Thursday, July 8, 2010

"The Long and Winding Road" to Machrihanish

Bill -ready to tackle Machrihanish

Remember the old Beatles song "The Long and Winding Road?" Turns out this song is Paul McCartney's ode to the A 83 which twists its way down Scotland's Kintyre Peninsula. McCartney owns a farm near Machrihanish not far from the southern tip of Kintyre. The enchanted golf links at the Machrihanish Golf Club was the destination for the first leg of our 17 day 2010 Scotland trip. In our previous journeys to Scotland, we have visited renowned golf meccas like St. Andrews, Prestwick, Troon, Carnoustie, and Gleneagles. This time we focused on great links golf in more remote areas. So though we were bleary-eyed from our overnight flight to Glasgow, Lisa and I motored our rental Kia about four hours down the aforementioned long winding two-lane A 83 road. Fortunately, the splendor of the scenery kept us wide awake. Loch Lomond, then Loch Fyne, and finally the sea on one side of the road; pastoral countryside and farms on the other. Lyrically named towns such as Inverary, Tullochgorm, Clachan, and Kilchenzy dotted our route. The scent of burning peat- an aroma Lisa and I associate with Ireland, reminded us that the Emerald Isle lies just 12 miles across Machrihanish Bay.

Aside from a few B & Bs and the bustling golf club, there has not been much going on in Machrihanish in recent years. However, an american developer has sought to change that by developing the area directly across the road from the Golf Club with luxury "residential golf villas" and a very comfortable golf pub as part of an ambitious project called Machrihanish Dunes. The developer also built a new links course seven miles away. We took advantage of a Mac Dunes promotion and stayed three nights in one of the golf villas.

coastview -Dunaverty Golf Club

Usually we play a round of golf on arrival day in Scotland. Given our jet and auto lag, we exercised rare discretion this time, and elected not to play, contenting ourselves with a stroll around the charming but short Dunaverty Golf Club- located at Lands End hard by the Mull of Kintyre. This was followed by a drive down single track farm roads with sheep and cattle ever-present. An early fish dinner at the golf pub, rousing bagpipe music from a young local band "Sound of Kintyre," and then to bed to rest up for our 9 AM tee time at Machrihanish Golf Club.

"Sound of Kintyre" pipe band

Two caddies in their sixties, Calum Maclean and Davy, greeted Lisa and me at the club. Calum is the caddiemaster, and was toting the bag himself for me on this day. Calum has twice won the club championship at Machrihanish. Davy, a retired oceanic oil rig operator, was likewise a good player and member. It is one of the unique aspects of golf in this kingdom that your caddie often is a member who may well join you for a round in the clubhouse after the golf.

Bill drives at the famous

You could not have a more rousing start to a Scottish golf trip than the first tee at Machrihanish Golf Club. The club boasts, not without cause, that the "Battery" hole is the "greatest first hole" in all of golf. The Battery is a "cape" tee shot in which the player must decide how much of the beach to risk carrying in order to reach a fairway that lies at a 10 o'clock diagonal from the tee. Lisa played smartly into the fairway while I yanked my tee shot into the beach from where I made a double bogey. Thereafter I righted the ship and shot a first nine 37 featuring two birds which launched caddy Calum into his self-described"birdie dance." Machrihanish (particularly the first nine) exhibits those features that exhilerate links golfers: crumpled fairways, blind shots, massive sand dunes, and deep reveted bunkers. I would strongly recommend taking a caddy at least your first time around this links. Looking for balls and uncertainty over club selection certainly adds to the stress of the round. Davy and Calum brought Lisa and me around in 102 and 80 respectively-not bad for our first outing. We savored lunch and whisky in the welcoming clubhouse. The Scottish golf clubs treat you like a member and the food is generally the best in town. Calum proudly showed us an old club scrapbook which featured photos of him at his peak when he was winning his two club championships.

Davy, Lisa, Calum Maclean, and Bill

Still revved up for more golf after our promising starts, we tried an additional nine at the club's
relief course, "The Pans." The club's "juniors" play The Pans until the club professional judges them ready to move on to the championship links. Finally exhausted from our efforts, we motored into nearby Campelltown for dinner at Craigard House, a small hotel with a very good restaurant. As is the custom in the U.K., we were initially ushered into a parlor instead of the dining area. This led to convivial chatting with others waiting to be seated; civility is fostered by this arrangement. After devouring excellent local fish, Lisa and I borrowed "Beanie", the hotel's resident collie mix pooch, and walked off our repast alongside Campbelltown Loch.

Day two found us again at Machrihanish Golf Club for a second round sans caddies. Neither Lisa nor I played with the efficiency we showed under the wise supervision of Davy and Calum. Lisa carded the round's lone birdie. After a brief rest, we made a mistake going out for a second try of the course. We have often walked 36 holes in Scotland, but this time it was too much. After 12 holes, we packed it in, and walked in the rest of the way. We arrived back at the clubhouse just before 9 PM- still light. With the summer solstice at hand, sundown would not arrive until 10:30 PM, and even thereafter daylight lingers at this Hudson Bay latitude for another hour. Lisa required a sleep mask to drop off.

Lisa -happy at

We scheduled the new links course,
Machriha-nish Dunes, for Saturday. Let me say this about Mac Dunes: it is situated on a spectacular landscape. Great sea views from everywhere! Several memorable holes challenge the golfer with drives across towering sand hills and gorse and punchbowl greens tucked away in dells. But with the omnipresent wind, there is in my view too much target golf`for Mac Dunes to be viewed as a pleasant experience for the average player. It is certainly nice too gaze out to sea, but any pleasure derived from the view quickly dissolves when you are confronted with the difficult task of finding your ball and then extricating it from the manifold difficulties presented. Another problem is that unlike most of the links courses in Scotland, this is really a long walk. Architect David McLay Kidd was forced to adjust the routing of the course to the needs of the environment as this stretch of seacoast is a Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI). Thus you walk a long way from green to tee- about two more miles than is customary on links courses. Without the "guide" services of personable caddy and ex-boat captain Peter Stogdale, we would have had a hard time finding our way around. Peter and the staff (loved the hearty soup served at the turn) catered to our every need. Our verdict: glad we played it; extremely difficult; greens are still too new; not a track that we would hurry to play again. It will be interesting to see whether Mac Dunes ultimately becomes a mecca for golfers. Our guess is that it is destined to play second fiddle to the venerable and magical Machrihanish Golf Club.

Mac Dunes (right)

After our windswept round, we hopped in the Kia and motored north on the A-83 to Kennacraig to catch the 6 PM ferry to the island of Islay, the next stop on our Scottish sojourn.

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