On an island best known for birdies, a golf dream hatches

IT MAY not boast the manicured fairways of Augusta, the history of St Andrews or the luxury of Gleneagles. But Scotland's newest golf course is the most remote and undeniably one of the most spectacular.

Fair Isle, a birdwatchers' paradise 25 miles south of Shetland, now has its own six-hole links, built by a New Yorker who has swapped life in the United States for Scotland.

"When I moved to Fair Isle I remember saying that I wouldn't be one of those Americans who was going to move to Scotland to drink Scotch and play golf. And I didn't really drink Scotch before I got here either. But, God help me, that's exactly what I'm doing," said Tom Hyndman.

Fair Isle, with a population of 70, had a rudimentary course in the 1960s which used old pudding tins for holes and broomsticks for flags.

It was originally laid out close to the island's South Lighthouse so that keepers from the lighthouses at both tips of the island could get together and pursue their passion for the game. But when the lighthouses were de-manned in the early 1970s, it became overgrown and forgotten.

My Hyndman came up with the idea of trying to recreate the "Lighthouse Keepers' Course" after learning about the links from other islanders.

He said: "I tried to find out as much history as I could about it. There were no records of the exact layout of the original course and it was either three or six holes long, depending on who you talked to. I think the golf course would change, depending on where they put the cans in the ground."

The American left a comfortable middle-class lifestyle in Saratoga Springs in upstate New York for a new beginning on Fair Isle. He arrived two years ago with his wife Liz and son Henry, seven, after they won an international competition run by the National Trust for Scotland, to find a family willing to take over the former laird's hall on the island.

Fair Isle hosts some of the country's most environmentally important landscapes and the course construction had to take account of environmental sensitivities.

In sharp contrast to the storm of opposition which greeted billionaire Donald Trump's plan to build a 1 billion championship links on the Aberdeenshire coast, Mr Hyndman has laid out his dream course with the blessing of the island's owners, the NTS, and a local bird charity.

The course has now been fully restored with proper tees, modern flagsticks and some challenging shots.

"Some of the holes are really difficult with interesting shots – you have to hit over the sea on to small peninsulas. The pars for the holes are a little higher than they should be because you need a few extra putting strokes because the greens are far from perfect.

"You also have to play through all the sheep and the seabirds and, if there is rare bird or whatever on a hole, play will be suspended.

"It's fun. It's a very humble golf course, but I am a sure that when golf started, it was probably just like this."

He added: "Everyone on the island thought it was good thing, which was surprising," he said. "I bought proper holes, pins and flags off of eBay and set out the course.

"We have only played the course a couple of weekends so far and it's been, to say the least, quite entertaining."

A spokeswoman for the National Trust confirmed: "It is something that we are supporting. It's great news for the island and a very interesting idea.

"I am sure it is going to be one of the most remote and spectacular golf courses in the world."

BACKGROUND

FAIR Isle is 40 kilometres south-west of Sumburgh Head, the southernmost point on the Shetland mainland.

The island – bought by the National Trust for Scotland in 1954 – is a community of just over 70 residents, 5km long and 3km wide, and a two-and-a-half-hour ferry journey from the nearest landfall.

It has no pub, hotel or restaurant. There is one primary school and a shop.

Fair Isle is also home to one of the most important bird observatories in Britain, where twitchers can see a wide variety of seabirds, ranging from puffins to Arctic terns to razorbills and a host of migrating species.

A unique species, the Fair Isle Wren, also inhabits the cliffs on the island.

As well as its wide-ranging bird life, Fair Isle is also home to more than 250 species of flowering plants, including the rare frog orchid.

The island was designated as a Site of Special Scientific in 1984 and has also enjoyed Special Protection Area status since 1994.

Green fees for the Fair Isle Lighthouse Keepers' Golf Course are 5 for up to 18 holes. Contact Tom Hyndman at the Auld Haa Guest House on 01595 760349.

Back to the top of the page