“A guy will try to murder it,” Scott said after we all hit our tee shots on the first hole of Machrihanish. It would only be one of the best opening shots in all of golf, requiring a carry over the Atlantic Ocean. It certainly sounds funnier when Scott says it—more like muuurrrrrduuuurrr it.
I was so happy to be pretty far down the fairway and as it turned out, on a nice flat lie. We caught it on a gorgeous sunny day, maybe 70 degrees, with a bit of a breeze.
Kevin and I met Scott and his family the night before in The Old Clubhouse Pub. The 19th century stone building served as the original clubhouse in the days of Old Tom Morris. It was situated right beside the recently renovated Ugadale Hotel. I hadn’t been back to this remote part of Scotland on the Kintyre Peninsula for a couple of years, and I’d only seen the Ugadale in a dismal state of deterioration…that is until now.
It is in such a prime location, almost directly opposite the first tee of Machrihanish Golf Club. A truly remarkable transformation and a huge asset to this magical golf mecca.
I’ve been a member of Machrihanish since 2003, the year I first played there, and I’ve kept track of the progress of both the new course and the two hotels that are currently owned by Southworth Development. Their commitment to Kintyre and the fabulous results they have achieved are commendable and then some.
To fit in a visit here really takes planning—and plan we did. We’d hoped to include playing at Shiskine, the 12-hole course, founded in 1896, that is on the Isle of Arran. Alas, we had only time to test out the ferry crossings from Ardrossan after our round at Dundonald, scoot over to the west side of Arran and make the 6:30 PM ferry to Kintyre. Insert your own curse word here! Shiskine will have to wait, but hopefully not too much longer.
Then it was zip down the peninsula on the A83 in time to check in and grab a bite to eat. We were doing a site visit at the Ugadale when Rhona Miller, the sales manager, being a very smart cookie, put us in a magnificent suite facing the first tee of Machrihanish. The room was palatial and absolutely splendid for two weary travelers.
Nice to be able to walk right next door to The Old Clubhouse Pub and have a good meal with a lovely glass of Sauvignon Blanc. We barely managed to get a table, but thanks to some people with a reservation, failing to show up, we snagged a cozy spot by a window. We also had the good fortune to be seated next to a cutie named Carla and all her minders—mother, father and a granny. Like most 8-year-olds, she was a veritable Mexican jumping bean—bounding in and out of the pub—enjoying the grassy lawn outside and the light of the long summer day.
We struck up a conversation with her mum and dad and learned that he’s a golfer, but mainly plays the nine hole course at Machrihanish called The Pans. When we invited him to join us on the big course the following day, he was delighted.
Scott was absolutely giddy when we arrived for our tee time the next morning. The sky was bright blue and the waves of the Atlantic Ocean were lapping gently on the shore to our left. The fairway of the opening hole looks like a skinny green ribbon—especially when you try to carry a big bit of the sea. It’s scary. No two ways about it.
Kevin, Scott and I all hit off on the first—our respective tees being only a few yards apart—and walked to our balls. On the way—happily, a longish walk—Scott told me that he enjoys playing with women because, “They don’t try to knock the spots off it.”
Oh, and he said, “Women keep the ball in play,” which I didn’t do consistently, but I don’t think I lost as many balls as he did that day.
Not too many of his friends in the Glasgow area where he lives are golfers, and he gets asked a lot, “Why do you play?”
He figures it this way: “If I hit the ball like a donkey, and then hit one great shot—that is why I am playing golf.”
Well now, doesn’t that fit the adage, “That’s the one that keeps you coming back!”
I was thrilled to make 6 on the par-5 opening hole called Battery. At 422 yards, often into the wind, it is a par 5 on the Ladies Yardage and a par 4 for the other sets of tees. In this part of the world, there is no stigma attached to Ladies Tees, or Ladies Yardage. I rather like it and sometimes we have our own scorecard on “the other side of the pond”, which I rather like too.
The second, simply called Machrihanish, was a real tester for me. After you hit your drive, the next shot must carry a wide burn, and you have to hit up over a huge hill with gaping bunkers to a blind green.
The guys could go for the green on their second shot. For me, the safe play was wedge over the burn and then a 9-iron to the green. It produced a fabulous 5 for me.
I’m home. That’s how I feel when I play here. It is a course I could play every day of my life. Plenty quirky. Always fun.
The stewards of Machrihanish Golf Club report on their website that golf was first played on this linksland back in 1871.
Like many other courses in their early incarnations, it started out with less than eighteen holes. In this case, the original ten holes were expanded to twelve by Charles Hunter of Prestwick, in 1876, when the Machrihanish Golf Club officially formed.
Charlie Hunter (1836 – 1921) played in the first Open Championship at Prestwick in 1860; and he succeeded Old Tom Morris as the clubmaker and club professional in 1864.
When Old Tom Morris, now back in St Andrews to oversee the Old Course, was summoned in 1879, he persuaded the club fathers to secure more land and lent his expertise to stretch the course to eighteen holes, designing the jewel of a course we play today.
The next two holes are named Islay and Jura—appropriate, as those islands are visible off the coast. Islay (pronounced Eye-la) boasts one 18-hole course called Machrie, dating back to 1891, which I have long wanted to play, but somehow I have never carved out the extra time to get over there.
For some Scots and foreign tourists alike, the island is better known for its distilleries. According to Visit Scotland, Scotland’s National Tourism Organization, there are eight malt whisky distilleries on this Hebridean Island. Laphroaig is certainly one of the most distinctive single malts, with Bowmore being the first recorded distillery, dating back to 1779.
During our round, Scott mentioned there are nine distilleries and his wife is with the Scotch Malt Whisky Society, so maybe she had some uber-insider information that only society members know?
Then we had a string of par-4s called Punch Bowl, Balaclava, Bruach More, Gigha (named after another island) and the ninth was Ranachan. The guys had a completely different angle to the fairway—my tee box was in a valley requiring a blind shot over a long dune ridge. I couldn’t quite remember how much farther to the right of the guide post I could go, so on this day I was too conservative and my ball ran through the fairway. We played the course again the next day and I judged it just right, leaving a short wedge to the green, leading to a very satisfying par.
Although it is basically a classic nine out and nine back layout, when the back nine swings around near the airfield, it takes a few holes before you are pointing back toward the opening hole. With two tough par-5s and long back-to-back par-3s at the fifteenth and sixteenth, this course delights and frustrates in equal measure.
I’ve heard people complain about the last hole, which is a short, relatively easy par-4, but by then I felt like I had “bagged a Munro”, and I was incredibly grateful to just be getting close to the finish line. A Munro, for those of you who are unfamiliar with the word, is a Scottish term for a summit over 3,000 feet. There are 282 of them in Scotland, named after Sir Hugh Munro, who created the first list of these big hills or small mountains—take your pick.
Our exhilarating adventure for the day now over, we are happy to be heading back to the Ugadale, where our tastefully decorated suite and a lovely meal in The Kintyre Club restaurant await us. I’d say a wee dram of Springbank, distilled just down the road by the same family since 1828, awaits us too.
If you are looking for an exceptional golfing experience, I heartily suggest you plan the trip. Along with the historic Machrihanish Golf Club, The Ugadale, the Ugadale Cottages, Royal Hotel in Campbeltown and the new sister course, Machrihanish Dunes, you have at least five reasons to make this a golf destination. Soon. Make it soon.