Shiskine Golf and Tennis Club is one of the most unusual courses featured on this website, a links that has attained true cult status. Founded in 1896, originally as a nine-hole layout, Shiskine was designed by the 1883 Open champion Willie Fernie. Shortly before the Great War, Willie Park Junior was commissioned to extend the course to 18 holes and to revise Fernie’s original nine holes. Six of the new holes fell into neglect during World War I, leaving behind today’s unusual 12-hole links.
Shiskine is located at Blackwaterfoot on the western side of the Isle of Arran, a small island off the Ayrshire coast, which is often referred to as “Scotland in Miniature”. This is a simply stunning location, affording majestic views across the Kilbrannan Sound to the Kintyre peninsula.
Nearly every shot at Shiskine is blind, either from the tee or for the approach to the green or, in some cases, both. And because of this tortuous terrain, there are numerous stop/go signals and markers to help golfers navigate their way around the course. The modern school of golf course architecture would cringe at many of Shiskine’s features but the course is a shrine to the way in which the game used to be played by the golfing greats of yesteryear. After all, Shiskine was around long before the earthmovers, irrigators, fertilisers and multi million pound design fees.
Shiskine is golfing ground of such purity, owing only the barest influence to the hand of man, that to play here is to enjoy a unique sporting experience. Shiskine can only be described as idiosyncratic. Nevertheless, it’s fun golf and immensely enjoyable. The 3rd and 4th holes, called “Crows Nest” and “The Shelf”, offer real excitement, nestling underneath the Drumadoon Cliffs. This is a links that needs to be played more than once. Only then will you begin to understand and appreciate its quirks.
We played Shiskine on a sunny mid-summer’s day with scarcely a puff of wind, conditions nigh perfect for good scoring, which surely is not often the case on this exposed site. The course is perched on the shoreline of the western side of the Isle of Arran, with distant views to the Kintyre Peninsula on the Scottish mainland.
There can be few more magical places in the world to play the game when the conditions are good, we were lucky indeed! The scenery at every turn simply took the breath away.
The 12 holes are an eclectic mix and include 7 par 3s. They vary from the downright quirky such as the aptly named Crow’s Nest third, to some challenging gems with my favourites being the second ’ Twa Burns’ and sixth ‘Shore Hole’’ to the plain beautiful such as the fourth a downhill Par 3 ‘The Shelf’ overlooked by the Drumadoon Cliffs, as pictured from the green.
Shiskine is essentially great fun Holiday golf even if the course was full of walking day-trippers. I can fully understand the cult following that this exhilarating course attracts, yet again demonstrating the huge variety of golfing experiences available at ‘The Home of Golf’.
Shiskine is everything great about golf in Scotland. Blind tee shots, silly contraptions to signify when you are all clear to play your tee shot and breathtaking views.
Some would argue it's not worth a 5-ball because it's not even 18 holes. If you make the trip to Arran play Shiskine twice. Once you appreciate the quirkiness of the course you will learn to love it. It's the most fun you'll have on a golf course and compared to the other courses on the island, it's in a different league altogether. The only thing that perhaps lets Shiskine down is after 11 brilliant, breathtaking holes - the 12th is somewhat bland. It's as close to a 6-ball as a non-18 hole golf course can get. Play it.
Shiskine Golf (& Tennis) Club, set in a truly stunning location at Blackwaterfoot on the Isle of Arran, may only have 12 holes but there is nothing lacking in terms of the enjoyment or test of golf that is presented when playing this wonderfully captivating links.
It’s a course that brings a smile to your face.
In fact writing this review, many days afterwards, I am still grinning from ear to ear at the experience I had there.
I can usually tell how much I like a course by the amount of times that I get my camera out to take photos. At Shiskine it got to the point where it wasn’t worth putting it away.
It’s a true links golf course that has its fair share of quirkiness but also presents a sound and varied test of golf with a number of excellent holes. It’s not championship golf but you must use your imagination to score well.
The course begins with a thrilling opening drive. A sandy beach is hard to your left but it is down this side you must be if you wish to a have a glimpse of the flagstick on a green that is mostly hidden by a large sandhill encroaching from the right. The second is another superb driving hole with an undulating fairway, which houses a centre-line bunker, before once again playing over the crest of a hill to a blind green fronted by a small burn.
Now the real fun begins.
The third, aptly named Crows Nest, is a mere 128 yards but has more going on in its relatively short yardage than in the entirety of some courses. Played steeply uphill you can clearly see a red flag which one initially assumes is the flagstick for the hole, however, by paying attention to a sign on the tee (and the essential yardage booklet) you quickly realise this is simply a signal flag to indicate that the hidden green is clear for play. Remove the flag when you reach the green and replace it when you have putted out. A black and white marker post 50 yards to the right of the red flag is your correct line although the green actually lies somewhere between the two indicators because the slope of the green and its surrounds will feed a ball in from the right. I loved the simplistic strategic nature of this hole where if you bail out too far to the right you face a tricky downhill chip or putt whilst those who dare to go close to the red signal flag, at the risk of a lost ball in the bank of gorse to the left, will have an easier uphill birdie putt.
A visit to Felicity’s, just a few paces from the back of the 12th green, for some food in a relaxed environment is a great way to complete a round at Shiskine which takes no more than a couple of hours.
Ed is the founder of Golf Empire – click the link to read his full review.
How many courses have you played where the starter gives you an A4 sheet of instructions which guide you, hole by hole, round the course? Well, at Shiskine, this is an invaluable aid to get you round the 12 holes in as few strokes as possible.The terrain dips and rises from the tee at some holes, along the fairway at other holes and before the green at some others!
Very much a one off - though there are hints of Prestwick, Machrie and even Oban's Glencruiten throughout - this is essentially holiday golf where you are meant to have fun and enjoy yourself on the golf course.
In fact, if you play here, throw the card away and don't worry about a good medal score as it's not that type of golf you're playing here - how could it be with 7 of the 12 holes par 3's and a total yardage from the white tees of 2996 yards?
I played on a gloriously sunny day with a very light breeze which made conditions for playing as perfect as could be and what a joy it was to don the old plus fours (and bunnet!) and step back to the start of last century when Willie Park tendered to upgrade the course for £600.
And how do I know this? The club have posted his quotation from 1912 along with some other papers in the tearoom at the clubhouse, beside the trophy cabinet - what a marvellous collection of memorabilia!
There are six other courses on Arran, all of which I visited on a one day visit. Some looked grander than others with many having only a tearoom for a clubhouse - how charming is that? I'd love to go back sometime for a few days to play them all as they each look as if they put the fun back into playing golf.