Ardfin Golf Course
Isle of Jura, Scotland
United Kingdom

Fifteenth hole, 435 yards; A well-conceived hole on tricky land, the 80 yard (!) wide fairway provides cheer on this tough uphiller. As always, there is a preferred section and the golfer is best served by playing down the right where he gains a more level stance and enjoys a good view of the green. The land just short of the green was massaged to both hide the green and shunt balls right that come in from the left. As always where severe trouble lurks along one side (in this case, the right), Harrison provides short grass and friendly bounces on the other side.

The golfer never tires of the ever changing backdrops.

This bunker on the inside of the elbow at 15 joins one at 17 as the biggest expanse of sand on the course. Small, revetted pots would be too formal and do the broad, sweeping landscape an injustice.

The climb up the hill to the green offers its own rewards.

Sixteenth hole, 505 yards; Early feedback has this ½ par hole as the favorite of many – and for just reason. The two most crucial components to great golf are here in techni-color: beauty + strategy. The tiger tries to squeeze his tee ball between a bunker right and rock covered mounds left. If successful, he finds himself within 230 yards from the green amid another series of decisions. The golfer is asked to think and when he isn’t thinking or playing, he is enveloped in a setting that generates superlatives. Hard to imagine that the game offers many better moments. One golfer compares it to the exhilaration found in playing the fifth at New South Wales GC south of Sydney.

The enticing view from the 16th tee.

Don’t let the spectators high on the hill left of 16 put you off your game. Rains on this slope never reach the fairway thanks to the ditch system that was put in place.

Carrying the bunker leaves the golfer ….

… with the thrilling, never to be forgotten moment of potentially reaching the green in two.

The fairway narrows so it is indeed a courageous shot that reaches the putting surface. Note the green’s clean lines and how they do nothing to disturb the setting.

The spoiled rotten golfer might be numb to Ardfin’s beauty by the time he approaches the 16th green.

Claig Castle was built on the above island in the 16th century to maintain control of the Sound of Islay. Today’s golfer can use the restored Boat House in the foreground to restore confidence before teeing off the 12th.

Seventeenth hole, 460 yards; There is no sight of the flag or any suggestions. Nothing is given away at the tee, an attribute the author always admires. The man who can move the golf ball the farthest from the tee does gain an advantage if he can get to the other side of the valley wall, where he will be at a similar elevation as the green.  Those shorter off the tee – or when the wind is against –  suffer more muddled optics.

One of the author’s favorite approach shots comes at the penultimate hole with Brosdale as the immediate backdrop and Arran (home of the 12 hole Shiskine) in the distance.

Eighteenth hole, 530 yards; From an accomplishment point of view, this hole ranks near the top for Harrison. If he couldn’t fashion a hole here, everything before would be jeopardized. Yes, the side-slope was dispiritingly steep but the way the fairway stair-steps up could not have turned out better. Look at the photograph below: doesn’t the Home hole (and the whole course for that matter) appear mature? The rich textures of the heather and fescue roughs complement the maintained surfaces and the course seems like it has been a part of the landscape for yonks.

Similar to the 4th at Bethpage Black, the Home hole for most golfers is a three step process. From the opening tee shot to the closing hole, the golfer is fully engaged at Ardfin.

When the wind is helpful and behind, this bunker 30 yards short gets a work out from those that come up a smidge short.

What a walk, what a course! During the round, you hit over a crevasse, play beside babbling brooks, face daunting moments, meander through a secret garden, stroll along cliff tops, play several tee balls over the shoreline, walk along the beach, cross a waterfall and gaze over the Boat House past the ruins of a 16th century castle. All this occurs beneath the imposing mountains of Islay which loom across the sound. Suffice to say, Ardfin is one of the game’s incomparable settings.

Happily, the golf is a match for the scenery. This 6,800 yard course can be brawny and on certain days dismantle a golfer faster than Carnoustie. That’s why hiring Harrison was such a shrewd move by Coffey. Harrison’s favorite golf is fun golf and that wasn’t going to occur here by accident. That something so graceful could be fashioned from something so harsh is an incredible testament to all involved. Modify too much and the property would appear neutered; too little and the golf becomes insufferable. After a few planned tweak included thinning the roughs, the desired balance will have been spectacularly (definition: strikingly, sensationally) achieved.

Two takeaways on the golf: five two shot holes measure between 295 yards and 380 yards. Separately and cumulatively, they are w-o-n-d-e-r-f-u-l. Similar to several exemplar designs (e.g. Pine Valley, Oakmont, Merion, Kingston Heath), these sub-400 yarders help elevate the course into the top echelon as they require the golfer both to execute and play tactically. Such length holes are manageable for a wide range of players even in the wind but Ardfin’s holes (e.g. the third, fifth, eighth, ninth, and thirteenth) can quickly mete out some harsh penalties. It’s great to see such holes on the menu as the thinking golfer can keep pace or even best the modern power player.

Additionally, though there are only three one-shotters, their challenges create memories for a lifetime. Any one hole would be a standout but to find a trio is a wonder and highlights the diverse nature of Ardfin’s irregular coastline. All three represent mostly aerial golf but that never stopped the author from slobbering over the sixteenth at Cypress and the ninth at Yale.

At the time of this writing, the Coffeys are desirous of showcasing this special part of the world to interested folks. Perhaps a score or two of people will have access to the course on given days in the golf season. A 200+ year old stone farm complex is being expanded and enhanced as this profile is published in October, 2017. When complete, and given the immaculate attention to detail everywhere else at Ardfin, it will rival the accommodations at Skibo Castle and Loch Lomond. A treatise needs to be done on why lux accommodations are the cat’s meow in Scotland but the fact is, they are.

So … how to get here? One fine way is to fly into Glasgow, rent a car and drive for 2 1/2 hours to Tayvallich and catch a rib across the Sound of Jura. The 45 minute passing is an absolute highlight, not a penance. Best yet, the harbor at Jura is at the foot of both the cozy Jura Hotel and the world famed distillery.

The grey Ardfin rib stands ready at the dock at Craighouse on Jura.

What a greeting on the southeastern end of the island – what else does the traveling golfer need?! Harrison stayed in this hotel for 153 nights during the build.

Once on the isle, a range of activities exist. Stag stalking might be the supreme way to gain an appreciation of the island’s environment. Hiking and biking are other grand ways to explore. Otherwise, a road extends up the east coast where one gorgeous scene unfolds after another. The Paps of Jura refer to the three 2,500 foot mountains that dominate the island’s mid-section. They are sufficiently tall to be seen from Northern Ireland and the famous Isle of Jura Fell Race each May sends runners up and down all three.

Quaint coves and pockets exist up the coast road. One might head north in hopes of gaining a glimpse of Barnhill, where Orwell wrote 1984.

Year-around Jura inhabitants total less than 260 but they possess a quick smile and a delicious sense of humor.

Life moves at its own relaxed pace on Jura; just ask this Miniature Shetland pony to hurry up and you’ll know.

There is timeless beauty to the rugged landscape, where elemental forces dominate. The golfer senses that and yearns to reestablish a close connection with nature. He is drawn to Ardfin like few places on earth. During the author’s four day visit, he saw cows, stags, an otter, one peacock, seals, goats, sheep, red deer, dogs, swans, golden eagles and the Miniature Shetland pony above.

The thing about this young course is that it doesn’t feel young. Whether admiring the stone Viking port or gazing at the 16th century castle or appreciating the restoration of the old farmhouse, the golfer witnesses history. Beauty here is so prevalent at every turn that the game of golf takes on heightened significance versus a course where Mother Nature was more stingy. The hazards are more compelling at Ardfin, so the golf is also. The sense of triumph that can occur here is almost unrivaled. George Orwell must have been a golfer because it is true: some courses are more equal than others.

George Orwell was right.

The End