Situated between the village of Craighouse and the slipway at Feolin Ferry on the southern shores of Jura, the Ardfin Estate extends to eleven and a half thousand acres, encompassing around ten miles of coastline that stretches out along the south side of the island.
In 2010, retired Australian hedge fund manager Greg Coffey purchased the property from the Riley-Smith family (brewers from Tadcaster in Yorkshire) and immediately set about implementing an ambitious plan to upgrade Ardfin’s infrastructure.
The dilapidated C-listed Jura House has now been restored to its former glory, old disused outbuildings have been totally refurbished and transformed into modern guest accommodation and – more importantly for golfers – a brand new 18-hole course has been constructed.
Bob Harrison, former lead architect for Greg Norman’s design company (who has a string of courses currently ranked inside our Australian Top 100) mapped out the 18-hole layout overlooking the Sound of Jura and it was built by Irish contractor SOL.
Occupying a mainly cliff top location on either side of Jura House, the course is routed across a rugged landscape of peat and rocks, where large quantities of unsuitable material had to be dug out and replaced with soil mined from other areas on the estate.
Dry stone dykes were repaired, extended and brought into play, making them an integral part of the playing strategy on several holes. Sand and gravel was shipped in by barge from Northern Ireland and turf for tees, greens and surrounds was imported from Yorkshire.
The scale of the build would have been off putting for most construction firms but SOL is obviously made of far sterner stuff, having successfully delivered challenging projects to great acclaim in recent times at both Trump golf facilities on the Scottish mainland.
There are only three short holes on the card and they’re all spectacular: the 2nd and 10th require heroic carries from tee to green across the edge of the cliffs and the 12th plays out along the beach, beside the old boat house which has been converted into a half-way house.
Last word goes to architect Bob Harrison, who had this to say about Ardfin: “I am convinced that it is one of the most beautiful and spectacular courses in the world, and the question then becomes whether I have given the holes the interest and strategic merit they deserve.”
Of the near 900 different golf courses I have played around the world, I would put Ardfin in the top five of most beautiful seaside golf courses. The views from the course are stunning. Moving from one hole to the next, with the exception of the holes three through five, you are rewarded with an even better view, often more dramatic but always breathtaking. Holes eight through fourteen sit along the sea. The final four holes sit on higher ground and the these offer perhaps the best views on the course because you see the holes you have just played below you backdropped by the sea and the island of Islay. Holes eleven and twelve approach the boathouse, currently being converted to a halfway house located right next to a turn in the water where one can spy the castle ruins on a smaller island. If the timing is right you will also see the large ferry pass by. The boathouse is famous for the burning of one million pounds in 1994 by the rock group, KLF, in protest of the music industry.
The lodging, food, service and other amenities is as fine as I have ever experienced.
Walking the course you pass through three lovely wooded, short scenic walks from the fourth to the fifth tee, from the seventh to the eighth where you view the large manor home and can poke your head in to see the walled garden as well as stop for a beverage, and again when you finish the round to return to the lodge.
The other amenities include a lovely putting green area next to the lodge and a wonderful and fun nine hole pitch and putt course where no more than three clubs are needed. Another par 3 course is being built.
It is splendid. You will make lasting memories here.
I played the course three times in two days, two rounds as a twosome and once as a single. I do believe this is a course that one will enjoy more and more every time you play it. Each round reveals something different about the course in terms of appropriate lines to the greens, whether to be bold or conservative, the receptiveness of the greens as well as the best places to miss to improve a chance of recovery. The green’s surfaces are varied and fun, always interesting, often puzzling in their breaks and slopes.
The course offers a good variety of holes ranging from difficult to potential chances for birdie. It is never unfair even if you lose a lot of balls. I do not often lose balls, but if you miss the fairway at Ardfin, you have about a 5% chance of finding one’s ball. Yet the fairways are generally ample and if you know the course, you should not lose many balls unless you have hit a horrible shot or if the wind is howling. I lost seven balls in my first round, of which three were due to not knowing the course combined with not following my caddie’s advice. On the second round I lost two, of which one was on my 36th hole where I was perhaps fatigued.
But I would also say I really did not care that I lost these balls such is the joy of playing Ardfin. It s a joyous experience. As I said, it is splendid.
As to the course itself, I have one critique. It is not likely, if ever, play firm and fast. The soil is too soft as well as the area gets a fair amount of daily rain. This can also lead to some slower green speeds than one might be used to. However, my second round played in mostly sunshine and no precipitation resulted in more normal green speeds although no real run-out on tee shots. The softness of the land results in balls also not releasing as one might expect if landing just short of the green. One must hit a lower flighted shot.
The course has so many memorable holes that I can see why it has made many lists ranking it as among the top 100 golf courses in the world. The routing is marvelous resulting in only one hole that I thought was somewhat weak which is the fifth, which shares a double fairway with the sixth, but lacks the difficult approach shot into the green that the sixth has. For the fifth, the approach shot is only challenging if you come in from the left to a pin close to the green side left bunkers. However, this is a large green so there should ample room despite the disguise of those bunkers. All of the par 3’s and par 5’s are good.
The course is 6812 yards from the Black tees and 6472 from the white tees which we played. The par 72 course is rated 74.4/139 from the Black tees and 72.8/136 from the white tees. Both of us thought the slope should be in the 150’s for the Black tees and lower 140’s from the white tees.
I liked the opening hole playing along the sea but on high ground. The hole plays uphill all the way to the green. The green has a lot of inner movement, which is indicative of the greens at Ardfin. This green has four depressions along the edges and a mound. Do not miss right of this green as you could have your ball kick into higher grass or have a chip to a green going away from you. Miss long left and you could find a small ditch and an unplayable lie. I would point out that if one is playing the Black tees it has one of the most dramatic opening tee shots in all of golf as you play along the edge of a 300 feet cliff drop. From this tee you see the fairway as a sliver off to the left. I have never seen a tee shot like this; it is incredible.
The second is a long par 3 with a forced carry over a deep ravine. The tee offers a terrific view of the hills and cliffs against the water. The safe miss is to the right of the green but despite the hill one’s ball landing more than ten feet right of the green will not release onto the green. The bunker on the front left of the green is set well below the green’s surface so a recovery shot is semi-blind to most of the green and blind to the back half. The green has excellent contouring with a horizontal ridge hallway into the green. It s a strong par 3.
The third is a short par 4 where the safe play is to the center-right of this dogleg left. One should not be too greedy on this tee due to the land sloping to the left into taller grass that hides a stream sneaking down the left. The fairway appears narrow from the tee and shrinks as you get closer to the green. Yet there is ample room if you play towards the center of the fairway. Longer hitters should likely hit a hybrid unless they want to try to drive the green. I loved this tee shot. I did not like the green which moves from front to back. Balls landing just short of the green stick. Balls landing halfway on will roll off the back. But I get it; it’s a short par 4 so it should have a premium on precision for the approach shot. The green has a horizontal ridge cutting in a semi-circle from the left then turning right about halfway that is a drop of about two feet to the lower back section. This hole has no bunkers.
All of the par 3’s and par 5’s are good at Ardfin. The fourth is the first par 5 and the wind is usually in one’s face. It is a mid-length par 5 but with the wind and an uphill green the hole plays longer. The drive is blind uphill but hit over the marker and you will be fine as this hole offers a wide fairway. There is a slight advantage to going left off the tee as one will get more roll. There is a wide area to carry on the second of 60-70 yards comprised of wetland and tall grasses that cuts diagonally left to right across the fairway. For many players due to the wind, this forced carry is perhaps too much of a challenge and a short lay-up might be the play. However, staying short of the rougher ground will leave an approach shot of 200-220 yards to that uphill green which is fronted by three deep bunkers. The three bunkers are in a line separated by about ten yards between them. Each bunker has a steep face and are irregular in shape. To the right of these bunkers is rough so the smarter play if one cannot reach the green is to play to the left of them. Longer hitters will carry the wetland/tall grass area easily and will be left with an easy chip to a green with a mound on the right and a diagonal spine. This green has a snaky upper tier about one third in. I liked the hole. It is the best par 5 on the course.
You walk through the woods to get to the fifth which is a short par 4 of only 300/284 yards playing to the double fairway. There is a stone wall down the right side that suggests one should go left off the tee but the better play is simply straight at the green. This is the rare hole where the only view of the water is if you turn around on the tee. It does feature a large and well-shaped green with one of the deepest depressions on the course near the right middle which resembles a crater from a small bomb.
The sixth is a mid-length par 4 playing downhill from an elevated tee. Another stone wall is on the right and bigger hitters can likely carry the turn in the wall about 260 yards off the tee as the right side offers a much better view of the green. As you approach the green there is tall grass on both sides as well as gorse on the left. The green has horizontal ripples in it and not much surrounding area for recovery. The hole looks benign from the tee but it is anything but as the challenge is high as you hit one’s approach shot. The hole plays much longer than it’s length as it is often into the prevailing wind.
The seventh has been called out in Golf Magazine as one of the best “seventh” holes built on a modern course. This par 4 offers a very wide fairway and seems to suggest a dogleg left but the best shot is left center of the fairway to shorten the turn and get a better view of the green. The green is one of the better one’s on the golf course with fall-offs and ridges. The green speed is relatively slower than it appears as downhill putts are not as downhill as they appear while the uphill putts are more uphill than one thinks. It is my favorite green on the front nine. This hole was originally conceived as a par five but would have required tree removal and placed the green too close to the owner’s home. But as a par 5 there would have been interesting ground to traverse across to the green. It is hard to say if the hole would have been better as a par five because it is a very good hole as a par four.
A lovely walk takes you pass the greenhouse for drinks followed by the entrance to the walled garden. You then arrive at the eight, a short par 4 of only 312/300 yards to the narrowest fairway on the course. The green is also narrow and perhaps the smallest on the course. Players who spray the ball will have difficulty on this hole. I found it to be so much fun.
Next is the bonus hole “ nineteenth” par 3 which is a delightful forced carry set between a rise and trees on the right and left,
I loved the ninth, another short par 4 of 298/293 but usually playing longer due to the wind. There are rock outcroppings in this fairway that you can reach from the tee. The green is perched on a shelf with a steep and high cliff to the left of the green. There is perhaps 10 yards of room there before a ball tumbles 75 feet below. The green is very narrow at the back with humps and swales preceding this smaller section. Two bunkers on the right act almost as rear bunkers if coming in from the preferred left side. It might be the best green complex on the course.
The tenth is a mid-length par 3 that has a steep fall off in front of most of the green. The green is large so there is the temptation to come into from the right but balls will not bounce left. If missing the green either short or to the right, one is likely to be left with a tough chip due to the substantial ridge line dissecting this green causing balls to move quickly if straight but more likely to veer substantially left or right. The best play is to go long and have a chip back to the green. It is a brilliantly shaped green.
Eleven plays from an elevated tee on this shorter par 4. It seems to play as a dogleg left yet a straight shot will lessen the forced carry for the approach over wetlands which front the green. The wind was straight in our faces for all three rounds so it made the hole play 40-50 yards longer resulting in the forced carry becoming a shot of 200 yards to clear it if one hit their tee shot too far right. There are two rock mounds in the fairway to avoid off the tee. The green sits behind a sizeable area of wetlands and is raised with falloffs on all sides. There is one right side bunker. The green is large with more subtle movement. It is another strong hole.
The final par 3 comes early at the twelfth where the green sits below high cliff. The back tee plays much more to the left forcing one to have a forced carry over water and then to go over two bunkers on the left side of the green. One has to hit a solid strike due to the wind usually moving a ball to the right. If one hits too far right they will have a lost ball. On the right side of the green is a mound of about five feet in height. The green has a substantial early tier with a flat section in the middle of the green before another tier appears. It is another compelling hole.
The thirteenth plays along the sea with the ruins of a barn and stone walls once used to pen animals early on the right. While this is again a short par 4 of less than 400 yards, it plays longer due to the prevailing wind. The green sits behind a stone wall and a channel. There is a 3 feet vertical spine almost in the middle making the left side pin locations very difficult to access or putt to if you land on the right side of the green. If the pin is on the right it is a far easier putt as it is flatter. It seems the hole should be easier but that green is very difficult.
Fourteen and fifteen are likely the two hardest consecutive holes on the course. While fourteen is barely 400 yards, it usually plays straight into the wind. The hole is straight but narrows at the green. The green sits behind a wetland area of perhaps 60 yards in length. The green features a false front.
You climb a steep hill and turn for the clubhouse at the fifteenth. This hole plays over a forced carry of perhaps 190 yards. The safer line is off the left but the right side gives a better view of the green up the hill. There are two bunkers on the right side of the fairway beginning about 270 yards off the tee. They serve mainly as guide lines. The left half of the fairway is both mounded and higher resulting in a fairway that strongly tilts right. The hole is 437/424 yards but plays longer due to it being uphill. The fairway also narrow as you near the green. There is a front right bunker and a right middle bunker to a green somewhat angled to the right. If you hit into the hill left of the green, your ball will not release onto the green. The green has a substantial ridge from the right front arcing to the right middle where it joins another ridge arcing to the middle back of the green. It is a difficult hole where one should be happy with a par.
The sixteenth is one of two somewhat “breather” holes in that it is a shorter par 5 with the second half playing downhill. There are three bunkers going diagonally right to left across the fairway and are very much in play. If you can avoid the bunkers the second shot is straightforward in that you play down the left center as the fairway is downhill tilting to the right. One has to avoid the small bunker about 100 yards from the green on the right. There is another bunker about 35 short of the green on the left and one left middle of the green. The green breaks to the front while the back half breaks right. The green offers perhaps the best view of the golf course and surrounding mountains and sea.
Perhaps because sixteen and eighteen are easier only in that they are par 5’s, the seventeenth is a difficult hole. It has a long forced carry of perhaps 190 yards. Up on the right about 300/260 yards from the tees are placed two bunkers. I do not think these are in play for many players. This long par 4 at 462/424 yards narrows considerably bracketed by tall grass, small mounds and gorse on either side. A stream cuts diagonally right to left across the fairway about 100 yards from the green. The green complex includes two bunkers left and a central horizontal spine on the green. While it is likely not the most difficult hole on the back nine, one can run up a big number here.
The eighteenth is a par 5 of 529/500 yards playing flat for the tee shot then uphill to the green. The fairway sort of snakes it’s way while narrowing with various shelves and slants. 40 yards short of the green on the right begin a collection area of three bunkers. A final bunker is on the right of the green. The slight rise left of the green will both stop a ball and might even bring it back onto the green which is canted to the right with two back left shelves. Both sixteen and eighteen are fine holes and par should be achieved but like many holes at Ardfin, one can also get out of position or lose a ball.
Ardfin is a very good golf course, even if it did not have the wonderful views. It is a course that one will enjoy more and more each time they play it as one learns where to go, what to take on and what to avoid. While it would likely either take a calm day or a very good day with my short game to break eighty, I did not care given my enjoyment and wonderment of the course. I came close but two lost balls doomed me. The greens are very well shaped, the bunkering is varied and appropriate, and there is a good mixture of distances and challenges. It is a special place. It is certainly worthy of being considered a top 100 golf course in the world.
In 1995 the KLF burned money on the Ardfin Estate & in 2022 there is just a 5% chance of finding your ball if you miss the fairway?
History teaches us that man learns nothing from history.
This is my first written review on top100 so hopefully it is pitched at the right level and useful! Over the last 3 or 4 years I have been using the website to plot my way around playing the top 100 courses in GB&I - currently at 66 with 40 of the top 50 completed.
I haven't previously felt the need to write a review as a lot of the top courses have lots of reviews which already help the reader/player gain a good perspective of the course but I’m conscious that Ardfin is a place that won’t get many people who will be fortunate to play and accordingly there will be a limited number of reviews so I wanted to add my take just to try and help with the balancing of views.
I visited Ardfin with my wife at the end of July ‘21 staying for a couple of nights and played 36 holes during my stay. As has been said before the place itself is very special. Part of the fun is the journey to it, whilst I’m sure a number of the most well healed (many visitors will be!) may choose to chopper in we arrived at Jura via ferry having done a golfing trip that a lot will have done when visiting - Machrihanish, Machrihanish Dunes, The Machrie and then Ardfin.
It is definitely a different experience to all the other top golf resorts, it is bespoke and focussing on giving the luxury personal service - as happened to us on the 2nd night, you may be the only guests there! The accommodation and food rival any high end hotel / Michelin star restaurant but it is the service they are able to offer that sets Ardfin apart.
On to the golf! Firstly there is a really fun and great quality 9 hole pitch and put right outside the rooms. Holes range from 40 to 100 yds with plenty of interest for the serious or beginner golfer. My wife has just started golf and it was an ideal place for us both to play for an hour or so - really whets the appetite for the main event.
In terms of the course as there will probably only be a maximum of 3 or 4 groups playing there on any given day so there aren’t any tee time reservations you just say when you want to go and they will whisk you up to the first tee (it would probably be about a 15 min walk from the property). Near the 1st is a driving range with high quality practice balls - probably enough room for about 8 people and 300 yards or so uphill. There is a small putting green on the edge of the cliff and they have put a back tee that merges in to the putting green.
On the first day I played there was hardly any wind and as such I played from the back (black) tees on all 18 holes, the second day was reasonably breezy (upto 20mph as an estimate) and as such I mixed the tees up slightly depending on the holes.
I will resist the temptation to go in to detail regarding every hole (their website has a great flyover video) but agree with a lot that has been said in previous reviews. The course is very penal with it having serious hazards of either the sea/cliffs or bracken lining the fairways but I found it very playable without the wind (i’m a 4 handicap for reference) and there are some places you can miss it around the course. With the wind it was a serious challenge and you will lose golf balls during your round. My recommendation is to go with that expectation and don’t try to keep score - enjoy it for what it is, a unique golf experience unlike anywhere in the world.
I note the review that highlighted the tightness of the drives and the fact a few holes have a wall or bracken at run outs but I would say off the back tees there was only holes 3, 8, 9 and 16 of the long holes where I wouldn’t hit driver. The short 5th i think most would think of as the weakest hole on the course and bar a wall down the right hand side is a bit featureless - I could definitely see some small changes there over the coming years. The 8th and 9th do have similarities and its a shame they are so close together in the round but they are actually broken up by playing the wonderful short “19th” in between and they are in parts governed by how the cliff top edge comes in and out of the course.
Without doubt holes 1,2 and 8-14 are the wow holes all along the edge of the cliff or water but with the exception of hole 5 all of the other holes on the course would be very memorable holes on any other course. The par 3’s are all spectacular and the photo opportunity from the 10th tee on a small peninsular just barely big enough for one person to stand is a must (although i actually think it’s a better golf hole from the white tee!).
If you are at all thinking of going to play here my advice is just do it! Yes it is a crazy price to pay but it will only ever go up further in cost. Also with places like this there is always a risk it becomes another “Gwest” golf course where the owner just chooses to close the door to visitors - don’t regret getting to sample it whilst you can!
Overall personally I think the course is on another level to any of the other modern GB&I courses ie Kingsbarns, Castle Stuart and Trump Aberdeen. It is always hard to rank against the grandeur and history of the great historical links courses and it does come down to your own personal preference. What I will say is that when I have completed my challenge to play the GB&I Top 100 it will be the first place I return to in order to celebrate!!
I've deliberately waited a week after playing Ardfin (twice) to reflect on my initial emotions. As earlier reviewers have said, it is hard to separate the overall experience from the golf course. Simon (in his words 'all things golf') and the rest of the team looked after us better than we could ever have hoped.
The course is truly magnificent, and a week after playing I can distinctly remember every single hole. It is difficult to pick a favourite hole, but the stretch from 8-13 has some serious wow factor. The 1st might even push Machrihanish (Old) as my favourite opening hole on a golf course.
I think the only hole that is anything but spectacular is the 5th, which I felt was a bit of a bland driveable par four. We had been advised (repeatedly) that the course was hard and that we would lose a lot of balls; however, what I would say is that - we did lose a a lot of balls between the group, but I thought that the course was very fair i.e. on the whole fairways were generous widths, there are not daft carries off the tee or otherwise etc. I think between four of us, over two days, only 2-3 balls were lost in areas where I felt it was unjust, most of the other lost balls came from very bad golf shots.
On the two days that we played golf, we were one of only 2 groups out on the course (albeit on the 2nd day I think some of the owner's friends were heading out later).
It is a long walk - despite being advised otherwise, I carried for our first round, and was pretty tired after finishing. I think I walked something like 25,000 steps that day!
I think I have currently played 54 of the current top100 golf course in GB&I, and this would probably rank right near (if not at) the top.
How do you objectively rate a golf course that serves up fresh scallops and fillet steak at its halfway house?
This is the dilemma I face after my recent trip to Ardfin. Never mind golf experiences, this is one of the best life experiences I’ve ever had. The whole place is simply breathtaking and was slightly overwhelming at times. Standing up on the first tee looking back down the coast to holes 8,9 and beyond is something I will never forget.
The golf course itself is an absolute marvel. How they have managed to construct a golf course here beggars belief. Like others have said, the course is split into 3 parts. Holes 1-7 to the top of the course, holes 8-14 run along the cliffs/coast. Then holes 15-18 run back towards the clubhouse.
Again like others have said, the course is incredibly penal. Too penal? In my opinion yes. The course felt a bit suffocating and claustrophobic at times. Disaster looms on every single shot. You can’t lose concentration for a second other wise it is bye bye pro v 1 fresh out the sleeve. I managed to lose 15 balls over the 43 holes that I played. Is that fun? Where Ardfin manages to pull you back in is the breathtaking setting. One moment you’re saying goodbye to your 4th £5 golf ball of the round, the next you are staring back over to Isla at the most wonderful views.
Breaking up the rounds with the visit to the greenhouse and the boathouse also manage to take your mind over the number of balls you have lost. The experience at the boat house in particular was quite something. Scallops and fillet steak on the picnic bench outside, served in glorious sunshine. Does it genuinely get any better?
Back to the golf course. The other two gripes I would have with Ardfin is that I felt that it got a bit repetitive at times, and it took the driver out my hands.
There are a number of holes where because something cuts across the fairway, you have to lay back. This happens on 4,8,9,11,13,14,18. For me this led to a lot of 3woods/long irons down to a point then chipping a wedge or a short iron onto the green.
With the driver, 1,3,16,17 are so tight that there is pretty much nowhere to hit it. On 5&6 you could hit driver but slightly pulling it left on either hole and you could find yourself running into the thigh high stuff and lose your ball - guess who did that (more than once too).
That only leaves the 15th where I would hit driver under normal circumstances. Is this a good thing or a bad thing? For me it did slightly detract from the experience though it should be noted that when I played the course there was absolutely no wind and the course was firm from a recent dry spell. That may have had a factor in how I tried to play the course but I’m not sure my strategy would change all that much in different conditions.
These are minor nitpickings though. I absolutely loved the course. I absolutely loved just standing there, looking round trying to take in my surroundings. Like I said before it’s an absolute marvel. I loved the 8th hole. 310 yards to a fairway you can’t really see and the green the size of a postage stamp. Golf doesn’t need 500 yard par 4s with holes as clever as this.
I loved standing out on the 10th tee feeling like I was at the edge of the world. I loved standing on the 11th tee hitting towards the boathouse. I don’t normally like par 3s over 200 yards but I will make an exception for the 12th. And then I loved putting out on the 16th looking back down towards 11,12 and the boathouse.
One final point about the difficulty of this course. I’ve been a member at Carnoustie all my life. I’ve played Muirfield in the Scottish Amateur of the Open tees. I’ve played Sawgrass and Kiawah in the States. This is harder than all of them. Far harder. Given how penal the course is, how thick the rough is, how small the greens are and how wild the weather can be in that part of the world, I can’t imagine a harder course anywhere. It’s almost like the make believe courses you used to get on Tiger Woods 2005 on the Xbox. Hopefully one day I’ll get to compare Pine Valley to it. We will see!
I can’t finish the review without giving credit to the staff, for the hospitality they gave us and the food they served up. I’m just a normal guy who decided to treat myself and my girlfriend. I was blown away by the whole experience. The food was the best I’ve ever had. It made Turnberry look like a Premier Inn (sorry Donald).
Is it worth the money? 10000%. If you’re on the fence about going then don’t hesitate just go. You won’t regret it. It will be one of the best experiences you ever have.
What a great review. Loved the nitpicking as well. It shows that you were maintaining a critical view while the amazing scenery, delicious views and royal hotel treatment were thrown at you. It's easy to be bedazzled on such occasions. Fair comparisons about the difficulty as well. how does Ardfin compare in terms of fun compared to these other difficult courses you mention? I recently played Les Bordes, which I think fits the same difficulty category as you're describing, and found that to be very enjoyable despite the extremely penal character. I'm sure I'd manage to make a 54 at Ardfin if it would've been featured in Tiger Woods 2005 though!
Great review Ralph! I wonder if you could count the windless days at Ardfin annually on one hand? What about Carnoustie? You were super lucky. I've played quite a few rounds there and only had one that I would consider windless, to be fair, it was windforce 3. A couple things should be considered of course, the first is that you are better player than the rest of us and likely hit the ball much further. My first reaction is to be happy that driver was taken out of your hand because you likely overpower a lot of courses, especially when firm. Secondly, if you were still losing balls it could mean the course is penal, but it could mean you might have to think your way around a course just slightly differently than normal. Not a bad thing (though I'm certainly not doubting the course is too penal based on my own experience). I'm just thinking if I had your game, I could avoid ball loss by playing the game the conditions dictated. Maybe I'd be wrong I'm more or less challenging your premise. One thing is for certain, imagine how amazing Ardfin could be if it was more playable. I think generally everyone comes away with this thought and hopefully one day this will ring home with the owner as well. The potential is unlimited at this place, playability increases fun, all the other elements are present x 100. Enjoyed reading about your experience!
In rating golf courses, the Top100GolfCourses website has a 6 ball rating for ‘Courses don’t get any better than this, drop everything to play’. There are probably a handful of courses around the world that would justify this assessment. I am a well travelled player and have reviewed many golf courses. In my humble opinion Ardfin fully deserves this rating.
We stayed on the remote Ardfin Estate located on the beautiful south west Jura coast, for two days in mid-summer. The sun shone throughout and there was scarcely a puff of wind, rare conditions for this part of the world. We were lucky enough to play Ardfin twice, and it is difficult to find anything about the experience that was not perfect. Both days we were the only players on this sublime, peaceful and simply stunning golf course.
I suppose the one fault would be Ardfin’s exclusiveness and appeal solely to a well-heeled clientele. I met the owner, Australian hedge-fund manager Greg Coffey, who plays off a handicap of 16 and he explained that his wish had been to create a semi-private golf course that was both extremely challenging and yet fun to play. He wanted every hole to be memorable in its design and beauty. And how he has succeeded!
Firstly he discovered this magnificent estate on Jura, previously an island famous for its whisky and outstanding scenery. He then hired a supreme golf course designer and architect, fellow Aussie Bob Harrison, to build his dream. Harrison spent three years creating a world-beating golf course over initially very unpromising terrain. He was of course helped by modern earth-moving machinery, and one would imagine a very generous budget.
So what has he created? The detail of the holes is described more than adequately elsewhere on this site, so I will deal mainly with personal reflections.
The course starts along a cliff top with a challenging uphill par4, followed by a jaw-dropping par three across a giant ravine to a decent size and undulating green. A cunning short par4 follows where pinpoint accuracy is required off the tee, before the 4th with its intimidating blind drive to a hill top fairway. And so it continues as the course rises and dips along the coast line, as you head out to a charming half-way stop, a converted boat house right on the edge of a spit of land. Here you pause for home-made refreshments for as long as you like, just taking in the magnificent sea view, whilst listening to the sea animals and birds and gazing across to the nearby shore of Islay.
The boat house actually comes after 11 holes, and the 12th is a testing uphill par3. After this comes my favourite hole on the course at 13. The drive is a gentle draw over an old repaired sheep house and other outbuildings. The second shot is a mid iron to a right to left sloping green with a stone wall and stream in front, trees and a steep bank behind and the Sound of Islay to the left.
The golf has been extremely testing to this point, but the difficulty is then ratcheted up another notch for the final 5 holes comprising 3 long par4s and 2 par5s, as the courses winds uphill away from the sea. The closing hole is a beast of a par5 with an uphill snaking fairway to a table top green in the far distance.
If your game is on song, you will be thrilled to make some par scores and maybe the odd birdie, particularly over the first 13 holes, but you are also likely to loose golf balls in the penal rough which borders every fairway. For good players who lose 2 or less golf balls over their 18 holes, the performance can be described as better than par.
It is the experience however rather than the score that any golfer lucky enough to arrive at Ardfin will remember for a long time. Not only the golf, but also the exceptional hospitality and accommodation will also linger in the mind. Treat yourself if you can. In my view, it doesn’t get better than this!
I had the great pleasure of playing Ardfin in the COVID summer of 2020. A major investment but justified by being both my anniversary and the penultimate round of my own top 100 challenge.
At the time they were only hosting one group per evening, so my wife and I made the journey to the isles, playing both Machrie on Islay and then Ardfin on Jura.
The owner of the course has currently set an eye watering green fee, along with the caveat that you need to stay the night as well at extra cost which I feel puts it into the global elite and as an advocate for Scottish golf, I would say this is shame as only the most dedicated or rich will venture to play. I sincerely hope going forward the course becomes more reasonably priced and more frequently played, without the need for the overnight stay, perhaps a clubhouse can take people away from the main accommodation and allow for both worlds to sit together – the committed golfer and the luxury traveller.
As other reviewers said the course is split into sections, with seven holes to the North of Jura House, then holes 8 to 11 running to the Boat House, then the final 7 holes, from 12 to 18.
The reason I mention the divisions is that within both rounds of golf I was met at the glasshouse after 7, then the boathouse after 11, for drinks/food, which added to the charm and unique experience.
Included within the green fee I was able to play the course twice, being joined and guided on the first by Simon the course manger/head green keeper.
I played the course near the end of my own personal quest to play Scotland's Top 100 courses. I can safely say that no course provided a similar experience. Ardfin is blessed with a stunning layout along the edges of the South Jura coast.
Several holes proved fantastically memorable, even now, several months later, superb golf holes. 1-3 are magnificent, there is no easy introduction to the course, straight away the first is a challenging uphill par 4, which is so exposed to the winds.
For me, through all my Scottish golf, the 1st, 3rd, 8th, 11th and 12th are easily some of the most memorable I have ever played, all taking advantage of the stunning coastline and views back south to Islay.
Indeed the run of holes from the 7th to the 14th is a breath taking roller coaster, with little room for error and I assume always playing into a demoralising wind.
i can talk all day about the experience, something about being so exposed against the island weather, something about the breath taking scenery, something about being treated like a five star guest, something about an experience that is simply not available anywhere else in the world.....
The course had the feel of a new build with the turf just becoming firm in places and the need for a bit more drainage, however, with the investment to date, I do not see either thing being an issue for long.
PS the accommodation and dining were superb, simply first class, it was eerie as we were the only guests due to the pandemic but it was unforgettable, absolutely charming and an anniversary we will never forget. The general manager is in the elite of Scottish hoteliers, the Chef was award winning etc. Simply put the place lived up to the price, which is actually a huge compliment.
The biggest surprise of my golf year has been Ardfin. First of all, just the opportunity to go out and pre-play this course during a couple day visit to the Isle of Jura is extremely special. However, that pales in comparison to what we found once we arrived. Having recently visited Ellerston outside of Sydney, one of the most private courses in the world, Ardfin also by the same architect may well end up the same type of situation and closed to everyone except the Owner, his family and immediate friends.
Ardfin Estate is situated on the South East corner of the Island of Jura and occupies a truly spectacular and magnificent piece of land. The routing takes us out to the East side of the estate along the cliffs. The first hole is a short to medium length par 4 playing up along the cliffs. Standing on that tee box is truly breathtaking. It’s clear that the intent at Arfin was to greatly impress the golfer right out of the starting gate and that intent was hugely successful.
A solid drive to the left hand side of the fairway allows a pretty good look at the clifftop highly undulated green. Don’t miss the approach shot to the right, first step is a serious one.
The second hole is one of the more spectacular par 3’s on the planet. Played from cliff top to cliff top and measures roughly 180 meters from the back tees. The green is naturally placed along the opposite cliff top and sets up ideally to receive a ball that lands just short of the green and bounces up. There is also a significant right to left slop to the green and two tiers that allow players to bring it in from the right.
The short par 4 3rd is a risk reward cut off all you can chew type hole played towards a semi narrow fairway that is running from right to left at a diagonal line from the tee box. A decent drive with anything from a hybrid to a driver depending on the wind will set up a relatively short downhill approach shot to a front to back sloping green. Short is definitely better than long here and if it’s playing firm then there will be a strong need to land it short and run it up. Long is near death with a small stream running behind this green.
The 4th hole is a long tough par 5 with a blind tee shot up over a hill from a tee box that may be set at the lowest point of this starting 9. Visually there seems to be little space but once you arrive on top that deception is all too clear. The hardest shot on this par 5 may well be the second shot and the choice to lay up short of the burn and native area or attempt to carry it so that you can have a short uphill approach into this green. The surface is not viewable from the fairway on the right but may well be from the far left, a side of the fairway I did not choose to go. The approach is full of centerline bunkers so the play also needs to make a choice on the second shot if they would prefer to play to the left side fairway over the burn or the right.
The 5th hole is another extremely interesting hole. Once on the tee box you are faced with a similar look as standing on the first tee at the Old Course in St. Andrews. There is an old stone wall to your right running all the way up past the green on the right-hand side. The wall then runs behind the green and across to the far end of this 150 yds wide fairway before it comes back down parallel with the fence on the right side before cutting off to the left further. Much like the Old Course it’s a very wide fairway and thus not easily missed, however there is a clear strategy here which is in fact the closer you play to the right-hand wall the easier and more straightforward your approach shot is. The further left you play the more difficult it becomes.
The 6th hole plays back down in the opposite direction to an elevated green with the sea and channel between Isle of Jura and Isle of Islay as a backdrop. The tee is elevated slightly given the 5th also plays uphill and now we return back down the hill. There is a really interesting risk reward aspect to this hole as well in that you have to again take on the wall in order to enjoy the best angle of attack. From the tee, you can choose to take on the carry of the entire wall running in front of you and landing where the wall cuts to the right side. The elevated green has a couple tiers so makes for a really tricky approach and the angel is far more favorable from the right side.
The 7th hole is a par 5 playing back down to where the Estate House is located and back towards the first tee. A diagonal approach in a wide fairway with lite bunkering is followed by a layup or long approach which for us played almost directly into the wind. This green runs away from front to back as well.
After the 7th the golfer is required to take a sizeable 5 minute walk along the front of the estate.
The 8th hole feels as though you stand on the side of the cliffs and aim for a sliver of a target in the right to left sloping fairway surrounded by stone walls on the left and in front.. At around the 220 meter mark there is a hazard in the form of a dry wash. A hybrid or a long iron will leave a short to mid iron to a wonderful green perched at the cliffs edge. A breathtaking shot to a green guarded on the right by a strategically placed bunker and on the left by a small native area and the drop to below.
The 9th hole is another wonderful mid-length par 4 playing along the cliffs edge as you gradually work your way down towards the sea and the alone isolated boathouse that doubles as a halfway house. The tee shot requires a slight carry to a fairway that is ordained with some natural rock structures. A strong tee shot leaves a challenging approach to another green along the cliffs edge. The setting is that from a storybook.
The 10th is a par 3 played from cliffs edge, or if dared from an extremely small back tee of about 4 meters width in any direction surrounded by cliffs on all sides. Those afraid of heights or with vertigo won’t venture to this tee box. Either way the heroic tee shot carries from cliff top to cliff top. A scary shot though there is ample room to the right out of view that can be used as a bail out.
The 11th hole is a tough par 4 that finishes our journey from clifftops down to the the waters edge culminating with the KLF Boathouse. Millions of pounds are said to have disappeared here in a single night’s party. A strong drive with a forced carry leaves perhaps the most challenging approach yet before the break is the be earned. The approach is over a wetland native area to a raised green surround on 3.5 sides by wetland.
After a break at the boathouse the 12th hole welcomes with a long par 3 played slightly uphill and along the shores edge. The green is tucked up into the bottom of the cliff. It’s long and narrow and sloped back to front with varying tiers. An amazing hole to see and in any kind of windy conditions a true challenge to play well.
The 383 yds 13th hole is a solid par 4 playing along the beach on the left. From the back tee the ideal line is over the old stone structure, a feature I loved about this hole but could understand others not liking it as much. I found it cool how the old stone walls and structures were worked into the course. The men’s medal tee allows for a line more to the left. The approach to this green needs to be measured carefully. There is a burn before the green and also one behind. There is ample room but distance control especially into the wind can be tricky here.
The 416 yds par 4, 14th hole might receive my vote for the #1 hcp hole. While not the longest for some reason the approach here was one we found very challenging. The drive along the beach is a bit of a cut off what you can chew shot however it is possible to play well right. The fairway does appear wider than it plays however and running out of space on the right side is feasible even with what feels like the ideal line.
The approach is really what makes this hole so difficult in my mind. A good drive leaves a mid to long iron in still conditions and in our case into a heavy wind you have to choose between lay-up, long iron or fairways wood. I hit 3 wood and made the carry but was still short right of the green. The second day in the other wind I hit 5 iron in finding trouble left which is clearly not the play. Still playing slight uphill this approach is tougher than it looks.
The 15th hole is another serious par 4 and the longest par 4 of the set at 460 yds. The added challenge here is that the tee shot plays steeply up hill to a green surface that is out of view. At this point of the course we have turned back to the East to head back home. On the way out golfers have had to guard against going left but now that’s changed around. Right is sudden death but there is so much space left and this fairway somehow makes this hole play much shorter than the distance.
The approach to 15 is another story and makes up for the perceived distance gained on a solid drive here. The slope is fairly steep and the player must add an extra club or two. The green is guarded by bunkers and drop off on the right side so the safe play is again to the left side just like the drive.
The 520 yds, par 5 16th hole is an excellent 3 shotter. The fairway ahead is split by some native area and mounding down the middle. The aggressive line is down the right side and will allow a shot at this green in two. After the mounding begins the fairway runs down the bluff to the right to a green perched at the end of the bluff above the 11th green. A safe shot to the left side of the fairway will require a lay-up with no chance to reach the green. This is a really tricky tee shot.
The approach to the 16th, which I went for in two both times seems to draw you into going for it (obviously, it did me), even though it is most certainly not without risk. Anything to the right will disappear. The 16thgreen has a beautiful location with a view out to the boathouse. Since it plays downhill the green which is protected by a tricky bunker on the left still seems to set up well for chasing one in on the ground.
The 17th is a 456 yds par 4 dogleg right. The drive is up the hill with tons of space on the left hand side. Hugging the right side provides a much shorter approach but if not long enough the shot will end up being blind.
The closing hole is a 540 yds up hill par 5. This is a serious 3 shotter with a snaking fairway. Longer drives will have to stay right and be played over a semi blind native area. Too long, (probably about 280 meters) the fairway runs out to the right and this will be reachable by longer players. The drive is faced by what I’d best describe as a subtle dogleg right and shots too long to the left can run out of fairway.
The second shot plays over a native area and up a pretty steep hill climbing back up to the top of the cliff/bluff. This green is raised up and the surface is out of view due to the slope. Right is danger and also guarded by bunkers so playing up the left side is advised.
A round at Ardfin won’t come easy but if you do ever have a chance to visit drop everything immediately. It has my vote as a Top 20 course in the world. It’s that good and it's one of the few courses you will ever play that have 18 holes so different from one another that as you walk off the course the routing is totally and completely ingrained in your mind. At least it was for me. Not an average hole on the course, 18 great holes and several all world holes.
Yes, Ardfin is the real deal!
Hoi David, is there any news yet on the visitor policy for Ardfin?
Ardfin is working on a new website which is due to launch in the New Year. This new portal will detail the visitor policy and contact details.
BB, you can already contact them to arrange a game for next year, but you might have to raid the piggy bank (or Fort Knox). It’s going to be a ‘premium’ experience.
Thanks for the info guys. Would like to see the reimagined Machrie, and Ardfin looks perfectly located to tag onto that visit
No golf course is worth the massive amount they want - think I'll just go to Spey Bay instead on my next trip and put my 20 quid in the honesty box.
Having played expensive courses like Loch Lomond, Skibo Castle,Wentworth,
Cape Kidnappers, Kauri Cliffs none of them were worth the going rack rate.
Almost exactly a year after I last visited the new Ardfin course on the isle of Jura (to read the story click here), I returned last week with a couple of other members from the Top 100 Team to see what progress had been made with the project. Having travelled to Jura via the small passenger ferry from Tayvallich on the mainland twelve months ago, I arrived this time on the small vehicle ferry from Port Askaig on Islay.
The last time I was here, architect Bob Harrison and estate manager Willie McDonald showed me around. This time, I was left in the capable hands of Christopher Campbell, recently recruited from his former position as Director of Golf at Trump International at Balmedie in Aberdeen, and Esie O’Mahony, Golf Development Manager of SOL Golf Construction, the company that somehow or other managed to build the course on what’s a very challenging site.
Simon Crawford, the new Course Manager who spent the last 11 years as Head Greenkeeper at Royal Westmoreland in Barbados also walked the course with our group, which included Paul Rudovsky, the only man to have played every course that’s ever appeared in a World Top 100 ranking list (click here to read his story from a year ago) so, along with Paul’s charming wife Pat, we comprised quite an eclectic gathering of golfers.
The opening four holes at Ardfin are pretty uncompromising. The first two are set along the edge of the cliffs that overlook Jura Sound, where mishit shots to the right are gone forever. The next two holes dip into then out of a small glen that runs away to the east of the estate, with the offset tee on the 3rd hole designed to disorientate golfers a little, followed by an intimidating uphill tee shot with a lengthy carry on the 4th.
The wide open spaces of the parallel holes on 5 and 6 bring some welcome relief from the rigours of the first four holes, and offer a breather midway through the front nine before the long par four 7th then swings back towards the 1st tee and a lovely infinity green perched on the edge of the cliffs.
There’s then an awkward transition to get down to the 8th tee, which is set on the other side of the walled garden that sits in front of Jura House. A buggy ride of some sort might be the best way to transport golfers from green to tee once a couple of bridges have been installed to traverse little gullies that eat into the cliff top.
The next seven holes, from 8 to 14, occupy a sublime portion of the property, starting off on the cliffs then working down to the water’s edge where a converted boathouse (now one of the most impressive half way houses you’ll ever see) and old sheep shearing buildings lie right on the shoreline. There are rocky inlets, dry stone walls and wetland areas to carry along this demanding stretch and it’s more than likely a few golf balls will be lost here by players who’re not on their game.
The 15th begins the march for home, with the hole rising steadily uphill until the split fairway on the par five 16th falls down a little towards a green that’s suspended on a rocky outcrop above the putting surface of the par three 12th. The par five 18th might on paper be regarded as a birdie opportunity but don’t bank on it as it’s uphill all the way to the respite of the home green.
Overall, fescue greens and ragged edged bunkers (constructed with capillary concreting) are absolutely top drawer though I think some additional teeing positions could be installed as it’s quite a big jump in overall yardage from forward tee positions at 5,523 yards to middle tee markers at 6,445 yards. There’s no stroke index or SSS assigned to the scorecard yet and it’ll be interesting to see what they’re set at when the course is rated. A few paths need to be finished off and some little bridges installed so the course is all but ready for regular play.
The restoration of Jura House is now complete from what I understand. I didn’t get very close to it but externally it looks rather grand from a distance. The nearby outbuildings which are being renovated for guests are still a work in progress but there’s an army of tradesmen working on them right now so they’ll soon be ready for occupation. All that’s to be decided now is the visitor policy, which the owner hasn’t yet disclosed.
My respect for Bob Harrison’s design skills is immense but by admiration for the construction abilities of Esie O’Mahony’s men at SOL is just as great. It hardly bears thinking what had to be done to somehow fashion fairways along the edge of the cliffs on either side of Jura House, across terrain that even the estate deer would once have thought twice about venturing onto. Hats off to all concerned at Ardfin as it’s a case study of how to overcome adversity both off and on the course.
This looks an amazing course, but there is something nagging in the back of my mind about the trend for building golf courses remoter and wilder parts of our island. Judging by the costs involved they seem to be the playthings of the fabulously wealthy and i suspect will mainly be played by their ilk. The difficulty of getting to this course alone would deter most of us.