The Isle of Jura is a wild and bewilderingly beautiful place. Living on an island with one road, one shop, one pub and where the population of 200 or so humans is outnumbered by the native red deer by 30 to 1, brings with it a unique sense of perspective.
Laura Sayer-Hall knows that better than most. In 2019, she found herself in search of something that she knew she would never find in her 9-to-5 existence near Liverpool. What she didn’t know was that she would find it a road trip and two ferry rides away on a remote Scottish island she’d never visited and in a job on a newly developed clifftop golf course that she had never heard of.
“You just know when something is right,” she tells The Wandering Golfers. “I came up to Jura to visit my sister for what was meant to be three days and ended up staying a week. When I went home it was to hand in my notice. Coming back up did feel different. Getting on a little ferry and knowing that is going to be your only lifeline to the mainland was quite scary in a way, but also strangely comforting.”
Jura is unashamedly untamed. It lies long, narrow, dark and brooding off the west of Scotland. Its three peaks, the Paps, are said to resemble the billowing sails of a Viking longship. “When I got here something just chimed with me,” Laura adds. “You can only know when something is right when you have felt what is wrong. I had made mistakes in my life, but I learnt from them. I had never been to a Scottish island before. The closest I had come was camping in Scotland as a kid. I remember going to the Highland Games and meeting Billy Connolly when I was about 10! But I had always felt a connection with the outdoors and here the scenery is just epic.”
The island is home to seven estates, the most famous of which is owned by the ludicrously wealthy Astor dynasty. And in 2010, another, the Ardfin Estate, was bought by Australian Greg Coffey. His bold vision was to create a resort so opulent, and a clifftop golf course of such wonder and adventure, that it would draw people from across the world to come to see for themselves what he had created. Laura had found seasonal work on Jura as a housekeeper in The Jura Hotel. But fate was about to intervene.
“I remember lots of Guinness,” Laura says as she recalls the night in the pub that would change her path. Her sister and her boyfriend were there. He happened to be a mechanic at Ardfin. His friends who were there too were greenkeepers. And you know what happened next. “We played pool, we drank a fair bit and at some point someone said ‘are you interested in applying for a seasonal job?’”
“Golf wasn’t something that had ever really been on my radar,” Laura says. “I had played pitch and putt as a kid but that was it. But there was a sense that I had absolutely nothing to lose. I would much rather regret the decisions I make than regret never trying.”
She began by divotting fairways and raking bunkers. “You have to start somewhere,” Laura adds. But she was joining a small focused team at Ardfin. So, within a fortnight she was cutting fairways and her education in the way of all things turf was on a fast track. “I felt a sense of belonging in the team almost straightaway. As I have said, I am a person who needs the outdoors. Every job I’d ever had until then didn’t really give me my vitamin D allowance. This was completely different to everything I had done in the past. There was a novelty factor to begin with but very quickly I realised I had found something that made sense to me.”
What Laura couldn’t have known was that Ardfin was no ordinary golf course on which to begin a career as a greenkeeper. Built on the clifftops overlooking an ocean packed with dolphins, seals and occasionally minke whales, the resort is already the talk of the game, with early reports confirming the grandeur of the surroundings are matched only by the beauty of Bob Harrison’s course layout. “The people who have come so far have absolutely loved it. Even people who have come when the weather has been horrendous are still out playing golf. I guess they want to get their money’s worth but it also suggests they are desperate to get out and see what all the hype is about.”
In order to play the course you must stay at the stunning hotel, with prices starting from around £1,000 per night with another £400-plus for 24 hours of golf. For those with a little more spare change you can book 10-bedroom Jura House, complete with pool, golf simulator and a bill north of £70,000. The buzz for Ardfin within the golf world has been off the charts. “There is certainly an incredible appetite to know more,” Laura says.
“When I post a photo of the course on Twitter people go mad asking ‘where is this? Where is this?!’ I understand where people are coming from when they see this amazing place but because I see it every day it feels normal to me. But I do understand the reaction and I hope when the people come they see the magic of the place. It’s very special.”
Laura’s story should serve as inspiration for those who feel trapped by life. To set out on the journey which changed her life was brave and bold. She now finds herself on an idyllic island, far removed from her old life and at the heart of the team at Ardfin shaping one of the world’s most exciting new golf courses. “People can get too comfortable with being comfortable,” she said. “You only really find out who you are when you get out of your comfort zone. I have become more resilient here, less reliant on other people.
“Being here and being out in the surroundings has saved my sanity. I have had my ups and downs but getting out here, even in terrible weather, clears the mind. Being on the golf course, seeing sea eagles or the red deer that are everywhere. It puts things into perspective and makes you feel like humans aren’t all that significant in the bigger picture.”
Laura has changed the lens through which she sees the world. Sometimes a change of perspective is all it takes to see the light.