side on an island 10miles long and just two wide is breathtaking. The 18 holes brush two bays - “Traigh an Tobair Fhuair” and “Port Lobh” - on one side and sits peacefully under the shadow of Beinn nan Caorach (“Hill of the Sheep”) on the other. There is a real sense of isolation at this desolate yet inherently beautiful part of Scotland.
Played over the indigenous machair the golf course is rugged and rudimentary where large stones regularly protrude form the ground. There are essentially 18 tees – some of which are smartly located on the top of rocky mounds – and 18 “greens”... and that is about it. There are no fairways to speak of, everything just merges together, the patchy machair is too long to be classed as fairway but not really long enough to be called rough.
That was certainly the case in June when finding and playing your ball wasn’t a problem. The exact length of the grass will of course depend on the time of year, the recent weather and just how hungry the roaming sheep are. They are also some marshy areas to avoid and even a swamp at one hole!
A result of this there is a lack of definition and at times you feel as if you are just hitting into the abyss. Picking a line is not always easy and without the very useful map on the back of the scorecard a game here could become an expedition of trying to find just exactly where you are playing to.
Speaking of the scorecard you will find a total yardage of 4,752 and a par of 70 but that doesn’t really tell the entire story. There are four par-fives with yardages of 391, 376, 341 and 370!! Apparently the locals have not used length to designate par but rather difficulty!
Earlier I used quotation marks around the word greens because they will not be like putting surfaces you are accustomed to. The course is maintained by locals and although the small, round greens are defined and mown they are bumpy and many have animal scrapings on them or hundreds of daisies! I suspect the hole locations may be changed annually at best.
That all said you could still roll a ball on them and there’s no doubt you are still playing the game of golf. The tees are not particularly level and there are no yardages markers on the course but who really cares…. this is a rough and ready golf experience. Who wants ‘normal’ when they visit a place as amazing as this?
The quality of the golf is a bit of a mishmash too. There are some unusual features like criss-crossing holes, blind shots and in the case of the 18th a mountainous climb over rougher ground to a brilliantly secluded green. Indeed, knowing where you are going on the final is very difficult – the map shows a green right next to the first tee but I certainly didn’t see one when I started, however, it is there and located in a small rocky basin.
There are some other real gems in there too with the best stretch played from the 12th onwards. The drive alongside the bay at 12 is excellent, the short hole that follows is good too, where a mesmerising rock formation acts as a backdrop, whilst the heroic approach into the 14th, which must carry a craggy outcrop, is probably the best shot on the course. The 3rd green situated very close to a stream and the 7th on the opposite side of a burn-cum-swamp are both very good whilst the steeply uphill 9th is great fun too.
Being located on the west of the island I would recommend playing an evening round where you can watch the sun set as you golf.
For the hardcore competitor the club run an annual open competition each August!
There is no clubhouse to speak of although there is something called the “Golf Hut” next to the 6th fairway which I suspect may be shared with the neighbouring airstrip for those who wish to fly to the island instead of a 2.5 hour ferry journey from Oban.
On arrival you are greeted with an honesty box where you can deposit your £10 green-fee for a round or pay £60 to become a member of Colonsay Golf Club for the year! You can also pay your fee at the Colonsay Hotel (a 10 minute drive from the course) where you would be well advised to stay whilst on the island; good accommodation, excellent food, cracking atmosphere and beer on tap from the local brewery.
Apart from the hotel another good place to eat would be The Pantry, where they also sell honey produced on the island, whilst also around the main hub of the island at Scalasaig, where the ferry docks, is a local convenience store, a bookshop and the aforementioned brewery which also distils its own gin. A twisting single lane track will take you around an inner loop of the island from which the surreal Kiloran Beach is accessible but the island is best explored on foot.
Before I visited I could find very little information about the golf course from people who have played it. The only place I could fine any meaningful details was on the excellent colonsay.org.uk website. I therefore hope this review helps anyone who may be in the same boat as me and looking to play all of the links courses or just looking for a very interesting, remote golf experience. My overriding advise would be to stay much longer than I did. Visiting Colonsay isn’t really about the golf. It’s much more than that.