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  • Neil White

The Machrie

“Sit on the bench on the seventh tee, admire the incredible views and have a wee dram on us.”

The Isle of Islay in the west of Scotland is the whisky capital of the world, so it seemed rude to turn down the local hospitality.

And the friendly chap in The Machrie’s pro shop was right – this is the most scenic spot on the links, although I found his Scotch a tad sharp.

The devil is in the detail at The Machrie, from its beautiful links to the gorgeous accommodation, fabulous food and on-point service.

Mrs W and I booked a deal for a one-night stay and two rounds of golf. It was a rare opportunity to play a top 100 course twice and, boy, I was glad we took it.

Our first-day game was played in the fierce wind behind a fourball who didn’t allow us through until the 16th despite being constantly on the hunt for wayward balls.

We used it as an information-gathering round, gaining knowledge about blind shots and the angles needed for best approaches to greens that often have false fronts or sneaky run-offs.

The second day, the mizzle stopped just as we teed off and we had the superb-condition course to ourselves.

The fairways and almost all the greens at The Machrie were in stellar shape but we learned that scoring is possible with less-than-greedy course management.

Its opener sets the tone, a par-four with a blind drive and a green protected by bunkers on the left. I kept the three-wood in my bag and played it as a gentle five, happy to walk off with my two Stableford points.

The Machrie was redesigned by DJ Russell after it was brought out of administration and, although the course can still bite, it has plenty of wide landing zones for drives which are not too errant.

This is the case on the second hole, a belting par-five with a stream down the left and bunkers along the right.

It is followed by a tricky par-three running parallel to the beach and the lapping waves. Club selection here can range from seven-iron to driver.

Most of the drives at The Machrie demand carries over tangly rough before reaching wide fairways. This is the case from the elevated tee on the fourth which sweeps down before rising to a fairway perched above a steep front.

The fifth runs parallel and descends to a green framed by a dune and bunkers. It is a tough hole and the only one I messed up during my second round.

I love a quirky short par-four and The Machrie has a few, beginning at the seventh which is guarded by a big dune with a read post marking the line to the flag and deep bunkers ready to snag those who try to go around it.

The ninth is the picture par-three with the sea as its backdrop. A clip with a lofted club could do the trick but deep rough behind the hole awaits the greedy.

The 11th is another intriguing short par-four at just 282 yards but its protection is a devilish, bending two-tiered green between two banks of thick grass.

Plotting one’s way around The Machrie is key to success as we found on the par-five 12th which could be reachable in two, especially with the wind but also has two huge bunkers covered in hellish deep grass in the centre of the fairway.

The 14th is a heck of a par-three with a curving, multi-layer green, deep traps on the left and steep run-off to the right.

I was beginning to dream of glory by the time we reached the 15th and was thankful to see my drive go over a cavern of trouble.

Mrs W’s tee was down among the chasm of horror but she also thwacked her tee shot over the red post to set up a hot scoring chance.

The 17th is a love-it-or-hate-it hole which turns 90 degrees after a fairway ridge. The alternative option is a completely blind shot over the corner. I put my faith in the yardage on my Garmin watch and retained my smile.

The Machrie’s home hole is a tough par-five with a big hit over rough from the tee, a second shot between bunkers and a final hit to a flag protected by a hump in front of a green which falls left to right. I was thrilled to finish a really positive round with a par.

We had loved our game around the course but the quality did not stop there. At dinner, the scallop starter and salmon main was fab as was the chocolate delice dessert.

And they were washed down with local Finlaggan IPA and whiskies from the Fèis Ìle Islay festival, recommended by the Scotch expert behind the bar.

To paraphrase John Wayne I was “here to kickass and drink whisky”. Fortunately, I was able to follow up the former on the course with the latter in the clubhouse.

Oh, did I mention that we bumped into a well-known celebrity? My lips are sealed.

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