The creator of one of Scotland’s newest and most remote golf courses will share the story of its development with some of the sport’s leading international designers at a major conference.
A spectacular world class 18-hole course has been carved from the rugged and dramatic environment of the Ardfin Estate on the Argyll island of Jura by Bob Harrison, one of Australia’s foremost golf architects.
Mr Harrison, who has designed nine of Australia’s Top 100 courses, will discuss the result – which he describes as “one of the most beautiful and spectacular courses in the world” – at Design Masters: The Scottish International Golf Course Architects Conference, which will be held in Inverness from 28 February to 3 March 2017.
The event will celebrate the legacy of greats such as Old Tom Morris, James Braid, Donald Ross, Willie Park Jr and Alister MacKenzie and their enduring effect on modern day design and internationally known courses, including Royal Dornoch and Castle Stuart Golf Links.
The Design Masters conference is organised by the Golf Tourism Development Group. Guest speakers include leading clubhouse designer Mungo Park, the great grandson of the first Open champion: Tom Mackenzie, president of the European Institute of Golf Course Architects; Bradley S. Klein, architecture editor of Golfweek magazine; and Sam Thomas, manager of golf development at the Golf Environment Organization.
Thad Layton, senior golf course architect at the Arnold Palmer Design Company, which is involved in plans to build a second championship course at Castle Stuart, near Inverness, will also address the event.
The Ardfin course is due to open in late 2017 and is expected to provide a major economic injection for Jura, where the 200-strong population is outnumbered by 5,000 deer.
Mr Harrison was commissioned to design and build the course by Australian millionaire Greg Coffey, who bought the Ardfin Estate in 2010, and said he flew to Scotland within a week of getting the call: “All sorts of things attracted me to the Ardfin project. Once I got to Jura, of course, the attraction was the place itself”, he said.
“By a strange coincidence, I’d been going to nearby Islay to play at The Machrie for a number of years, and Jura was thus not completely unknown to me. But it’s an astonishingly wild and beautiful place, and has become my favourite part of Scotland.”
The course, and an adjacent 9-hole pitch-and-putt course, were built for £6 million-£7 million. But initially the project’s feasibility was questioned due to Jura’s remoteness and the ground conditions, with large area of peat and rocks a formidable obstacle. However, after removing the peat with the help of contractors, Sol, and replacing topsoil from stockpiles and adjacent fields, sands and gravel were brought by ship from Ireland, and the turf for greens, tees, and surrounds by truck from Yorkshire, including two ferry trips.
“The site itself was originally hard to come to grips with because the estate occupies 15,000 acres, and the first question was where to put the course – and whether a course was workable at all, given the difficult ground conditions”, said Mr Harrison.
“Once it became attractive to split the Ardfin course either side of Jura House (the family home on the estate), the challenge, particularly on the western side, was how to determine the geometry of the routing in the particularly difficult shapes immediately west of the house. There were some brilliant potential ocean holes and cliff holes, and the best of these had to be run to ground.”
He said before establishing the current routing, he devised 14 different concepts, trying every possible direction or rotation for groups of holes.
“If you get land as attractive as this, you don’t want to leave anything untried in order to get the best from it.
“I had a number of objectives from the outset. While I wanted the course to be exciting and interesting, I did not want it to be long, and I am pleased that it is between 6,800 and 6,900 yards from the very back. It is also generously wide in most places, although there are a few narrow holes and some forced carries across spectacular wilderness.
“I wanted it to fit into the natural landscape without looking forced, and to take full advantage of the old-world features such as the walls by making them an integral part of the strategy of some holes.
“It was a very demanding process, but in the end a very worthwhile one. I was particularly determined to make heroic use of as many of the stone walls and diagonal cliffs as I could, and was really pleased that four potential driveable par 4s emerged from this process. The landscape of these holes is very varied, but they are amongst the most spectacular and exciting of all. I was also determined to spread the routing of the course over different sections of the site where the landscape varies dramatically.
“As a result, a number of the holes play along extremely high cliffs, others near the beaches, and a third group along an inland bluff which has perhaps the most remarkable views of the ocean.
“In the case of Ardfin, I am certainly convinced that it is one of the most beautiful and spectacular courses in the world, and the question then becomes whether I have given the holes the interest and strategic merit they deserve. My own reaction is to be pleased with the result, so we will wait to see.”
Mr Harrison said Alister MacKenzie was the architect that inspired him in his early career, being aware of the designer’s work while involved on his first project and later becoming a career-long fan of MacKenzie’s emphasis on appearance, shape and alternative lines of play.
He added: “I am sure the Design Masters conference will be enjoyable for anyone intimately connected with the golf industry. I am looking forward to getting to know more of the golf fraternity because I am keen to maintain a strong association with Scottish golf in the future, and also to spread the word about Ardfin.”
Design Masters: The Scottish International Golf Course Architects Conference www.scottishdesignmasters.com