The tiny village of Blackwaterfoot on the west coast of the island of Arran is home to one of Scotland’s most characterful golf courses. Shiskine positively revels in its arresting 12-hole status and it’s not difficult to understand why. There are single holes here that contain more intrigue and excitement than your average parkland course.
Shiskine was shaped by two Willies and a war. Which is to say that Willie Fernie laid out nine holes in 1896 before Willie Park Jr extended it to 18 holes. Shortly afterwards, the First World War began and six of these new holes fell into desuetude, never to be reintegrated.
With hole names like Twa’ Burns, Hades and Paradise, Shiskine is simply packed with character. No wonder this is so many golfers’ favourite holiday course. Seven of the 12 holes are par 3s, and there is a solitary par 5. The 12 holes in total do not quite stretch to 3,000 yards, which would be shorter than your average nine.
It wouldn’t quite be accurate to say that all of them are exceptional but on the other hand you are rarely more than 15 minutes or so away from another moment that will have you reaching for yur camera.
There’s the 3rd, Crows Nest, where you play a blind short iron, uphill, to a hollow that seems little larger than a generous soup bowl. There is a green there somewhere. You are never far from the water at Shiskine but the best view comes from the tee at the par-3 4th – a hillside shelf pointing towards the ocean and the Kintyre Peninsula beyond.
It’s just a pitch back downhill towards the sea before the stunning Point, running alongside the ocean. My personal favourite Shiskine hole is the 6th. It’s 275 yards from the back tees and, inevitably, blind. The fairway is a riot of lumps, bumps, hills and hollows until you reach the sunken green.
Not many courses, in fact I can’t think of another, conclude with three successive par 3s but then at Shiskine it’s hard to resist going straight back to the 1st tee and doing it all again.
When you think that you can play 24 holes and still not have covered 6,000 yards then you know you are playing a different form of the game to what is usual. And that’s Shiskine’s great appeal – it’s a golf course that, one played, you will truly never forget.