The best Scots course you've never played

2016 11 Skibo Castle14 The par-4 12th hole.

The right side, meantime, is the safer option – wider and flatter – but leaves you with a steep, uphill approach to the putting surface. I knocked it down the right with a 3-wood and then hit it to ten feet or so with a wedge.

I, of course, missed the putt but walked off grinning from ear to ear. It is a world-class golf hole. The eighth, which flirts with the banks of the Dornoch Firth, is equally good, as is the long par-3 ninth.

However, for many, the par-4 12th (above) is the pick of the bunch. It is a bit like a ‘reverse 18th’ at Pebble Beach, with water encroaching all the way down the right of a fairway that doglegs ever-so-slightly from left to right.

A special mention should also be made of the fabulous 17th. A driveable par-4, it runs along the westernmost bank of the course, with water on three sides.

With a little bit of breeze behind, most players will have enough in them to knock it on the green. If you don’t catch it right, though, there are cavernous bunkers waiting to punish you.

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SkiboCastle6

As well as being the Director of Golf, David is also largely responsible for the current course layout. Donald Steel and Tom Mackenzie had designed an 18-hole course for de Savary back in the mid-nineties but David believed that the site wasn’t making full use of its potential.

“Previously, there was an awful lot of gorse and trees all over the course but I was of the opinion that it would be much better to rip all that out,” he explained.

His logic was three-fold: make better use of the natural features of what is a unique strip of land; provide better views; and find better ways to enhance the challenge.
"Previously, there was an awful lot of gorse and trees all over the course" - David Thomson

Testament to the relationship he has with owner Ellis Short, his vision for the course was sanctioned and, between 2005 and 2007, his changes were carried out in tandem with Mackenzie.

Impressively, considering the scale of the work that was carried out relatively recently, it’s hard to imagine the course looking any other way than it does now. There is no obvious scarring, whilst the changes look like they have always been there.

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“It was a lot of hard work and even harder graft but I think it was worth it,” added David. He’s not wrong. I can recall every tee, every green and every shot I hit in clear and lucid detail. That doesn’t happen often. When it does, you know you’ve played somewhere very special indeed.

So, how can you get a piece of the action? Simple: pick up the phone and book a tee time. Whilst membership of the club is cost prohibitive for most people, you don’t necessarily need to be or know a member to play there.

A limited number of tee times are made available each week – eight of them, in fact, between Mondays and Fridays – for non-members to play.

Again, it’s not cheap. It’s £300 per person. But is it worth it? Absolutely, yes. You get to play a course that very few people have ever seen, let alone set foot on.

It’s also always in immaculate condition, given that fewer than 1,000 rounds are played on it per year. It’s great fun, a fair and proper test. On top of that, the welcome you get and hospitality you are treated to is consistently out of the very tip of the fifth star.

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Skibo Castle in bunkered


This feature on Skibo Castle first appeared in Issue 150 of bunkered (September 2016).

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