A golf course was first set out on the Isle of Harris around 1920 – when locals were given permission by the landowner, Lord Leverhume, to create a 9-hole layout – though the golf club wasn’t founded until 1935.
Today, the course measures 2,454 yards from the back tees, playing to a par of 34, and if an 18-hole round is completed, the standard scratch score is 65, so it’s not going to unduly tax those who can match their handicap.
Five of the holes are par fours, measuring between 220 yards (at “Toe Head,” the 6th) and 349 yards (at Langavat,” the 5th) with only one par five on the card, the 495-yard 9th, named “Killegray”.
It’s said that Nick Faldo once visited, declaring the location of the course as “one of the most beautiful settings in golf,” after depositing his £5.00 green fee in the club’s honesty box. The note, now framed, hangs on the clubhouse wall and is played for in an annual competition.
The views across Scarista beach, looking southwest towards the small mountain of Ceapabhal on Toehead peninsula, are simply stunning – such extreme natural beauty can actually be a distraction but it’s totally impossible to ignore these wonderful surroundings.
The landscape is far from flat, with fairways plunging downhill, rising sharply uphill or veering through sand hills. A number of the greens incorporate unusual grass banks into the playing strategy, allowing approach shots to funnel closer to the pin if the right stroke is executed.
There are only a dozen bunkers spread out around the course but, frankly, the lack of sand hazards doesn’t matter in the slightest when the terrain is as tempestuous as it is here. It’s probably too windy to have more bunkers installed anyway and the course is all the better for it.
The 6th is a very short par four of 220 yards but it plays blind to a green that’s protected by two small hidden bunkers less than fifty yards from the green and another small trap located directly in front of a circular putting surface that measures less than a thousand square feet.
This might be considered the “signature hole” at the club but, in truth, there are several others that could easily fit the bill, including any of the par threes at holes 4, 7 and 8. Even the less inspired par five closer is not without its merits on a layout that certainly doesn’t lack dramatic golf holes.
Writing in The Confidential Guide to Golf Courses , Tom Doak commented as follows: “The otherwise rocky South Harris is well known for its beautiful beaches, and this small nine holes plays beside one of the loveliest of them... Several greens sit in hollows inviting bank shot approaches from the proper angle. However, the length is geared to casual golfers, with only two or three holes requiring more than a short pitch approach.”
The Isle of Harris Golf Club at Scarista is a cracking little nine-hole golf course that delivers a true links experience.
The opening tee shot sets a strong tone that resonates throughout the rest of the round. You drive from an elevated tee down to a fairway that narrows and then sweeps to the right cascading to a green complex that virtually backs onto the white sandy beaches of the Sound of Taransay, eventually leading onto the Atlantic Ocean.
The opening three holes, all short par fours, make fabulous use of a triangular parcel of linksland. Any one of these holes could be taken individually and lifted onto any number of top links golf courses and wouldn’t look out of place. Each one at less than 300 yards gives you the option of going for the green but I suspect most people will make their birdies by playing more conservatively, especially at the second where a thrilling tee shot over the sea is required.
The terrain of the course changes slightly for the next four holes - yet still produces captivating golf holes - before returning to more undulating ground for the final hole, a par five of just 484 yards but rarely reachable in two thanks to the rising nature of the land and the inevitable coastal wind.
The course is located in a stunning setting but it was the quality of the golf holes that impressed me the most at Scarista. If you love links golf then a visit to the Isle of Harris Golf Club is well worth it.
Ed is the founder of Golf Empire – click the link to read his full review.