It started with a map, it always does. It would take us to the hiding place of a would-be king, an island where the first whiskies were brewed and the sheep outnumber people. A place so unfussy that even Paul McCartney is known simply as “Paul”. Shiskine, Machrihanish, Dunaverty and The Machrie - the frontier courses of The Frontier Collection.
Episode 1: Shiskine Golf and Tennis Club
The Isle of Arran is a visual feast where travellers enjoy the breathtaking landscapes of the motherland in just 400 square kilometres. Lovingly referred to as “Scotland in miniature”, Arran is home to seven golf courses, and a pass to play them all costs £120. Miniature indeed.
The light was fading when our 3 car Mercedes convoy generously provided by Virtuo pulled into Blackwater Foot, a town seemingly far too small to house a golf course. Like walking through a barber shop to reveal a party downstairs, we exited the back of town and arrived directly onto the first tee at Shiskine Golf Club.
It’s difficult to describe the feeling at Shiskine. When writing, the instinct is to reach for religious prose, but the locals would laugh in your face. It’s a 12 hole golf course set on the Drumadoon Cliffs of Arran’s Western coast, so unassuming and unpretentious, the only thing you can do is play it.
The opening holes are great, but Shiskine takes off from “The Crows Nest”. A 120-yard blind par 3 that is greater in height than length. After a steep climb and an easy two putt, you make an equal descent to the par 3 fourth, an infinity green that laps into the Kilbrannan Sound. The last of the blockbuster par 3’s starts from the elevated fifth tee box, where depending on the wind, you might need anything from driver to five iron to make the 245 yard carry along the coast.
Modern architects and “purists” might cringe at Shiskine’s 12 quirky holes, where blind shots and burns punish even the best efforts, but there’s no one to blame. The course wasn’t designed; it was borrowed, and six holes from the original eighteen have been claimed back by nature. It simply doesn’t matter. No one took a scorecard that morning. I still won’t check the par. It’s because of this not in spite of it that Shiskine provides about as much fun as you can have on a golf course.
Playing Shiskine feels almost like a fairytale, and that’s not far off. Just a pitching wedge down the coast, are the King’s caves. Here, Robert The Bruce hid after suffering a sixth defeat at the hands of an English ruler. As Robert considered his bloody and unfortunate past, he chanced upon a spider building a web. Six times the spider failed to fasten the first thread of its web, but on the seventh, the spider prevailed. Robert smiled. In 1314, he rose up again and on his seventh attempt King Robert The Bruce liberated Scotland.
No one knows if this story is real. Those that do argue over which Western Island provided Robert's hiding place. True or not, there’s no doubt Arran, Kilbrannan Sound and the Drumadoon cliffs that frame Shiskine are exactly where a King would find the inspiration to fight for Scotland.
This special corner of the world demands a leisurely pace, but we couldn’t afford one. A boat to the Mull of Kintyre awaited.