Is Machrihanish Dunes set to be one of the world’s major golf destinations?
The prospect seemed unlikely when the lovely lady behind the counter of its bijou clubhouse took our order for two chocolate bars and a club cap.
There were just eight cars parked up on a summer’s day at this remote spot on the Mull of Kintyre.
And yet plans are well under way to build a second course, complete with high-end accommodation and the intention to attract major championships.
Thus, it felt as if our splendid day on the Dunes with a jovial member was an aperitif before a potential return to grander surroundings in a few years’ time.
I was torn by that thought because I fell for the unspoilt course as it stands and its peace and quiet.
Machrihanish Dunes is a rather lovely curiosity. We found its mix of short doable par-fours, very tricky longer holes and testing par-threes rather intoxicating.
And it helped that the light was bright enough for us to see clearly out to Ireland and the nearby islands of Islay and Jura.
We had been warned that we would need a guide to take us around The Dunes because of the number of blind shots and our companion was, indeed, invaluable from the first hole.
This is a par-four of less than 300 yards but knowledge of the angle of attack over a dune to an undulating green is essential. It is a theme which is repeated throughout.
A solid breeze was at our backs for the early holes and so we dipped our bread in opportunity soup, beginning at the second, a fairly open hole.
The fourth is the shortest par-four I have ever played, at just 216 yards off the yellow tees (yes, I know I should have tested myself off the whites).
The green is out of sight, so we were reliant on expert advice to approach over the dune to the left. Job having been done, I rattled a putt from the side of the green against the pin and tapped in to stick a birdie and points in the bank for the more formidable holes to come.
I can see how the opening six holes could lull players into over-confidence because that ultra-short par-four is followed by two par-threes.
However, they shouldn’t be fooled because keen club selection and understanding of trajectory are needed to score well.
A slightly short approach to the fifth will see the ball funnel into a deep bunker (the only one I found all day) while the sixth has a very tricky two-tier green.
The walks between the holes are longer than on most UK courses but the compensation is the views. This is especially true leading up to the seventh where the beach and sea are only a few metres away.
It is easy to see why Mach Dunes has been lauded for creating minimal impact on the environment. Therefore, what seems to be cumbersome routing is down to it being designed around a Site of Special Scientific Interest and rare species of flora and fauna.
Indeed, its ruggedness means that the links look almost as old as their near neighbour, Machrihanish Golf Club which was founded more than a century previously.
Consequently, the curves of the land are very dramatic, even in the centre of the fairway. Placement is everything and not taking precise lines could badly affect a score.
The ninth is a good example. Both Mrs W and I hit central drives but were left with blind second shots. My approach felt good but slid down another slope to the left of the green, leaving a very difficult little chip over a hillock towards the flag.
I didn’t score so many points on the back nine but preferred it to the front.
For me, the 10th is a belting hole, meandering across the natural landscape down towards the sea. Our companion advised a line right of the guidepost to a bowl green – just as well because a giant hidden bunker lurks for those tempted to go straight at it.
The 11th looks like a rare straightforward hole because its flag is clearly visible in a straight line from the tee but the fairway falls from right to left and a trap awaits those who overhit and there are further perils on its sloping putting surface.
The short 12th set our pulses racing more than any other hole because all three of us knew our shots looked good when the balls slipped over the brow but could not see their resting places.
Sadly, none of us managed to secure birdies because, once again the borrows of the green defeated us.
The long 13th apparently divides opinion among members and I can see why. It is long and winding through dunes and bunkers before a narrow entrance to a huge, undulating putting surface. I have to say I really liked it.
The run-in is a tough one, beginning at the par-five 16th. My drive flirted with the heavy stuff down the left but finally found spongy grass, forcing a chip out but I just about managed to secure one Stableford point after weaving the ball between traps and up to a plateau green.
My usual late-round meltdown seemed assured on the rather curious 17th hole because, despite advice to go down the right, my tee shot wandered left, leaving 175 yards across rough and a dry ravine to a target on top of a slope.
Thankfully, the score was rescued on the 18th – a picturesque short but tricky par-four at the side of ancient rocks. It left us with a final reminder of how difficult it is to place the ball near the flag at Machrihanish Dunes but, fortunately, I nailed my putt for par.
It completed a wonderful day on a raw but exhilarating course.
I can understand the reticence of some to endorse these links because they are not manicured as well as most in the GB and Ireland top 100 and the routing is curious.
But the intention of its founders was to create golf as it was intended and I believe they have succeeded.
I hope that they achieve the same with the new course. If so, I will be desperate to come back.