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  • Neil White

Machrihanish Golf Club

Updated: Jul 25, 2023

I guess this is the complete antidote to the high pressure of being a lawyer in a big city in the United States?”

Our generous host nodded. He was too polite to say but probably found my babbling an irritant.

Machrihanish Golf Club is his bolt hole – silence only broken by the swishing of club, thudding of ball and bird song - thousands of miles from his home and barely altered since Old Tom Morris extended it to 18 holes in 1879.

Machrihanish was leased from a local farmer until the 1970s and has such a feel of Brora or Royal North Devon that I asked whether sheep still roamed on it.

It transpires that they did until the 1980s as part of the deal to purchase the land but the rawness of the course has certainly not been lost.

Indeed, the only obvious nod to modern times is its impressive new clubhouse, built after a fire destroyed the existing one in 2018.

We can vouch that the food is as excellent as the views from its glass frontage across the bay made famous by Paul McCartney in his hit, Mull of Kintyre.

The clubhouse and car park are across the road from the course and the sign which acclaims “the best opening golf hole in the world.”

I don’t know who the judge was but I was disinclined to argue as our eyes widened at the sight from the tee across a beach which is in play.

The tighter the angle taken over the sand on this dog-leg par-four, the shorter the resultant approach.

Obviously, Mrs W and I took the easier line, accepting a higher score in preference to joining the walkers and their paddling pooches.

The drama continues on the second hole with a drive between dunes in front of a wide burn and then a decision on how to attack a green perched above a steep grassy face and two deep bunkers. I chickened out again, settling for a bogey.

There are many blind shots at Machrihanish and making the fairway is essential to a successful score.

This became evident when I whizzed a drive over the red and white post on the third and thwacked a short iron onto the raised green.

The beauty of my first par of the day was eclipsed by the gorgeous views over to the island of Islay. Indeed, it is a decent tip to just look up after a bad shot and allow the surroundings to restore equilibrium.

The par-threes have a wonderful variety, posing very different challenges. The fourth is the shortest but careful club selection is needed, depending on the wind. Anything short could be devoured by bunkers.

More than 200 species have been spotted by the nearby Machrihanish Seabird and Wildlife Observatory but the fifth hole yielded something even rarer than a Grey Phalarope – yes, a golf pilgrim birdie.

The joy of avoiding dunes and sand traps off the tee of a short part-four, finding the front of the green with a straight approach and nestling the putt into the cup was almost tangible.

There are few long holes but many have the aforementioned blind tee shots with dunes on either side of dramatic undulating fairways and large rolling greens with false fronts.

I got away with a duff tee shot on the sixth because I found my ball and it is a short hole but not so on the seventh where a tug with my driver meant it was lost in tangly rough.

The back nine comes back into the village from the farthest point that abuts Campbeltown Airport and begins with a par-five that demands an accurate tee shot to a narrow strip between two dunes before it opens out towards a hole protected by a bunker.

Best par of the day was on the 196-yard 11th – into the wind, I needed every bit of my driver to find the middle of the target.

My undoing came on the run-in and was down to lack of understanding of green contours or the false fronts. Several times I felt like I had played an adequate approach only to see the ball come up short.

The 14th set the tone – a long par four, strewn with dunes and bunkers which I happily avoided but lack of precision around the green proved costly.

The longest par-three is on the 16th (221 yards from the yellows!) and I duffed my chip after a slightly wayward drive.

In my opinion, the 17th is one of Machrihanish’s finest (and I write this after being stuck in its greenside bunker).

From the tee, there is out-of-bounds to the left, a stream in front and possibly the tightest fairway on the course. Its backdrop is a superb view of the village to the left and sea and crags to the right.

If I am honest, I found the 18th a bit of an afterthought…a short par-four whose only drama is the swale in front of the green which all three of us found.

But overall Machrihanish Golf Club had delivered. I could understand why our host loved it so much. The peace, the natural beauty and our sport the way it was designed to be played.

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