Challenge complete

After two years and eight months, thousands of miles, and 100 rounds of golf on the UK and Ireland’s best courses, Alistair Collin has completed his Top 100 Heart Challenge

After 955 days; 18,000 miles by car, motorhome and ferry; 600-plus miles on foot; plenty of aches, pains and tears, Alistair Collin has completed his Top 100 Heart Challenge and raised more than £30,000 for the British Heart Foundation.

The challenge took him to every corner of the UK & Ireland, taking in spectacular courses on the Scottish islands, courses laid out over common ground in the south east of England and Wales, Ryder Cup and Open Championship host venues, and everything in between. 

The courses included 50 English layouts, 24 courses in Scotland, 22 courses in Ireland and four in Wales. Furthest north from Alistair’s home was Royal Dornoch – 323 miles away. Trevose was the furthest south – 463 miles away, while Tralee was 535 miles to the west. In playing all of the courses from the white tees, Alistair hit the ball more than 375 miles.

Having teed off in January 2020 at his home club, Close House, he was delayed by Covid lockdowns and had to switch his plans on several occasions – not least to incorporate travelling in a motorhome, but while his route has been tricky and featured many ups and downs – from a wedding morning round and crossing paths with goats and cows to a few challenges in securing tee times at the most exclusive clubs, it has been the trip of a lifetime and given Alistair the chance to meet some incredible people along the way…

Why did you set out on the challenge?
fter major heart surgery in 2013 and suffering a subsequent heart attack in 2014, I wanted to support the work of the British Heart Foundation. I had no idea what to do, but after discussing the world top 100 while I was a volunteer at the 2019 Solheim Cup, I thought the Golf Monthly UK & Ireland Top 100 was a big challenge to take on and would raise some money. From there, it was just a case of getting started, not planning more than a few weeks ahead in case my health became an issue, and seeing how it went.

When and where was your first round?
Having got some kit with BHF logos on, including my golf bag, which just managed to make it, and three dozen golf balls – a wishful guess at how many I would lose – I started on January 6, 2020 on the Colt Course at Close House with aim of completing the challenge by my 60th birthday in November 2021.

Which course was your 100th?
The plan was always to finish on the number one-ranked course, Turnberry. It was really special to play with Matthew Naylor (my coach), James Lusk and Iain McNab (Turnberry’s head pro) and a few friends and family also made it out to the 18th green to see me finish, which made for an incredibly emotional end to the challenge.

Which course was your favourite?
It’s impossible to pick one as there’s so much variety. The common ground courses like Royal North Devon and Pennard are special, but they can’t be easily compared to venues like Adare Manor or Muirfield. That makes the Top 100 such a special collection. If I had to pick one, it would be Old Head as the setting on the peninsula is truly incredible.

And your favourite hole?
Simply because of the shot I hit, it has to be the 16th at Kingsbarns. I hit a three iron into the middle of the green in a strong wind and while I remember lots of moments from the challenge, that’s the one I like most.

What was your best score?
I had a few very good rounds. I shot four over-par at Royal Portrush with three double bogeys, which was fantastic; had another four over-par round at Kingsbarns in the wind after being one over-par through 16; and shot a five over-par round at the spectacular Old Head. That’s quite the trio of courses to have your best scores on!

Where had the best view?
The seaside views on the links courses are some of the most memorable. Kingsbarns, Castle Stuart and Nairn really stand out, but looking back to the town from the 18th tee of the Old Course at St Andrews is the one for me. That walk is unlike anything else I experienced in the other 99 rounds.

What about clubhouse experiences?
There are some very memorable clubhouse experiences at places like Castle Stuart – where I was talking to two strangers and as they left, they handed me two £50 notes for the fund. Visits to the clubhouses at Muirfield, Royal Birkdale, Prestwick and Sunningdale – where I met Tim Henman, Ryan Fox and Shane Warne – were all very special. The artisans’ clubhouse at Swinley Forest is also a very special place for me as having managed to get my round in there, after a few obstacles to make it, that was the point when I knew I was going to be able to finish.

Which was your favourite experience away from the golf courses?
There were lots of those too! Going across to The Machrie on the Isle of Islay by ferry was a great adventure. Visiting Adare Manor was the closest I’ve ever been to the presentation levels and overall experience of Augusta National. It’s a truly five-star experience from the moment you arrive – from the welcome, the lineup of caddies… it’s totally unique.

What refreshments kept you going?
A few stand out – A shovril (sherry and Bovril) at Royal St George’s; a hillbilly (Angostura bitters, grapefruit juice and lemonade) at West Sussex; and my first-ever Pimms at St George’s Hill following my third round in three days in 35C weather.

We’ve talked about all the good days, but were there any embarrassing moments?
Losing my wallet at St Enodoc and cancelling my bank card before finding it in my golf bag minutes later was embarrassing, as was my trip into the bracken at Walton Heath following a rushed lunch on a 36-hole day.

What have been some of the challenges along the way?
There were a few. Thinking of my Top 100 challenge in isolation as there was far more going on in the world, as we all experienced, not knowing what would happen during the first Covid lockdown was tough. I had played 11 courses before the first one and had no idea how I’d get it done. That said, as I suffer from chronic fatigue, the two extended breaks did help me recover somewhat. Following the first lockdown, I purchased a motorhome – AKA the command centre – and while I bought it just to be able to get back on the road, I actually had a lot of fun in it. Going across to Ireland on the ferry was a blast and travelling right across the UK in it was great – though I was careful where I parked it at a few of the clubs.

Which was the toughest course to play?
It has to be Carnoustie – it really chewed me up and spat me out! The weather also made some courses very tough. Playing in four club winds at Ballybunion and Tralee was very difficult, and the 35C heat at Woking, Worplesdon and West Hill on consecutive days was very difficult physically.

Which was the hardest course to get onto?
A couple were more difficult than the rest as they’re very exclusive – Swinley Forest and Rye in particular. Having to do the majority of the challenge in the motorhome, going across to Ireland was always going to be complicated. Once I’d worked out how I was going to do that, without fail the people and clubs were all fantastic to deal with and so welcoming during that seven-week run.

What’s been the biggest surprise while doing this?
The way people responded to what I was doing and helped me has been the biggest surprise. The number of people who I met at one club that then went out of their way to help me arrange a visit to another was amazing. I also got a lot of support from the Golf Visitor Invite UK group on Facebook; from my friend Kyle, a caddie at Royal Dornoch, who I met at the Solheim Cup in 2019; Neil from the Fernhill Artisans Golf Club which plays over Swinley Forest, who made my experience there one of the highlights of the whole challenge and helped me get one of the toughest courses to tick off the list in the time I wanted to… there are so many stories just like those of purely random kindness. The donations from strangers who had seen my name and the British Heart Foundation on the tee sheet or chatted to me in the car park also stands out. The generosity of my hosts at clubs all across the UK and Ireland too – whether they were members or the clubs themselves. Overall, I suppose it was simply the warmth of people that was so incredible and it was heartwarming to meet so many people who would go out of their way to help. Add to that the unwavering support of my friends and family, and the people who helped make this possible will stay with me forever.

In what ways did people support your fundraising?
There have been so many stories of unbelievable generosity. During the two big lockdowns, I ran 42 online quizzes for friends and family to keep the fund ticking along. Once we were able to play golf again, I hosted a series of golf days at Close House – including the club’s first post-lockdown event. I’ve also auctioned signed Premier League football strips and fourball vouchers, and even sold homemade jam. Add in all the individuals who have donated online and in person, and I can’t thank all the people who have donated enough.

You met and played with hundreds of people along the way, who stands out?
There are far too many stories for one day, but one which stands out was meeting a couple of retired Canadian doctors at Mount Juliet. They were getting married that afternoon – she played nine and he played 18 – and their wedding rings were made from gold from their claim on the Yukon River. A wonderful and bizarre story, and one that I’ll always remember.

What’s your advice to someone following in your footsteps?
Don’t underestimate the logistical and physical challenge of playing this much golf in a short space of time. From there, take in the whole experience. I started out thinking this was about the golf, but I couldn’t have been more wrong. It’s about the people you meet along the way – your playing partners, those who help you arrange games, those who hand you cash having overheard your conversation in the pro shop, those who send you messages of support on social media having never met you in person… that’s what makes this such a special experience.

What have you learned about yourself during the challenge?
That I’m more resilient than I thought, both mentally and physically. It’s amazing how having a purpose keeps you going. My golf game also stood up better than I thought it would.

When you holed your last putt, what did it feel like?
It was on the 18th green at Turnberry, and it was for James and I to win our match against the professionals. Thinking about it still makes me emotional as having all those people and experiences running through your mind as it comes to a very clear end is impossible to put into words.

If you could play one course for the rest of your life, which one would you choose?
An impossible question! I’ll have to divide my time between Liphook, Sunningdale, Kingsbarns and Close House.

Would you do this again?
In a heartbeat. To focus so much time and effort on playing the best courses in the UK & Ireland is a real privilege, though my wife may have other plans first. It’s one of the most positive experiences of my life and to enjoy it so much while raising £30,000 has been incredible.

What’s next?
The latest rankings feature two new additions – Prince’s and Remedy Oak – so i’d like to tick those off the list. After that, having spent 180 nights away while doing this, I think I better spend some more time off the course in the next few years.

If you’ve been inspired by Alistair’s Challenge and would like make a donation to the BHF, visit