Feature Interview with Robin Down p.ii

Why not just 9-hole courses again for the second book?

It is all down to necessity – there are simply no 9-hole courses in the very far north along the route between Durness, Thurso and Wick (there used to be four – Tongue 1895-1914, Melvich during the 1890s, Dunnet Links 1893-1921, Dunnet Bay 1921-1939). Some of the next book courses may be 18-holers but in every other aspect, Reay and Wick fit the Golf in the Wild bill – empty fairways, spectacular locations and honesty boxes. Perhaps the stand-out odd ball for the sequel will be Fortrose & Rosemarkie – the only golf course on the Black Isle – a lovely 18-holes in a fine location, it would be churlish to exclude given the route I am taking even if it is too busy/professional to be thought of as a true Golf in the Wild destination. On this basis I could be criticised for excluding other fine courses in the far north such as Brora, Golspie and Dornoch but they have been much written about elsewhere and the journey is not about inclusion of every golf course along the way – it is about what is interesting and fits my chosen route. Craignure – #1 Lochaline

on the course because he loves being there. He also runs the bar! All the club administration is done by volunteers, mostly myself and Neil (yes, he is volunteer club secretary too). We may be small but we embrace technology (my IT background helps). All taxation has been completed online for years, long before it became mandatory. We were the first club in the UK to run our handicap system on a hosted service (the requirement was delivered by HandicapMaster Ltd at our instigation). We may run an honesty box system but we encourage online booking for tee times and opens. Take a tour around allendale-golf.com to get a flavour of it all. Other revenue sources include Feed-in-Tariffs from the wind turbine (about £2.5K per annum), tee sponsorship (about £2k per annum), the bar (about £1K per annum) and various fund raising activities (about £1K per annum). All fairly modest figures but significant when you consider that the entire show is run on an annual turn-over of just £35K. There are no busy times (except when comps are run on Sunday morning and the few Saturdays when there are opens). If you turn up without booking, chances are you will be the only people on the course. A busy period would be when a dozen have been out all day – this is ‘Millionaire’s Golf’ at knock-down prices. The setting is magnificent and the course always well-presented. What more could you ask! (there is a theory that we don’t charge enough – ‘serious’ golfers assume it can’t be any good at just £15 all day). This is the cutting schedule:

  1. Greens: 3 cuts per week (inc. weekend for competitions)
  2. Tees: 2 cuts per week
  3. Fairways: 2 cuts per week
  4. Rough: 1 cut per week
  5. Change holes: 1 per week (Friday/Saturday)
  6. Move tee markers: 2 per week (Mon & Fri)
  7. Green surrounds: 1 cut per week

How long are the nine holes at Allendale? How much land do they occupy?

The front 9 is 2494 yards and the back is 2217 – total 4711 yards, par 67. Relatively short by modern-day standards but you need to carefully negotiate your way around the course. Trees, rough, steep banks, gullies and ditches more than adequately protect the course, to the extent that we only have one bunker and that is only maintained for junior practice. Three local professionals played the course in a challenge match for our 2006 centenary : “This course is a great antidote to every new 7,000-yard course being designed for slam-bang hitters – and with the scenery, it’s a perfect place to come and play golf.” John Harrison – coach to Ken Ferrie. It should also be noted that for most of the holes on the back 9, the tee positioning is entirely different and presents a completely different challenge. The 8th/17th is a good example – on the front 9, it is a 308 yard dogleg par 4 – on the back 9, our signature hole, a 157 yard par 3 over a deep ravine – The Grand Canyon! The total acreage according to our farmer/greenkeeper is approximately 77 acres. Bishopshire – #6 Kilmagad Wood

Describe a favorite one shot, two shot and three shot hole from Golf in the Wild.

‘Favourite’ is maybe not the word I would choose – some notable and difficult holes can get between the ears and ruin your sleep patterns. Coming at the end of the round, the 17th, Grand Canyon at Allendale provides an all too regular opportunity to ruin the best of cards. A 157 yard par 3, the carry over the ‘Canyon’ is only about 130 yards but club choice can vary enormously with wind conditions. Finding the steeply sloping green provides enormous satisfaction, an all too rare occurrence. Avoiding the 3-putt provides even more pleasure. For a par 4, I would select the 6th at Killin. I have a penchant for elevated tees and this one is a particular odd-ball. You climb a set of set of steps to a platform which is outside the boundary of the course (the same platform is used for the par 3 8th at right angles to the 6th). This man-made construction is the high point of the course and takes you half way back down the hill (height variation on the course is 150 feet). With a decent drive a short iron is all that is needed for the approach but the green is elevated, protected by two bunkers and high ground to the left such that everything kicks right where there is deep rough. There is only one place to go – a high pitch onto the back of the green. A very rewarding hole to get right – get it wrong and you could be there for days. (I am intrigued by the establishment of the platform – who came up with the idea, how did he sell it, how much did it cost – I am very familiar with the workings of golf committees having sat on the AGC one for 17 years and I can’t begin to imagine how this proposal got approved!). Killin – #6 Glenlochay – View down the fairway

For a par 5, it has to be the second at Traigh. A relatively short par 5, it plays across a high sand plateau with the most magnificent views across to the small isles – Eigg, Muck and Rum. The drive is a 180 yard carry across a deep ravine – rough on the plateau to the left and deep gorse to the right – this hole haunts me. Wherever I drive, one of my regular thoughts is “where would that have ended up on the 2nd at Traigh”. It is another hole that varies enormously with wind conditions. For the faint-hearted, there is an alternative route with a fairway to the left that skirts the plateau but then you must flirt with the coast road. The second shot will bring you parallel with a punchbowl green that is tucked into the gorse. A short pitch into the green and a two-putt will provide a very satisfying par – another hole that is rewarding to get right, expensive to get wrong.

Traigh – #2 Spion Kop tee Traigh – #2 Spion Kop punchbowl green An Sgurr, an inselberg, is on the horizon just above the flagstick on the Isle of Eigg and to the right is the Isle of Rum, both Small Isles of the Inner Hebrides.


Tell us about the nature of the clubhouses that you found at the courses in Golf in the Wild.

They are a world away from the plush surroundings of a well-heeled 18-hole course and on a different planet from anything to be found at, or near, St Andrews. There are many styles of clubhouse to be found on the Golf in the Wild journey but Strathtay typifies the atmosphere at many small clubs across Scotland, from the Borders to the far north. The clubhouse is approached across the first and ninth fairways (there is no paved access), it gives the impression of a building that dates from the birth of the course. In reality it may have been through several upgrades but the atmosphere is tied to a distant past. Pine-panel lined and slightly musty, the walls are adorned with photographs of former glories, competition details, handicap lists and rather too many instructions from the committee. All important stuff but dutifully ignored by the members who always have weightier matters to consider – ‘have I packed a banana, will I finally par the fourth’. From recollection, the Strathtay building is unique in that it combines an equipment shed with the main clubhouse. An elevated veranda to the front is optimistically populated with seating for those rare occasions when the sun shines and the midges don’t drive everyone indoors. To the right is protective fencing, designed to catch stray balls flying in from the 9th tee. The building has character, provides a tangible connection with the birth of the club and if the walls could talk, there would be many a ‘gawdy night’ to relate.

The clubhouse at Strathtay Golf Club, Perthshire, Scotland

What are the general size of the memberships at the courses from Golf in the Wild ? Would it be accurate to state that all the courses in your book are a part of their community and that they reflect on the charms of those areas?

This will not be true for all but I would guess the majority are around the 100+ mark and the majority are very much community courses. Allendale is registered as Community Amateur Sports Club (CASC) with the tax authorities (HMRC – HM Revenue and Customs) and this attracts a number of taxation benefits. As with Allendale and many other courses – you get the best impression of the villages and its environs with the views from the golf course. If you would like to purchase a copy of Robin Down’s book, Golf in the Wild: A Journey Through Time and Place, you can do it at


or by emailing robin@robindown.co.uk