Golf as it was first played

Isle of Colonsay Golf Course

The 18 hole golf course at Machrins on the west coast of the island is reputedly over 200 years old, having first been played in 1775, and was well-known and recorded as a feature of island life in the late 19th century.

Situated on indigenous machair - shortish grass growing in sandy soil, typical of the finest Scottish links golf courses – the course is bounded on the west by two beautiful, sandy Hebridean bays, crossed by two burns and has magnificent panoramic views of the sea and the islands fringes.

The course was laid out by a professional in the 1930s and, save for some alteration to accommodate the airstrip a few years ago, remains much the same today. During the season, fairways are cut and greens mown and rolled, helped by sheep and hindered by rabbits… This wholly natural course has no bunkers, but does feature sheep scrapes (which many think were actually the origin of the modern day bunker). Fortunately, local rules allow preferred lies on all fairways and a free drop for balls disappearing into rabbit-holes or taken by the ravens.

The course measures 4,752 yards and comprises four par 5s, eight par 4s and six par 3s.  Yardage-wise, the par 5s, measuring between 341 and 391 yards, should be par 4s; however, they have been accorded par 5 status by dint of the degree of difficulty involved.  As an example, at the 391 yard seventh hole, The Fank, you need to avoid an out-of-bounds airstrip, a large area of potentially fatal rough, a ball-eating burn, a fank (sheepfold) and a tight out-of-bounds fence at the back of the green.  

The challenge of the play is, of course, balanced by the complete magnificence of the surroundings – and the fact that, not only will you never be held up by a slow group in front, or pressurised by a fast group behind, but you’ll also most likely have the entire course completely to yourself.

In fact, the only time the course is really full is on the third Saturday in August, the date of The Colonsay Open International All-Comers Golf Championship.  Irrespective of the weather, this is always a memorable day where informality rules. The “Nearest the Hole” competition often becomes the “Nearest the Green” Competition, and as in all Colonsay golf, judges play alongside mechanics, ministers play alongside builders, women play alongside men and the young play alongside the less so.  

The cost of a round is £5 per person or you can become an annual member for £30 – in which case you’ll be granted a prestigious Colonsay Golf Club paddle to attach to your bag. Green Fees can be paid in the Hotel or Estate Office (at Colonsay House) where forms and scorecards are available. For those who like an early start, there is also an honesty box for fees at the bench by the parking at the first tee.