Ardfin, which is situated at the southern tip of the island of Jura, is suddenly the talk of the golfing steamie, and not just in Scotland, as the message starts to spread about a course that has ‘Made in Australia’ stamped on it.
Greg Coffey, an antipodean millionaire, was both the visionary and money man after buying the Ardfin Estate for a reported £3.5 million in 2010.
In a project believed to be in the region of £20m, compatriot Bob Harrison then utilised his golf course architect skills to create something that has set pulses racing among some people in the know when it comes to humps and bumps and other design and scenic aspects.
“A spectacular position for a spectacular new course,” said the judging panel for the Golf World/Today’s Golfer ‘greatest golf courses on the planet’ list. “Bob Harrison has laid down an epic course on the cliff tops and shore of this tiny Scottish island.
“It was a feat of routing, imagination and engineering to get it to work, but the results are breathtaking. In a breeze, exacting. But it’s bucket list stuff.”
To add a bit of perspective, the Old Course at St Andrews, Turnberry’s Ailsa Course, Muirfield, Royal Dornoch, North Berwick, Carnoustie, Kingsbarns, Cruden Bay, Trump Aberdeen and Royal Troon are the other Scottish venues ahead of Ardfin on both those Golf World/Today’s Golfer lists. In short, it’s straight in there with the big boys.
“I’d say it’s gone straight to No 11 in Scotland due to the fact the raters that have made the trip to stay and play Ardfin were blown away with what they saw,” Simon Crawford, the course manager, told The Scotsman.
“It’s a unique setting, especially for the UK, on cliff tops and an amazing run of holes that hug the coast. Bob Harrison did an amazing job designing it and Sol Golf did an equally amazing job to be able to construct it on a remote island.”
Coffey, nicknamed the Wizard of Oz for his financial prowess after reputedly making £430m as a hedge fund trader, has invested a reported £70m on turning the entire Ardfin Estate into something equally special, which is reflected in the pricing.
The ‘full day golf experience’ costs £1300 plus VAT while a room in The Quads, the centrepiece of the on-site accommodation apart from Jura House itself, starts at £900 per night plus VAT.
“Expectations will be very high for anyone visiting now,” admitted Crawford of the course’s profile being boosted on the back of the Golf World/Today’s Golfer listings, “but that’s what we want and we have the team and investment to meet people’s expectations.
“The experience isn’t just about the round of golf; it’s an adventure out here. There are several aspects to the round, the golf, the garden, the lunch at the boathouse and the service throughout.”
Crawford hails from Islay and worked as a deep-sea fisherman before studying greenkeeping at Oatridge Agricultural College in West Lothian. Through that, he secured a placement at Gleneagles for a year, seeing that turn into an enjoyable 10-year stint before broadening his experience.
He was the course manager at Wien Golf Club in Vienna for two years before taking up the same post at the Royal Westmoreland resort in Barbados, spending 11 years there before returning home to help Sol Golf with the “grow in” at Ardfin and then being kept on as course manager.
“It’s hard to say exactly how many rounds have been played to date,” he said. “We had a soft opening in August/September 2019 with around 60 guests. Then last year, with the pandemic, we again had a very limited number of guests in August, September and October. So I’d guess we’ve only had around 150 people play.
“Fingers crossed we can open this spring and welcome guests from the UK, who I am sure will be desperate to get some golf played and socialising again. It’s a perfect alternative to traveling abroad this year.
“When the world gets back to some sort of normality, I believe it will always be a mix of UK guests and people coming from abroad. The west coast is a great golfing destination.
“Machrie on Islay next door is an outstanding course and hotel, while Machrihanish, Machrihanish Dunes and Dunaverty across the water are all fantastic experiences.
“For any golfers in the world that are whisky connoisseurs, then what a destination Jura and Islay are to visit.”
Ardfin has been described as an “incredible experience from beginning to end” by David Jones in his review for the ukgolfguy.com website following a visit.
“At times, I was almost overwhelmed,” he admitted. “When you hear Harrison, or the team on the ground, talk about the challenge required to build this course, it is even more impressive.
“But just having a great piece of land isn’t enough. I’ve never been backward at voicing my disappointment with Old Head in Ireland – a spectacular piece of land hosting a very average course. At Ardfin, Harrison has built something absolutely worthy of its surroundings.”
Jones reckons it is a “a difficult golf course – one of the hardest in the world” but also noted: “If you go into a round here with the right attitude – to marvel at the setting and the craftsmanship that created these stunning holes – you can’t fail to be exhilarated, no matter how many balls you lose.”