Iona Golf Course
It is perhaps the best value in golf... if you make it here you can play for free. The scorecard will set you back £1 and is available from the post office.
Iona golf course has been ranked as one of the best short courses in the world. The course has 18 holes and is just over 4,600 yards long. The golf course is maintained by cattle and sheep that graze the machair (fertile low-lying grassy plain).
The island itself is more famous for Iona Abbey, the burial place of Macbeth. This is where Saint Aidan served as a monk before moving to Lindisfarne. He is credited with introducing Christianity to Scotland and Northumberland, England.
Golf Course Review
Iona Golf Course lies on the small island of Iona in the Inner Hebrides on the western coast of Scotland. The golf course is located on the far side of a small island named Iona opposite the larger Isle of Mull on the rugged west coast of Scotland.
Iona Golf Course History
Mhairi MacArthur wrote that golf was played on Iona as early as 1886 on a nine-hole course laid out by Allan MacBeth. Mr. MacBeth was not just a keen golfer but also served as the principal of the Athenaeum College of Music in Glasgow (later the Royal Conservatoire of Scotland). after studying in the renowned Leipzig Conservatory in Germany.
In 1905, Wiliam Mcneile Dixon (Glasgow University professor and renowned author) extended the golf course to 18 holes. His addition holes were on the Culbhuirg area or where most of the back nine currently are.
The golf course was used by the working men of the island on Fridays from 5 o’clock onwards… no doubt from spring to autumn. It appears the tradition was forsaken in 1939 with the advent of the Second World War.
(Information in part taken from the Iona Golf Course Official Score Card & Map)
Getting to Iona
Iona Golf Course is accessible on foot after taking a short ferry from Fionnphort on the Isle of Mull. As the ferry attendant told us upon arrival: “There is one road… go left not right and walk until the end.” The walk there is a tad uphill and feels longer than it actually is. The road ends with the gates to the machair and the links.
Sam Cooper describes the journey after taking the ferry from Oban to Craignure. ‘After… an hour’s drive across spectacular Mull to Fionnphort… we abandon the car and take a second ferry to tiny Baile Mòr on Iona. With cars restricted solely to island residents, we began the walk across the island to the course – located at the appropriately named Bay at the Back of the Ocean.’ The next stop from here westward is North America.
Another alternative route is from Tobermory with an incredibly scenic drive along the western coast of Mull. The views are reminiscent of Cliffs of Moher. The alternative route is just as spectacular but through valleys and lochs rather than the seaside.
Visit the Isle of Iona Post Office First
The layout is difficult to ascertain as the only identifying marks are tee markers, greens, and a handful of flags. There is one length of grass – short. There are no real fairways, apron and certainly no rough – the sheep make sure of that! The best thing you can do is stop at the post office before your round and purchase a scorecard for £1 which has a small course map. Disembarking from the ferry, take your first right, and it’s on your immediate right.
Iona Golf Course Synopsis
The Iona Golf Course measures 4673 yards and plays to a par of 66. The outward nine is 2308 yards in length, has a par of 32, and consists of five par fours and four par 3’s. The inward nine is slightly shorter at 2265 yards but plays to a par of 34. There are only two par 3’s and seven par 4’s. There are no three-shot holes on the course.
The six one-shot holes range in distance from 102 yards to 232 yards. Two measure 190 yards and the other three measure from 144 to 168 yards.
The two-shot holes range in distance from 166 yards (!?) to 378 yards. In fact, not a single hole is longer than 378 yards. The par 4 13th is a cracking long par 3 in disguise whilst the 166-yard par 4 is due to the nature of the green site being sited between two crags…
Isle of Iona Highlights
The 3rd hole is the show stopper. The green is a natural Sitwell Green with a massive yawning sand scrape below. It is 168 yards uphill from the tee to the top tier where only a perfect shot will hold the green.
Another cracker is the 14th. An uphill 273-yard par 4 that begs you to try to go for the green. There is just enough of the pin to make you feel it is attainable.
There is blindness and the lack of definition is confounding. If you like your golf present like Adare Manor, you probably shouldn’t come here. Don’t be put off by the rawness of the golf – if embraced, the golf is as good as anywhere in the world.
Iona Golf Course Potential
Before I go on, let me say that Iona is great as it is. It is pure in every sense of the word and is breathtaking. But one can dare to dream! If there was a piece of land beginning for a 12-hole layout this would be it.
There are potentially three one-shot holes that would become as famous as Cypress Point’s 16th, Pebble Beach’s 7th, and Alister MacKenzie‘s Sitwell – and they occur naturally. With clever routing, you could also have a Tom Simpson-esque par 3 similar to the 5th at West Sussex.
The land would afford two par 5’s better than Pebble Beach’s 18th and Machrihanish‘s 1st. The remaining two-shot holes could consist of two risk and reward par 4’s, two mid-length par 4’s, and two testing par 4’s.
Isle of Iona Summary
It is already one of the best golf courses I have ever played. I imagine this was what the great golf courses were like 130 years ago. It’s simply sublime… and the potential is unrivaled. It would have to be a contender for the first 12-hole golf course to break into the world top 100.
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Featured Architect: Alister MacKenzie
As taken from his book, Golf Architecture, Alister MacKenzie felt the following were essential: The course, where possible, should be arranged in two loops of nine holes. There should be a large proportion of good two-shot holes and at least four one-shot holes. There should be little walking between...