We'd been planning our trip to Coll and Tiree for many months, trying to minimise the travel time and overnight costs. It emerged that our best plan would be to stay overnight in Oban on a Sunday, catch the only ferry to Coll on the Monday morning, stay overnight to take the ferry to Tiree on the Tuesday evening and return to Oban on the Wednesday. That gave us almost 24 hours to play the 9 hole course on Coll and only a few hours of evening daylight to play the Vaul GC course on Tiree, assuming all went well with our travels.
I'd spent over 10 years working on the operational side of the ferry business, so when the MV Lord of the Isles suffered mechanical problems delaying our 0800 hrs departure from Oban to Coll, I guessed it would be the inner visor doors playing up. A former CalMac colleague confirmed that that was indeed the problem, but we were soon on our way and (safely?) outside yet another CalMac fried breakfast. Somehow the healthy option doesn't cut the mustard when there's golf to be played. We'd be burning tons of calories for the next couple of days, so I gladly took another hit for the team. We'd arranged to stay at the Coll Hotel, but with our golf and overnight bags, our kilometre hoof to the hotel was still a kilometre hoof. Accordingly, we were delighted to be met by Kevin from the hotel, a delightful man who in 5 minutes gave us a spin round Coll's history and his family's near-30 years ownership of what turned out to be a truly excellent hotel. This Blog is about my golfing experiences, but I must digress slightly. I've no real idea how many Scottish hotels I've stayed in. 100? even more? I've certainly stayed at some of the great names, but the Coll Hotel has to be up there with the best for the warmth of its welcome, the truly great food, beer, the friendly staff, and memories of boules in the garden and trying to out-drive each other playing some old golf balls into the sea off the hotel's helipad will stay in the memory banks long after I've completed the all-courses challenge. See www.collhotel.com and especially the web cam, which is located just outside my bedroom window (Room 6).
We'd been advised by Julie at the hotel that the Coll course isn't normally open so early in the year and that as it's laid out on land normally reserved for cattle and sheep grazing, the conditions are basic at best. The hotel would do its best to ensure we had score cards and that all of the flags would be in place. What we didn't know in advance was that the hotel had given Graham (the hotel chef) time off so that he could walk the course, lay out the flags and guide us round. We'd been expecting to hoof it to the course, a good 3 miles each way, so we were again delighted when Kevin gave us a lift and promised to come back in a couple of hours to collect us. This is a rare group photo of Craig, Stu and myself, as taken by Graham on the 5th tee.
The Coll Course itself is a 9 hole 2133 Yards, Par 31 course which in terms of general condition and layout reminded me of Solles, Iona and a few other courses that also serve as rough grazing pasture. This is Stu heading off after his tee shot on the 2nd. The green is actually on the far right of the photo. Nice one, Stu! I must also mention Graham, an absolute star, amazing chef and generally good guy. The Coll course signage is actually not bad, with a few small blue signs showing you the general direction of the next tees. The trouble is finding the signs and knowing when you've arrived at the next tee. The club does have proper tee markers, but these were still in the storge shed by the 1st tee as the course wasn't officially open for the season, so we were all in Graham's hands. Thanks again to Kevin, Julie and especially Graham for their considerable help in ensuring we could play the course.
This is the 7th, a 159 Yard Par 3, well protected by an assortment of livestock unfraid of daft golfers and certainly well able to stand their ground. Maybe they were just curious, marvelling at Stu's unique swing or how a straight-looking putt could veer dramatically right or left, or come to a sudden halt after connecting with hoof prints or the many animal droppings obstructing our progress. For the very observant, the object in the middle of the photo is indeed a football goal (the pitch is from the 1st fairway to the 7th green). The young calf guarding the near post took his job a bit too seriously, sticking manfully to his task for the whole of our round!
This is me after the round and we'd dug the course sign out of its winter storage. I'd gone round in 37 with 16 putts (we adopted a maximum 2-putt rule). In reality, there were no greens, just flattish places where holes had been sunk and flags inserted. I'd just about played to my handicap over my 502nd Scottish course, in the company of old and new friends. Maybe a 5 hour round at Turnberry or Royal Troon would have given me similar pleasure, but the 90 minutes we spent at Coll GC was probably the right and the best way to celebrate my personal milestone. Golf at its most basic certainly, but for as long as golf is played in Scotland, I hope that for every Turnberry or Troon there is a Coll and an Iona and that real golfers will go beyond the famous "trophy courses" to see the other side of golf in Scotland and like me, enjoy the simple pleasure that is to be found in hacking around with only the odd sheep or cow to witness the madness. Next time you're forking out your green fees for a new course, remember that the annual subscription for Coll GC is £35.
The Coll leg of our trip was simply outstanding. Try it sometime and for goodness' sake stay at the Coll Hotel. Say a big hello from me, Craig and Stu to Kevin, Julie, Graham and Paul (the excellent barman) if you do. Here are a few random photos from my stay in Coll. No explanations, but they mean something to me.