Friday, 11 December 2009

The Most Intimidating Golf Course in the World? - Updated 3 Oct 12

Most Golf Courses have their hazards, usually bunkers or sand traps, as they are sometimes called – like the course at RAF Tengah seen in the picture below.(Left click on photos to enlarge).
When I arrived at Saxa in 1967 I was rather surprised to find that there was an active golfing community. The Public Services Institute, or PSI as it was more usually known, kept a range of sporting equipment for loan and items were available at the Guardroom. This equipment included a number of sets of golf clubs. PSI also had a minibus (supplied by the Nuffield Trust), which could be borrowed. In the late 60’s some keen servicemen had created their own golf course on Unst at a place called Lamba Ness (sometimes known as Inner Skaw).  Lamba Ness was the site of RAF Skaw, a WWII CH radar station. The RAF course had its share of bunkers but they looked slightly different
The hazards on the Saxa course were rather more intimidating, as can be seen in the next 2 photos:
This can be better envisaged from the next phot0, which was taken from one of the Tees:

The green and flag can be seen in this enlargement:

A number of the other Tees were situated at the edge of geos (ravines) and many a golf ball was lost forever. Anyone going on leave was likely to be asked to bring back more balls. The 9 hole course had to be maintained by servicemen in their off-duty time but most of us felt it was worth the effort to enjoy really exciting golf.

The golf course received a significant amount of attention in the press – especially after the decision to hold 24 hour golf matches at midsummer. Most people in UK don’t appreciate the Unst, at a latitude of about 61 degrees north, is only 300 miles south of the Arctic Circle. The Shetlanders call a period around the summer solstice (midsummer) the simmer dim. It is a short period when, if the weather is reasonable, you can stay up all night, read a newspaper at midnight or, in the case of golfers – play 24 hours non-stop.
I am uncertain how many years this event took place at Lamba Ness but I know that there were competitions at midsummer 1968, 1969 and 1970 - I actually took part in 1968. Copies of some of the coverage of these events is below:


The next sequence of photos shows the most northerly golf course in UK (ever!), being enjoyed – mainly by the people who maintained it.
The next 3 pictures show the location of the course from a wider perspective, the first from the eastern extremity of the course:
The final picture is a download from Google Earth and it shows the coastline in a bit more detail – much of the course was on the south side of the headland, within the red rectangle shown:

So – what happened to this course, the most interesting I’ve ever played? Very early in the 70’s, possibly as early as ’ 71 it closed down & has not been used since. My theory (backed only by rumour) is that the players wanted a better & better course. – not unnatural, wanting it to be as good as possible. Perhaps people lost sight of the fact that this was crofting land - i.e. sheep grazing. Attempts to cut fairways would have deprived the animals of their feed (and the crofters of income). At some stage the land users would have wanted their land back!

A new course was established fairly quickly between Burrafirth and the Loch of Cliff. The main hazard on the new course appears to have been golf balls "plugging" in the soft, flat ground. Knowing the area I am sure that it didn’t have anywhere near the excitement of the previous course. I have very little information on this later course and, unless I can be provided with enough interesting information about it, am unable to write about it.