The Isle of Harris Golf Club
Scarista, Outer Hebrides, Scotland
United Kingdom

Fifth hole, 350 yards, Langavat; Someone who knew what they were doing routed this hole. The rumpled fairway feints left before jogging right and crossing an attractive burn to a green set at the property’s low point. Pure sand becomes loamy in this southeast corner pocket but the course is quick to drain nonetheless. In fact, visitors are surprised to learn that the locals are quick to avail themselves of playing the course during the winter months when the weather permits. Watching one’s tee ball at the fifth pitch and tumble as it scoots down the hill is a highly satisfying ‘quiet’ moment.

A tee ball that squeezes past the distant burn is ideal. As seen above, the right side of the hole has been cut for the season but it is the one area on the course where Dunne lets tall grass encroach to discourage people from being too greedy off the tee.

This view back up the fifth indicates just how much the hole tumbles downhill.

This view back up the fifth indicates just how much the hole tumbles downhill.

Sixth hole, 220 yards, Toe Head; Designated a par four, this is the shortest two-shotter the author has yet encountered and a supreme example of how meaningless yardage is in this environment. On the late September day the author played, a ‘Weather Disruption Alert’ was in effect for wind gusts up to 70 mph and the sixth played dead into it, seemingly adding ~50% to its uphill length. Even in still conditions the hole would be fascinating, thanks to its green – the tiniest the author has ever seen. Only 9 by 11 paces, the oval putting surface measures less than 1,000 square feet. While both the hole’s distance and green are miniscule, the two play off each other perfectly and the hole – shockingly – possesses intriguing playing angles.

This view from near the tee offers a glimpse of the yellow and red flag above the right dune. Just right of the flag are …

... two hidden bunkers 40 yards shy of the green as well as a small pit that fronts the green on the direct line from the tee. Trail and error suggests there is wisdom in playing short left of the green and tacking in from there.

… two hidden bunkers 40 yards shy of the green and a small pit that fronts the green on the direct line from the tee. Trial and error suggests there is wisdom in playing short left of the green and tacking in from there.

Occasional attempts have been made to expand the putting surface but all such efforts appeared artificial. The green simply wants to occupy the shallow ~800 square foot dish and nothing more. A player once took 16 (!) shots to get out of the small pit in front of the green and was awarded a special accommodation for perseverance at the club’s annual prize giving.

Seventh hole, 160 yards, Pabbay; Contestants flock in from all over the United Kingdom (and even a few from the States) to compete for the Isle of Harris Open. Needless to say, the winner gets not a green jacket but a tweed one. Credit for the event goes to the aforementioned Hugh MacLean, who followed Willie Fulton as captain of the club. The jam-packed tournament’s proceeds are plowed back into the course and have helped Scarista gain the professional footing that it now enjoys. Dunne describes how a contestant in a recent Open hit the green in regulation, putted from the back left corner toward a front right hole location, watched in dismay as his putt found the front right bunker and ultimately carded an 11. He was a fine player too and the mishap cost him a realistic chance at the coveted tweed jacket. Of the three one-shotters, it is worth noting that they all head in different directions. That fact wouldn’t matter on a calm inland course but here, it does!

The seventh plays across the sixth green to a green that follows the natural grade of the land (i.e. it is canted from high back left to low front right). It’s Dunne’s favorite putting surface as it affords more interesting hole locations than any other green.

Eighth hole, 220 yards, Taransay; This stout one shotter’s dominant feature is a fifteen foot hollow along the right. To land there is deplorable but carry it and there is a good chance that your tee ball will take the downslope and trundle onto the open putting ground. The author especially relishes shots that take time to play out; this is one such and the elevated tee provides a fine vantage point for watching events unfold.

With the green to the left, anything flared right invites misfortune.

Ninth hole, 495 yards, Killegray; The sole three-shotter provides a fitting conclusion. Highlights include the central bunker some 80 yards short of the green and a green complex set at an angle to the fairway. Maintaining acceptable grass coverage on the green is a constant struggle given the ever-shifting sands. Dunne’s efforts are both noble and eminent because the green, snuggled between two dunes and set at an angle to the fairway, is superlative and worth fighting for.

As seen from high right, the long narrow ninth green squeezes into the low point between two dunes.

Give Dunne and the club credit for preserving this green complex and maintaining suitable grass coverage.

To the author, the course is wonderful ‘as is.’ Some look at its scorecard at www.harrisgolf.com and dismiss it is a rudimentary course, too short to hold their interest. Mistake! Regardless, the club is not opposed to extending a few holes where distance can be beneficial. An example is a potential new first green that would be even closer to the shoreline than today’s. Sod is price prohibitive and grow-ins are reluctant in this part of the world so Dunne hopes that the new green will be in play in 2018.

Mastering how to use the knob in front of what will become the new first green will be crucial. The new green brings an additional 20 yards to the hole and makes driving the green less likely.

James Dunne, Green Keeper to one of the game’s most fascinating playing fields.

If you go around twice you will have played a course that measures just under 5,000 yards. More importantly, you will enjoy many breathtaking moments and a slew of exhilarating golf holes. With 1,500 rounds a year, you are likely to enjoy the course in blissful isolation. Superb accommodations are nearby and include Rock House at Borve Lodge and Scarista House (which is well known for their nightly culinary efforts).

For those that yearn for simpler times, staying at the Rock House and playing the Isle of Harris Golf Club are a superb one-two punch.

After our round, we climbed into the car and enjoyed a moment of rapturous silence. Then, looking out over the course, I wistfully remarked to my newlywed, ‘How soon do you think we can return?’ No other sentiment matters more – the allure of the Isle of Harris and its authentic brand of golf far surpasses the artificial, dolled up version found in most other countries.

This photograph taken two miles to the north of the course highlights the hues and textures that serve as the inspiration for the island’s most famous export – Harris Tweed.

The End