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Sunday, 16 September 2018

From 12 holes to 9 to 18 then 9 again: Lochranza Golf Course’s Layouts 1898-2018

History has come full circle at Lochranza Golf Course this year with the return of Pablo Moran to his green-keeping beginnings. Pablo first came to the village from Peru in 1963 aged 17 when he was unable to speak English. He remembers how he cried for a month with homesickness. Thankfully for golf on the island it did not get the better of him.

At that time the village had long had a golf course on land situated in the head of the glen, owned by the Arran Estate. The first recorded golf course at Lochranza was opened on the 6th June 1899 – an era that would come to be regarded as the heyday of Arran golf due to burgeoning tourism around the Clyde. Many of Arran’s golf courses originated at this time: between 1903 and 1914 there were 11 golf courses on the island. The SWRI’s book ‘History of the Villages of the Isle of Arran’ reports that ‘the people (of Lochranza) opened a golf course, a new club house and new bridges over the burn for the benefit of golfers’.

The original golf course at Lochranza had 12 holes. The father and grandfather of Mr. Iain Robertson, dedicated golfer and owner of the golf course from 1988 to 2009, played this original layout on annual summer holidays. The course layout at that time did not include the Butt Field or the Sea Field. Instead, it stretched up the steep hillside to the south-east towards Narachan. An old tee from that time remains in the bracken below Broombank road end and is visible in the winter months. That tee played downhill to a green to the west of the big sycamore tree stump which would later become part of the campsite. Mr Robertson thinks it possible that the golf course at that time also extended upstream towards Ballarie Farm.  

During the Second World War the golf course was used for commando training. Traces of hut circles on the 1st and 9th fairways can still be discerned as well as a raised bank which may have been a rifle range. The Stags Pavilion became a base for the commandos. After the war, a 9 hole layout, completely different to today’s, was created. The area of the course included the present-day campsite field and the field that now contains the pond. Mr. Robertson remembers that a farmer from Catacol, whose sheep sometimes strayed to Lochranza, used to mow the fairways with the gang mowers on his tractor. The tees from this post-war 9 hole layout, now disused, remain around the golf course. When Mrs Ruby McAllister took over the golf course and campsite in 1963 the club house became a tearoom and shop.

The eighties saw a resurgence of the popularity of golf due to televised major competitions. When Mr.Robertson bought the golf course and campsite in 1988 he planned an ambitious new 18 hole layout. He negotiated with Mr. Charles Fforde, the landowner, and Mr.Sandy Sloss, the farmer, to acquire the Butt Field and Sea Field areas with the provision that the sheep could have sheltered grazing through the lambing period in April. This system remains in place today. The 18 hole layout designed by Mr. Robertson and his father included double tees and greens and a number of other new features, including the pond on the 7th hole, other water hazards and long doglegs. The 18 hole layout at par 70 presented the longest course on the island. The layout was designed to maximise appreciation of the beautiful scenic views as golfers walked the course.

Nigel and myself took over the golf course and campsite lease in 2009. A meeting of members in 2010 in the Stags Pavilion, led to a vote in favour of returning the course to a 9 hole layout and with their help we set about the changes in 2011. Essentially, today’s 9 holes are based on Mr. Robertson’s 18 hole layout.

Now back in Pablo’s care, 55 years on from when he first set foot on Lochranza’s fairways, the course, framed by the majestic hills, continues to be enjoyed by stalwart local supporters and visitors alike.

My information for this blog came from:

Mr. Iain Robertson, Lochranza Golf owner 1988-2009

Golf on Arran by James Henderson, published by Voice for Arran 2016

 History of the Villages of the Isle of Arran by SWRI Arran Federation revised in 2002