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golfing on the shetland isles

Golfing At The Top Of The World

A golfer's quest to play every links course in Scotland brings him to
Britain's most northerly fairways in the remote Shetland archipelago.

BY TOM COYNE

Aside from postcards of small horses and the fact that its name sounded very far away, I knew nothing of Shetland. I would learn that it was an ancient archipelago with prehistoric ruins that had been inhabited by Picts, Romans, Vikings and Norwegians, the latter eventually passing along control of the Shetland Isles to Scotland in a dowry deal when the king of Norway's daughter married into Scottish royalty in the 1400s. The unassuming islands played an important role in World War II when a covert Norwegian convoy called the Shetland Bus ran refugees and intelligence between Shetland and Nazi-occupied Norway.

Today, the islands' inhabitants make their livings finding fish and petroleum in the northern seas. The largest of these hundred islands is called Mainland (a rather unimaginative title for such an ancient archipelago, I thought), and an hour's flight from Inverness brought me there, to where 20,000 denizens shared three courses for their amusement.

The crush of links awaiting me back in Inverness and the Highlands had shrunken my Shetland island-hopping down to a one-evening stay with a return layover through the Orkneys (another island group halfway between Shetland and the Scottish mainland) to squeeze in Stromness, a course warmly regarded by Gary Sutherland in his island golf book Golf on the Rocks.

This was the untidiest and most ill-planned portion of the trip; I had little idea how I was going to make it from the airport to a golf course, then up to a ferry at the north end of Mainland that would take me out to the isle of Whalsay, home of the northernmost golf course in the UK, and then back to catch the last return ferry to Mainland because wee Whalsay was without accommodation.

I hoped for the best as I pulled out of the Mainland airport, following signs that had me driving across the runway I'd just landed upon. It seemed I was heading the right way. There was only one road, and only one direction to go -- up.

The full text of this article is available in the Winter 2018 issue of Scottish Life.

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Photo © Paul Tomkins/VisitScotland/Scottish Viewpoint