Originally named Cumbrae Golf Club when it was established in 1888, the club is said to have changed its name to Millport Golf Club twelve years later on to avoid any possible confusion with Comrie Golf Club in Perthshire.
According to the book James Braid and his Four Hundred Golf Courses by John F. Moreton & Iain Cumming, James Braid designed a second course for the club just before the start of World War I. “In a map in the local paper we can see the relationship of the old course to the new, the old course shorter... the new course longer, more compact”.
It continues: “Hazards abounded naturally, hillocks, stone walls, streams, and the scenery and views were magnificent… It was built over the winter months and was ready in early summer 1914.” The original course was lost during the Great War but there’s reason to suspect a number of its holes may have been incorporated into the design that’s in play today.
Located on high ground to the south west of Great Cumbrae, the course affords golfers fantastic views across the Firth of Clyde to the Isle of Bute, the Cowal Peninsula and Arran. With no par fives and only five par fours in excess of 400 yards, Millport measures a modest 5,828 yards from the medal tees, playing to a par of 68.
Out of bounds comes into play at many of the opening and closing holes. Indeed, at “Mountstuart,” the 323-yard 2nd hole, there’s OOB on both sides of the fairway as it doglegs to the left, around the town reservoir.
Back-to-back par threes feature at the 4th and 5th holes: the green on the first of these holes (the 162-yard “Deil’s Cast”) is surrounded by no fewer than six bunkers whilst the 5th (the 227-yard “Tairge”) plays directly uphill to a two-tiered green which cants sharply from back to front.
On the back nine, the 449-yard “Coney Lea” is rated the most difficult hole on the scorecard. Out of bounds again lines the right side of the hole, with the rolling fairway leading to a bunkerless green that slopes markedly from front to back.
The last time I played a course where I was so preoccupied by the surroundings, it was at the lovely little 9-holer at Traigh, further up the west coast of Scotland at Arisaig. Millport offers a similar holiday golf experience but, with a standard scratch score from the medal tees at one more than the par of 68, it’s also a demanding test which requires pinpoint accuracy at many of the holes.
The views across the Firth of Clyde from a variety of seriously elevated positions are simply stunning and they alone are worth the short ferry trip from Largs to the Isle of Cumbrae.
The gradual climb up the hill, away from the clubhouse, takes a breather at the terrific 4th, where the two-tiered green on this hole is completely surrounded by six menacing bunkers. The climb upwards resumes in earnest at the 5th, where this par three and the short par four that follows are routed straight up the hill.
Apart from the terrific downhill par three 12th, holes 7 to 13 are then laid out along the side of a hill, slowly slaloming back and forth downwards. Hole 14 makes one final ascent, a drainage ditch in front of the green (like the 6th) designed to catch the unwary, before the 15th plummets back down to begin the run for home, around the reservoirs supplying the town below.
The fairways at Millport are more heathland or moorland in nature than parkland, leading to tightly bunkered green complexes, many of which are distinctly contoured. Don’t expect to play championship golf here as it’s not that sort of course but do anticipate stopping along the way from time to time to take in the wonderful vistas.