“If there is a golfing heaven somewhere, Machrihanish will have to be passed to gain entry.”
Machrihanish Golf Club is an Old Tom Morris design located on the Mull of Kintyre. It is one of the most rural golf clubs that I have played, and is also one of the hardest to reach. I travelled to the course with my good friend and golfing partner, Matt Birchall. Due to a wrist injury, he was unable to play the course, but caddied for me on the trip.
The night before the round was spent in a B&B in Campbeltown, a short 25-minute bus ride away from Machrihanish GC. The lady running our B&B told us that the former caddiemaster of Machrihanish had a favorite pub hangout in Campbeltown. She went on to say that if we were lucky, we would be able to have a drink or two with him. We ended up spending two nights sharing pints, information, and golf stories with the old links master. Matt and I had seen the course the previous day when we made the journey out to play Machrihanish Dunes. The setting is gorgeous and we were very excited to play the #93 ranked course in the World.The previous nights spent with the caddiemaster in the bar had given us some “local knowledge” on the course. One of the first things he mentioned was that the first hole was “the best opening hole in the world.” He was understandably biased, and while it may not be the best opening hole in the world, it certainly is a great way to start the round. The hole hugs the beach (which is in play) and golfer’s have the option of cutting off as much of the Atlantic Ocean as they dare.
Unfortunately, upon arriving at Machrihanish GC, the weather was horrendous, and we were immediately greeted with an encounter that tainted the experience. We walked up to the pro shop to check in with our golf clubs and overnight bags. The lady working behind the counter immediately told us that we would have to leave our bags outside in the torrential rain and wind (keep in mind we were the only tee time of the day and there wasn’t another soul in the pro shop). She then pointed us to the clubhouse across the street to dry off before checking in. We dropped our wet bags in the visitor’s locker room and headed back to the pro shop to pay our fees and tee off. She again made me leave my bag in the downpour while we spent time looking at shirts and paying greens fees. When we left, I literally had to wring out my bag and its waterlogged contents. We did our best to not let this initial poor interaction with a bad employee taint our day.
Outside of the front nine of Royal Aberdeen, Machrihanish is one of the most pure links layout that I have ever played. I found the front nine to be particularly impressive. The first things that struck me on the opening holes were the green complexes. The greenside bunkering was amazing. The course felt as if it was naturally meant to be there. There was nothing artificial about the layout. This is confirmed with a quote from Old Tom Morris, the course designer, on Machrihanish. He said, “The Almighty had golf in his eye when he designed this place.” I can imagine Old Tom walking around the links having to do nothing more that point out where to put pins and cut the grass. Machrihanish’s layout is the furthest thing from the earthmovers and artificial dunes seen in many of today’s designs.
It was difficult to choose a favorite hole on the course. Nearly every approach shot on the front nine was very interesting and all of the holes are set within gorgeous dunes. If the torrential rain had not left us so cold and wet, I would have wanted to play the course again and again that day. I felt terrible for Matt, who, with his wrist injury, was unable to play any golf, but was salivating at the beautiful layout. As the round was coming to an end, we were cold, tired, and dripping wet. High winds and endless torrential rain had detracted from the level of play, but the quality of the course was still very prevalent. Out-of-bounds runs down the entire left side of the 17th hole. It reminded both of us of a par 4 version of Hogan’s Alley at Carnoustie. A near birdie cemented the hole in my memory and left a good taste in my mouth as we sloshed our way in.
A common negative brought up about Machrihanish is its seemingly weak finishing hole. The 18th is a wide open, short par 4 with very few hazards and very little risk. The caddiemaster addressed this issue the previous night over a few pints of ale in the pub. Originally, the 18th green was located where the clubhouse now lies. This is nearly 70 yards past where the current green is located. To keep the green in reach, the original tee of the 18th was moved forward nearly 40 yards. This original hole was a challenging par 4 and was very different from the current 18th. The hole was changed when the road running through village dissected the hole. It was not safe to have players hitting over the road, so the green was moved short of the road.
Our experience at Machrihanish was tainted due to horrendous rain and wind along with poor interactions with a sour woman in the pro shop. Despite these two factors, I thoroughly enjoyed the course and I look forward playing the course again when the weather is better. The design was one of the most natural layouts I have played and was very enjoyable. From fairway to green, it is one of my favorite courses I have played in Scotland.
The weather was so poor at Machrihanish that I didn’t feel comfortable bringing my DSLR camera. All of these pictures were taken with a soaking wet iPhone during the endless downpour. The opportunities to take photos during the round were scarce, and I hope to revisit the course and take many more on a sunny summer day.