There are many dream jobs in golf but for Bob Harrison, the Australian designer of the new Ardfin course on Jura, this project must be close to pure fantasy. Harrison is the man charged with building a world-class golf course on a 14,000-acre estate at the southern tip of the sparsely populated Scottish island. Harrison has described the site as the most beautiful he has ever seen during his time in golf, which is quite an endorsement given some of the projects he worked on whilst in charge of Greg Norman’s Australasian design business.
For Harrison what makes the Jura project extra special is its proximity to one of his all-time favourite courses, The Machrie. The designer has been a regular visitor to The Machrie over the past decade or so, and like all those who catch the ferry to Islay was aware of the beauty of the neighbouring Jura island. The opportunity to build a coastal course on such a site, and so close to a living golf treasure, was described by Harrison as ‘a genuine thrill.’
Not only have quirky, lay-of-the-land courses like The Machrie influenced Harrison’s design work over the past 30 years, at Ardfin the minimalistic maintenance practices of the great old Scottish links will also be a strong influence on how the course is maintained. The development team has spent time on site with respected Machrie superintendent Simon Freeman and will similarly be operating their links without any irrigation. During hot spells in summer the greens will be watered manually, but at other times the turf will be left to cope with whatever Mother Nature supplies.
This rustic approach to course management suits Harrison fine, who not only believes that the Machrie turf is ideal for links golf but that the existing pasture grasses on Jura can be enhanced, likely with the addition of some fescues, to provide equivalent surfaces. For Harrison, building and then maintaining this course in the frugal traditions of Scottish golf is part of its attraction. His holes are designed to cause minimal disturbance to the coastal landscape and will be constructed in such a way that they do not substantially modify the form of the land.
In terms of the actual routing, the Ardfin layout will be arranged in two loops on either side of Jura House, with holes on both nines heading along the edge of a series of elevated bluffs. Says Harrison of the course, ‘holes on the east of Jura House will be higher above the ocean, and the cliffs on this side are much more dramatic. Both the approach shot into the 1st green and the par three 2nd, for example, play right across the corner of a high cliff. Elsewhere the driveable par four 3rd is in a beautiful landscape where the strategy is dictated by a fast-running creek all the way down the left and both the 4th and 5th holes work around existing ancient stone walls.’
Not to be outdone, the western holes stretch further along the cliffs and get down closer to the level of the beach. As Harrison explains, ‘the cliffs are not as dramatically high above the water but they are extremely beautiful and this part of the landscape is greatly enhanced by a fairly close view of the most rugged section of Islay - and the small island in the straight between Jura and Islay on which an ancient castle lies.’ Unusually there are seven holes east of the central house, and 11 to the west, including the 8th, 9th and 10th along the cliffs and the 12th and 13th nearer sea level.
In terms of building the course, Harrison says ‘there will be little to no earthworks needed, and little to no impact on the landscape, except that the area of fields will reduce because the intention is to establish wildflower meadows on the sections of them which are not used for golf.’ The designer adds that a series of small burns cutting across the site and leading to the ocean will similarly be left untouched, and in fact dictate strategy on several holes and form an interesting part of the golf experience. As Harrison explains, ‘the 12th green, for example, lies on a little ridge between two of these burns with its right side about 25-30 metres deep but the left side tapering to about 15 metres. Pins on the right will be reasonably accessible, but those on the left will be quite frightening. To suit this greensite, I have reduced the length of the hole to a drive and a pitch.’
View of the par 3 2nd hole from the tee
We intend to follow the development of the Ardfin course on Jura closely here at Planet Golf, and will report back when approval is granted and construction gets underway.