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My Ancestral Playground

A round of golf that starts with a ferry ride is hard to beat. We arrived early at Wemyss Bay and mum went down to the ticket office to get our tickets for the crossing. It had been a long time since I had played at Bute Golf Club and I couldn’t wait to get out there.

The ferry departed and resisting the urge to fire balls off the deck was easy on this sailing as, due to coronavirus, we had to stay in the car for the thirty-five minute crossing to Rothesay. This was the classic “doon the water” trip but it meant more to mum and I, Bute is our ancestral home.

Leaving the ferry and after a quick cup of coffee at Kilchattan Bay, we made our way to the course. Since 1888, Bute Golf Club has challenged and entertained intrepid golfers and the old wooden clubhouse gives you a real sense of the age of the course.

Another great feature is the honesty box. Unfortunately, this was out of action so mum put some cash in an envelope and posted it through the door upon our arrival. In a strange mix of old and modern worlds, a motion sensor activated a voice recording that kindly asked us to leave our green fees and help the club. “Hello and welcome to Bute Golf Club”, the recording started in a pleasant tone. We happily obliged and even left a tip. Golf courses with honesty boxes never disappoint.

We headed for the first tee and it is a painfully beautiful opening hole. “The Warrior” sits along the beach with Arran in full view on the horizon. The hole is named after The Sleeping Warrior that faces you from the opening tee, it seems so close that you can touch it.

The first three holes run alongside this beach and are absolutely beautiful. This course has some of the best views of any course I’ve played in the UK and that made it so hard to concentrate during the round. The views plus the seals playing in the bay and oystercatchers flying by just added something special to the whole experience.

The course was founded in 1888 and has the quirky feel of an ancient course. This is part of the fun of this course though. The drystane dykes (dry stone wall) that adorn the course adds a feel of the old world and makes you think of courses like North Berwick.

Another great quirk of the course is the marker on the 8th hole. Not content with a normal marker post, Bute Golf Club has a post with a buoy on top to remind you that you are playing a course with a nautical heritage.

Mum and I had played skins and after a tight game, I won 2up. The competition was good but this round wasn’t about that. Bute Golf Club has a special place in my heart. I remember sailing from Largs, anchoring and then walking to the course from Kilchattan Bay with only signs to get us to the club as we walked across farmers' fields on what felt like a proper adventure as a child. The course has changed a lot since then, it used to be roamed by sheep and the greens were protected by electric fences but more recently the land was donated to the club. It was heartwarming to see the course looking so good now.

After our first round, we sat in the car and enjoyed a picnic. The beauty of playing a nine hole course is that you can pop out for another nine, which we did after our food. The car is as good a halfway house as any and this meal seemed fitting for the golfing experience we were enjoying.

We spoke to some members in the car park and they told us about how much they loved playing at Bute Golf Club, I can’t say I wasn’t a little jealous. My family lived on the Isle of Bute for hundreds of years until my grandfather left to join the RAF. They farmed this land on Kerrytonlia and Ballycurrie farms, and many on the island still know the family name.

It is a really cool thought to consider that the very fairways I walked that day could have been walked by my ancestors decades before me. I can’t think of another sport that offers us this kind of experience. Isn’t this something that makes golf so special?

Words & Photography - Stuart Currie

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