Play Away: That Machrihanish Magic

1st HoleThe beautiful Kintyre peninsula has not just inspired dirges from occasional resident Paul McCartney about the eponymous Mull: there is also some fabulous golf to be played on this wild and lonely stretch of the Scottish west coast together with excellent hospitality and even a neighbourhood malt whisky distillery thrown in for good measure!

Once a fishing port, Campbeltown, had fallen on hard times with the Royal Hotel boarded up as well as the Ugadale, for long where the golfers stayed. Then US property developer Southworth decided that this was the place to create not only another golf course but also reinvigorate the local economy by lovingly restoring both establishments.

Now golfing visitors have a choice of two first class destinations to stay. The Ugadale hotel is next door to the clubhouse of Machrihanish golf club, designed by Old Tom Morris in 1876, and the course with one of the greatest opening holes in British golf.

Here players tee off across either the Atlantic or the beach depending on how high the tide is. Either way it is the most exhilarating and exacting start to a round, especially when the wind is in your face.

And the whole course is a gloriously unspoilt links with high dunes and stunning views out to sea. The only down side is the slightly disappointing finish where the par four 18th has been reduced in length to avoid golfers on the first coping with the possibility of being peppered with sliced second shots as they prepare for their trans Atlantic tee-shots. It is now not much more than a drive and a flick but should not deter from the delights of the previous 17 holes.

The other must-play golf course on the peninsula is Machrihanish Dunes, very much the new kid on the block, but the catalyst that started the revitalisation of the area. Also on Southworth owned land, David McLay Kidd, who created the Bandon Dunes complex in Oregon and the Castle Course at St Andrews, designed this wonderfully unspoilt layout that looks as though it has been here for generations.

This is old fashioned, Victorian style, derring-do golf with blind tee shots, raised greens, rocky outcrops and even a chasm to be crossed on the 440-yard eighth hole. If the sun shines and the wind doesn’t blow too much then there are few better places to be than on this isolated part of Scotland’s West Coast with views across to the Isle of Islay, the paps of Jura and clear over to the northern coastline of Ireland.

Do hire a caddy the first time out on the Dunes, they are as friendly as they are helpful when it comes to reading putts and finding lost balls. And should you need a break from the demands of the two Machrihanish courses then arrange a lift down to Southend and play the delightful Dunaverty, a short but proper test of golf amidst more glorious scenery and the ‘cleep, cleep’ sounds of the oyster catchers as they fly along the coast.

Visitors usually fly into Glasgow and then either take the stunning coast drive along the west side of Loch Lomond or the shorter, but sometimes nerve jangling, flight from Glasgow to Campbeltown airport. If driving make sure to arrive at the excellent Loch Fyne oyster bar, just an hour from Glasgow, around lunchtime. Like the historic Springbank whisky distillery in Campbeltown, it is just one more thing to enjoy when heading for some magical golf in Machrihanish.

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