Asta Golf Course, Tingwall, Shetland. Photo: Asta Golf Course.
This is a blog that I’ve had in mind for some time, and with a few people still arriving in Shetland for what-would-have-been Wool Week, I thought I would share it for any woolly-husbands who are in Shetland and looking for something to fill their days.
My earliest memories of golf are of a small plastic set that we had as children. We used to putt balls on a little green behind our house, in a particularly green patch of grass where the neighbouring crofter kept his store of agricultural lime. Growing tired of it quite quickly, we usually ended up abandoning the clubs and searching the hills for rabbits, frogs and hedgehogs instead, so it’s safe to say that my experience at golf was nil until I went to play on the greens at Asta.
Photo: Alexa Fitzgibbon
My good friend Terri Leask, who runs Asta Golf Course with her partner Stuart, invited me along to the course to rid me of any misconceptions I held about golf. Having long associated it as a sport for retirement, I was pleasantly surprised at how much fun it could be. I thought it would be a relatively easy way to spend an evening. Not so. Golf is deceptively challenging (as I’m sure you all know!), or rather, hitting the ball – in my case – was deceptively hard!
Terri handed me a fistful of attractive branded gear – a baseball bat, a golf-ball, a tee and a pencil (for my scorecard) – and gave me a lesson in golfing technique and the history of the course. After four hours – and three beers – I had completed five holes and felt like Tiger Woods. I think that’s good, right?
My golfing debut. Photo Asta Golf Course.
Terri took over the club in 2016. It is a course that means a great deal to her as it was established in 1992 by her grandfather, Jim Leask, in what was, at one time, a tattie patch in the Valley. Very much a family business, Terri and Stuart are responsible for the day-to-day running of the course and her dad, Michael keeps the greens immaculate – despite the rabbits!
Terri's dad, and greenkeeper, Michael Leask who ensures the course is always in top condition. Photo: Alexa Fitzgibbon.
The course is “built on beautifully flat farmland,” Terri says, which makes it “the ideal setting for both beginner and pro golfers.” Nestled between the hills of the fertile limestone valley of Tingwall, the course lies in the most picturesque of settings. With a hush of wildflowers cascading down the ditches in summer, the limestone here gives any would-be golfer a beautiful lush green fairway. And if this isn’t enough to get you to the course, it is bordered by the Asta Loch to the south and Tingwall Loch to the north making for a relaxing and picture-postcard perfect setting. Asta Loch is a favourite for model yacht sailing and Tingwall Loch, an anglers Mecca, where visitors can hire a boat and take to the water to fish.
Photos: Alexa Fitzgibbon.
The Valley itself is filled with history, being the site of the Norse parliament, or ting site, as I discussed in the Vikings blog. Tingwall was the main ting site where representatives from each district met every year, around November, to discuss the rule of the isles’. Local tings were also found across Shetland and can be seen in place-name evidence found in our parish names: Delting, Nesting, Lunnasting, Sandsting and Aithsting. Shetland was to continue to follow the Norse Law Book until an Act of Parliament outlawed it in 1611.
The Murder Stone. Photo: Asta Golf Club.
Another fine piece of history stands close to the entrance to the course. The Murder Stone, an upright monolith, which is said to have been erected around 1389 to mark the spot where a dispute between Malise Sperra, Lord of Skaldale, and Henry Sinclair, Earl of Orkney, took place. The stone marks the spot where Sperra, and seven of his supporters, were killed by his cousin Sinclair.
Noel Fojut in his A Guide to Prehistoric and Viking Shetland writes: “There is a tale, probably recently invented, which relates a Norse tradition of a pardon for murderers who could run from the Law Ting Holm to the Murder Stone unscathed, against the efforts of the victim’s family and friends”.
Asta Golf Course flanking the Asta Loch with the Tingwall Loch to the north (top of photo). Photo: Asta Golf Club.
If you look closely on the Stone, you can see a line of quartz running through it. Folklore tells us that this line is the chain marks where the mythological Njugal from Njugals Water (at the other side of the hill) was captured and chained to it. A Njugal is a mythical water horse who lures victims onto its back before carrying them off to their watery grave as it crashes into the loch, taking the unsuspecting victim with them.
Whatever the truth, the Murder Stone, like so much of our archaeology, asks more questions than it answers.
Laurie (right) with Asta Golf Club manager, Terri Leask (right).
I thoroughly enjoyed my night on the course, and as the night wore on, my ears pricked up to the haunting sounds of the Valley as the night grew dark. Listening to the haunting call of the horsegok (snipe) drumming away in the distance, I was reminded why this is such a unique setting. The Tingwall Valley is a fantastic place to see birds; the loch hosts a family of whooper swans and a colony of black-headed gulls that nest on a small island in the loch, as well as the many oystercatchers, curlews and, of course, the Shetland ponies from the Ramnaberg stud that call the Valley home.
Asta Golf Course for visitors
Asta Golf Course. Photo: Alexa Fitzgibbon.
Today the Golf Course is a fantastic place to spend a few hours or an entire day! The course itself, the most northerly 9-hole golf course in the UK, has two variations of the course – the Classic and New Course – which changes every two weeks.
“With individuality built into every hole, our course offers the chance for the big hitters to let fly, while also offering a sense of fun with some wonderfully challenging holes to play.”
Visitors are always welcome at Asta Golf Course and playing golf couldn’t be more straightforward. There’s no pre-booking required at Asta unless your group is unusually large.
There are options to suit everyone, from a 9-hole rate to a two-week rate for guests who want to play more than once during their stay. Green fees and memberships can be purchased in the adjacent Clubhouse where an honesty system is in place. Simply complete a payment envelope located at the pay-in desk and pop your payment in and post into the pay-in desk.
Payments can be made with cash or cheque, placed in preprinted envelopes where you can specify which green fees you are paying for.
Equipment is available to hire from Asta Golf Club. Photo: Alexa Fitzgibbon.
There’s no need to bring your own golfing gear as equipment, including clubs, are available to hire from the Clubhouse and merchandise is on sale to remind you of your visit.
For those who want an organised tour, Asta Golf Course will happily organise this for you – a particularly useful option if you have arrived on a cruise liner. You can find out more about this here.
Asta is committed to supporting the environment, and Terri is passionate about ensuring that their practices don’t negatively impact the biodiversity of the Valley. They are pesticide-free and ‘work with worms’ to aerate and break up the soil, and within the Clubhouse, they remain chemical-free.
The golf course is open 365 days of the year, and special discounted festival rates are available for the Folk Festival and Wool Week if you follow them online or keep an eye on the website for announcements.
*Please note that some facilities may not be available due to covid-19*
To find out more about Asta Golf Course and how to get involved: http://astagolfcourse.com/
They are also on Facebook & Instagram @astagolfcourse.
I hope that you too give golf a go while you're in Shetland!
Until next time,
“Visitors want to have the best experience; they want to see Shetland through the eyes of a local. They want to taste the salt on their faces, smell the sea and bear witness to the wind in their hair. They want to drink in the sights, the smells and the sounds of an island community. They want to be shown the places they would otherwise not discover. They want to piece together the fascinating jigsaw and truly discover Shetland; this is the trip they have dreamed of.”
A little about Laurie
Hello, and welcome to my blog. I hope that you find what you're looking for, whether you are planning that perfect holiday or maybe you're from Shetland and looking for some inspiration. Hopefully, there is something here for everyone.