by Jeff Tolman
I knew I wasn’t in the Pacific Northwest when I went into the cafe’ of the Uig-to-Tarbert ferry. There, among the munchies, was “Hand-cooked Roast Ox flavour crisps.”
We don’t eat much ox in Poulsbo. Lutefisk and lefse, well, yeah. Ox, no.
My wife and I had traded our annual comfortable trip for one more adventurous. No Lourmarin or Dingle. No golf clubs. Only our hiking shoes and enthusiasm as tools on this trip.
We had booked a couple of nights in the Glencoe area of Scotland, then three nights on the Isle of Skye. But the highlight of the trip would be spending a week on the Isle of Harris, an hour-and-forty-minute ferry ride from the continent, and where I had heard there was a golf course called the Isle of Harris Golf Club.
The Isle of Harris is known for a couple of things. Most notably, Harris Tweed, a fabric that, to get the Harris Tweed seal, must be from Isle of Harris sheep, and loomed in a home on the Isle of Harris. The moniker “Harris Tweed” is well earned.
Second, everything shuts down on Sundays. Ferries. Stores. Shops. Everything. We were told by our landlord we could take a hike on Sunday “if we stayed close to the house.”
The Saturday we arrived on Harris we stopped at the Isle of Harris Golf Club, a 9-hole links course near the village of Borrisdale. Walking into the clubhouse I realized immediately something was different. No pro shop. No cashier. Everything was done by honesty box. Golf: 15 pounds for nine holes, 25 pounds for a day ticket. Rental clubs: five pounds. Trolley: three pounds. Put your money in an envelope, write a description of the fee, and put the envelope in the metal box near the entry gate.
Walking out of the clubhouse I asked locals Bill and Willie, just coming off the course from their round, the protocol for playing the course. They said the rules were pretty loose, but, “of course, you can’t play tomorrow (Sunday).”
What amazed me was the vulnerability. The logo’d clothes were hanging on a rack with a cash box to pay for your purchases. Want a logo ball marker or some tees or some golf balls? Pay at the honesty box. How refreshing.
For me, a highlight of our trip was to be a Stableford competition at the Harris course. September 4. Rented clubs. 6:00 pm tee time. I was in a Harris competition. What could be better than that?
A couple of days into our time on Harris we completed a tour of the Isle of Harris and were on our way home. It was still light. We had nowhere to be. The course was open. A practice round – with my wife to capture the action with her camera – was an easy decision.
I walked into the clubhouse, put my 15 pounds for nine holes, three pounds for a trolley and five pounds for rental clubs into the honesty box, and looked for clubs in the large rental club pile. I pulled a grouping of clubs, put them in a bag, and placed them on my trolley. Yeah, they seemed light, but I’d been hiking a lot and eating well. Maybe some muscle mass had been acquired.
I walked to the first tee where I realized I had chosen children’s clubs, only slightly too large for my 3-year-old grandson Zachary.
Back to the clubhouse – and club rental pile – I walked, hoping no one would notice my quick return. There was a man at the club loitering around, just enjoying his time overlooking the course. I nodded to him and waded into the club rental pile.
Quickly I noticed a group of cavity-back irons I’d played before. Into a new, adult, bag they went and onto my trolley. On the first tee I realized they were left-handed clubs. Back off the first tee. Back to the clubhouse. Back past the loitering sightseer.
Picking now some adult-sized (and mismatched) right-handed clubs, I smiled as I walked past the loiterer. “Golf in Scotland seems a lot more complicated than in America,” I said.
“So it seems,” was is brief response.
I played my practice round and began counting down the days – then hours – until my Stableford competition. I was going to meet some local golfers, play a local competition, and get some local knowledge.
When the day arrived, I was like a guy on his first date. I dressed (nicely) early and was off to the course with plenty of time to spare. My borrowed (adult-sized, right-handed) clubs and I were in the parking lot at 5:30.
Alone. Not another car in the lot.
Same at 5:45.
At 6:05 I walked to the clubhouse to see if there was activity not visible from the lot. Only a hiker charging his phone with the club’s electricity. No golfers in sight.
I teed off at 6:10. On my own. Alone.
The first three holes of Harris bring you back to the clubhouse, crossing the first tee to the fourth. As I made my way from the third green to the fourth tee I saw – and heard – a foursome and a fivesome teeing off. The competition had begun. Nearly an hour late. Without me. I finished a lovely round, happy, but with no new friends or local knowledge.
Later I asked our landlord about the time issue. She smiled. “That’s Hebidrean time. An aspiration goal more than an absolute time.” She then mentioned how she’d had a phone call aborted by a caller who said, “Excuse me, I have to go to the bathroom. I’ll call you back.” And did. Three weeks later. All she could say was, “You must have really had to go!”
The Harris course was lovely, fun, challenging. If you ever want a trip where hiking shoes and enthusiasm are the tools of your trip, consider the Isle of Harris. Where Hebidrean time rules and honesty boxes still exist.
Jeff Tolman is a freelance writer from Poulsbo, Wash.