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Lost Links: Holy Island Golf Club

holy island features

Holy Island Golf (“Gowf”) Club was founded in 1907 on the small island of Lindisfarne. Designed by James Braid in a natural links style, the course took advantage of the island’s rugged dunes and windswept coastal terrain. It was the first and only course built on the island and one of 53 courses that Braid contributed to that no longer exist.

Design, development, and construction took around two years, and the course opened for play in June of 1907. Braid said or the process, “On Holy Island, the making of bunkers is a business of the utmost simplicity. You just remove the top turf and the wind does the rest.” Former British Amateur champion Horace Hutchinson was on hand to help open the course with an exhibition match.

In this post, we’ll travel to the island of Lindisfarne and learn the story of Holy Island, Northumbria’s “Lost Links.” We’ll learn all we can about the course, its island home, and its demise. Further reading suggestions are provided to help expand your knowledge of the British links, and videos will help bring the setting to life. The video from Links Diary is a great story of one man’s quest to trace his family’s golfing lineage.

holy island golf club - lindisfarne priory

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The Course

Holy Island was a nine-hole layout with holes varying in length from 161 to 428 yards and playing 2,760 yards to a par 34 (the course reported as playing to a bogey of 42). The island setting provided dramatic views across to the mainland. Braid, reigning Open champion, was commissioned to design the course by Edward Hudson of Holy Island Castle, as they were connected through Walton Heath. He called the course one of the “wildest and most natural to be found anywhere,” with a style of golf that will “gladden the hearts of players of the heroic school.” At its peak in the 1920s, the club had 80 members.

The course suffered a major setback when it was requisitioned by the RAF from 1942 to 1946 during World War II. After the war, there were unsuccessful appeals and attempts to revive and repair the declining course with a slightly different routing, and by 1966, the course was closed for good. A key factor was likely the remote island location and operational challenges – including no Sunday play allowed, dependence on tidal causeway access, harsh weather exposure, and infrastructure limitations.

holy island golf club map
© THE BRITISH LIBRARY BOARD. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED

Lindisfarne

Lindisfarne, also known as Holy Island, is located off the northeast coast of England. It’s a pint-sized island spanning just 2 square miles, with dimensions of about 3 miles long by 1.5 miles wide at its widest point. It has 8 miles of scenic coastline, with the highest point of 98 feet called Beblowe Crag, the site of Lindisfarne Castle. It is called Holy Island due to its long history as an important center of early English Christianity.

Holy Island’s story began when the Irish monk St. Aidan founded a monastery at the behest of King Oswald of Northumbria in 635 AD. Since then, the island has been home to saints, monks, churches, and pilgrims for over 1,300 years, and its nickname recognizes its enduring spiritual legacy.

The causeway linking Holy Island to the mainland is covered by the tide twice daily. Safe crossing times were and still are widely publicized and must be carefully followed to avoid getting stranded, as the tide takes no prisoners. Even in the early 20th century, tourism was an established industry capitalizing on the island’s history and natural beauty. There were thousands of annual visitors, and the small resident population swelled greatly during peak seasons.

holy island golf club castle

Did You Know?

There is speculation that golf may have been played on Lindisfarne as early as medieval times. A stained glass window in St. Cuthbert’s Church in Kensington depicts St. Cuthbert holding what appears to be a primitive golf club. St. Cuthbert was the patron saint of northern England, an important 7th-century monk and bishop from the Lindisfarne monastery.

Predating Holy Island Golf Club by a decade, Prestwick St. Cuthbert Golf Club was founded in 1899 in Prestwick, Ayrshire, Scotland. It was often referred to as just “St Cuthbert’s.” The club had to move locations in the early 1960s due to the expansion of Prestwick Airport.

holy island golf club st cuthbert window

Holy Island Today

Lindisfarne/Holy Island remains an important historic and natural site, protected for its landscape and wildlife. The links are long gone, but many still tour the site and piece together the routing. The nearby mainland area along the Northumberland coast does have several renowned links golf courses today, including Goswick Golf Club and Bamburgh Castle Golf Club.

Holy Island is still considered a spiritual retreat and site of pilgrimage. Visitors to the island come to explore the ruins of Lindisfarne Priory and Lindisfarne Castle, walk pilgrim routes, view birds and seals, and learn about the island’s Viking history. The ruins and landscapes reflect its time as an early English Christian learning center and its later sacking by Vikings.

The Holy Island of Lindisfarne, Northumberland, UK. Birds fly over the island's harbour. Lindisfarne Castle is seen in the distance.  holy island golf club

Further Reading

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Classic Golf Links
by Donald Steel

Summary: Classic Golf Links of England, Scotland, Wales and Ireland by Donald Steele is a guidebook featuring 75 spectacular links golf courses in the British Isles, covering their history, design, and challenges. The book includes scorecards, hole maps, photos, and playing tips for each course, providing key information for golf travelers while celebrating these revered seaside tests.  With writing by Donald Steel and photos by Brian Morgan, Classic Golf Links is considered an essential reference for experiencing the best of links golf.

This book is a must for anyone with an affinity for links golf. I bought this book years ago and still return to it often. The pictures are amazing and they alone will make you fall in love with these courses.

royal west Norfolk

Golf Courses of the British Isles
by Bernard Darwin

Summary: “Golf Courses of the British Isles” by Bernard Darwin is a classic text that explores and celebrates the unique beauty and challenges of golf courses throughout the British Isles. Darwin, a revered golf writer and grandson of Charles Darwin, provides insightful commentary on the architecture, history, and character of iconic courses, blending personal anecdotes with expert analysis. His vivid descriptions transport readers to the very greens and fairways of famous venues, highlighting their natural beauty and the intricacies of their design. The book, illustrated with evocative drawings by Harry Rountree, remains a timeless tribute to the game of golf and is considered a must-read for enthusiasts of the sport and its storied landscapes.

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Sand and Golf
by George Waters

Summary: “Sand and Golf” explores how sandy terrain uniquely suits golf, studying similarities and differences between courses worldwide with sandy features. It examines all aspects of the relationship between sand and golf, from the sport’s origins in Scottish coastal dunes to its global spread onto sandy sites. Written by golf architect George Waters with a preface by renowned designer Tom Doak, it details through examples and illustrations why firm, rugged, windy sandy terrain makes creative shot-making integral to the game. The book appeals to knowledgeable golfers interested in course design and architecture, analyzing the art and science behind why golf belongs on sand.

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True Links
by  Malcolm Campbell & George Peper

Summary: True Links by Malcolm Campbell and George Peper profiles over 240 of the world’s top links golf courses across the British Isles and beyond, examining their history, design features, and status as an authentic “true links.” Organized geographically, the book offers photos, maps, scorecards and playing tips for renowned seaside tests like Royal County Down, Ballybunion, Cabot Links, Barnbougle Dunes and others that meet the authors’ criteria.  For links golf aficionados, True Links serves as an illustrated guidebook for experiencing the unique joys and challenges of the game’s most revered coastal courses.

Videos

Lost Links – Holy Island
Lindisfarne Vlog
Holy Island Tide

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