11 More to Consider

More Fun UK Golf (Plus Two Hebridean Dreams)

By Jim Hartsell

The back road from Campbeltown up the east side of Kintyre is a corkscrewing nightmare of unmaintained tarmac which nevertheless reveals some of the most spectacular views in Scotland.

Tom Morton, Hell’s Golfer (1994)

Helmsdale Community GC

The recently released Today’s Golfer Great Britain and Ireland Fun Top 100 is the kind of course ranking list that I really enjoy. Like most of these things, it is all subjective. I was very pleased, and not surprised, to see some of my favorite “smaller” courses make the rankings: Shiskine (7), Cullen (16), Durness (33), Askernish (37), Dunaverty (40), Corrie (46), Isle of Harris (77), Covesea (86), Anstruther (88), Traigh (93).  It was a very pleasant surprise to see St Medan make the list at 98.  I spent a day there in April – in the criminally underrated Dumfries and Galloway region of Scotland – and did not want to leave. It is pure, wild, golfing fun.

Course ranking lists generate discussion, as they should. I like this list more than most, because it is hard to argue with the concept of fun – though I’m sure somebody on Twitter will find a way.  I have only played a few places in England and Ireland over the years – and never in Wales. There are obviously courses in those wonderful golfing countries that I would add to this list. Everyone has a slightly different idea of fun, and/or they have an emotional attachment to their favorite places. I am as guilty as anyone. There cannot be five courses on the entire planet that are more fun to play than Dunaverty, much less thirty-nine in the UK alone.  Sometimes a person develops a connection to a place that is unquantifiable. Everything just feels right in the world when you are there.

In the spirit of fealla-dhà, here are a few deserving places that did not make the list:

1. Carradale

This is probably the biggest omission. Every shot on this wee nine-holer, located on the headlands above Kilbrannan Sound is pure, joyous fun.  I took a friend there for the first time a few weeks ago. Standing on the 4th tee (we played the Medal tee), he said quietly, almost to himself, “I cannot believe this place.”  The views are stunning. You play over stone walls, blindly over dunes, wildly downhill, over the beach of Carradale Bay – it’s all there.

The 5th at Carradale, with the mythical Isle of Arran beyond.

When the summit of the par three first green is scaled, the Isle of Arran looms in the distance, larger than life. It is a reveal that first time visitors are likely to remember for a lifetime. It is only £26 for a day ticket. Thirty years ago, I would’ve played 54 holes or kept going until the sun finally went down. It was £10 for a day ticket then. Time just gets away from us all. If you ever make it to Machrihanish and Dunaverty, stop off at Carradale.

The 7th at Carradale

2. Portpatrick

The Dunskey course, situated high above the impossibly scenic seaside town of Portpatrick, is another star of Dumfries and Galloway. If you were trying to describe the essence of fun golf without saying a word, a walk around this beautiful place would do it. If you also consider the challenge of a constant 25 mph wind to be an element of fun – as I do – Portpatrick will give you that as well.

Stunning Portpatrick

3. Reay

Many people, including native Scots, never get this far north in their golf travels. That is to their detriment.  Reay is an elegant, flowing, James Braid designed links. It is not overly punishing, but still a good challenge. A wonderful club that does not get enough attention.

Serene, ethereal Reay. Designed by the legendary James Braid.

4. Wick

A next-door neighbor to Reay, Wick is the quintessential old Scottish links. In over 30 years of traveling to Scotland for golf, I don’t know that I’ve ever seen a course play this gloriously firm and fast. I felt like I was playing golf in the 1930’s – and that is a compliment. It was not unusual to putt from 150 yards.  When you add in some of the nicest people you will ever meet in a clubhouse bar, Wick scores high on the fun chart.

The Cable House hole at Wick

5. Portmahomack (Tarbat)

A lovely nine holer just a few minutes from Tain. It has everything you want: fun holes, fast running shots, a cheap green fee, friendly people and a cemetery on the 8th. I must admit to favoring courses with a churchyard and cemetery. I played it twice and did not lose a ball. That alone gets it a few extra points on the fun chart. When I think about how much I love community golf in Scotland, Portmahomack is one of the courses that first comes to mind.

The 8th at Portmahomack, Amen Corner

6. Comrie

A lovely hillside nine holer in the mountains of Perthshire, it sits above the historic village of the same name. Comrie has great shot variety and is a lovely, naturally conditioned course. This is a place where you will want to find a bench and stop for a few minutes – to consider how fortunate you are to be in such a beautiful place. A more friendly welcome would be hard to find.

The perfect 1st at Comrie

7. Hopeman

Fun hole after fun hole. Wonderful people. And one of the greatest par threes in the UK, the 12th. £60 for a day ticket is a serious value.

The Prieshach hole at Hopeman. A one-off.

8. Rosehearty

Another community nine holer that is pure, cheap fun. Views, intriguing shots – everything you need. The friendly gentlemen having their post round tea in the tiny wee clubhouse wanted to know my thoughts on every hole. That’s all it takes for me.

The par three 6th at Rosehearty

9. Helmsdale

Maybe the ultimate Scottish “community” course, I stumbled on the nine holes of Helmsdale almost by accident.  A nice lady in the Glencoast fishing shop recommended it to me. I am glad she did. In May, when I was there, the hillsides of yellow gorse were almost blinding.  A crazy wonderland of (slightly) inland golf. Alone on the course on a clear blue day, I caught myself laughing out loud a few times. The green fee is £15. It is worth every pound.

The wild 4th at Helmsdale.

10. Isle of Skye

Nine stunning holes overlooking the Sound of Raasay. At times the views can seem like CGI, as if they are not an accurate depiction of reality. The downhill 1st will start your round with a smile – one that won’t leave your face for the next ninety minutes. It is like a walk in a nature preserve, with the lovely greenkeeping highlighting the colorful native plants.

Over the sea to Skye

11. Gairloch

I have to admit that I thought this one would be on the Today’s Golfer list. I scanned it 5 times just to make sure I had not missed it. A perfect nine fun holes. I can only assume nobody has ever made the trip there. Everything that is great about golf for only £20. A course featured in When Revelation Comes.

The all-world par five 8th at Gairloch.
Gairloch is a golfing dream.

Two More to Consider


The epitome of natural golf. I think about Iona most days. 18 holes on the precious machair, maintained by sheep and a couple of golf-loving islanders. Green fee: FREE (£0)

The 3rd at Iona. Home of the HCIG and the annual Iona Open.

Isle of Colonsay

A cousin to Iona. Natural golf on the machair on a remote Hebridean paradise. £10 for a round, £60 to join the club. Join the club. Watch out for marauding livestock.

The 18th at Colonsay

I decided a long time ago to chase playing fun courses, mainly in Scotland. You only have so much precious time. If you are ever fortunate enough to visit the UK for golf, try to work in a couple of these courses to go along with the big names. The cost of a single round at some of the name clubs will cover all the courses on this list – and you’ll have money left over for a long lunch at The Glen in Carradale. The chances are that you will talk about a “wee” course like Helmsdale for the rest of your life. It makes me happy that Today’s Golfer would take the time to compile this list. Let us hope these places always exist in golf.