A natural course that encourages creativity

Machrihanish Dunes

Machrihanish Dunes Golf Club

Machrihanish Dunes Golf Club

Date Reviewed
August 22, 2014
Reviewed by Ed Battye
Located within touching distance of the Atlantic Ocean on the Kintyre Peninsula Machrihanish Dunes is the first true links course to open on Scotland’s west coast in over one hundred years.

And if this is anything to go by let’s hope it isn’t another century before we get the next one.

Backing onto the famous Machrihanish Golf Club this 2009-opened course shares similar rolling duneland to its established neighbour and the criteria for course architect, David McLay Kidd, was to create something just as natural. The fact the course is laid out over a Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI), protected by the Scottish government, meant that the challenge wasn’t an easy one but in many ways this has helped shape a course that is very natural and pure.

It could be argued that this new course requires even more imagination to play because the landform is more dramatic and the contours of the greens have as much movement in them as you will find anywhere. Here you must conjure up and craft golf shots unlike at most other courses. It is not unusual on pitches, chips and putts to be playing at right-angles to the flagstick, or even away from it, in order to get your ball close to the hole. Machrihanish Dunes encourages thought, creativity and imagination and for the golfer who loves and accepts this sort of challenge, the reward is a memorable experience.

The SSSI meant that a number of routing proposals had to be submitted before approval was finally granted and since the grand opening the two loops of nine have been switched. Contrary to some opinion I thought the way they are today worked well.

The first three holes ease you into the round as well as introducing you to the wacky, at times maybe over-elaborate, greens. Then the course really gets going with the fourth and fifth; a short par four played to a lovely secluded green followed by a stunning looking par three with a glorious backdrop.

A second successive par three follows immediately afterwards and whilst a sound hole, played in the opposite direction, it doesn’t quite fit the flow of the course in my opinion.

Three stern holes follow as they lead you back to the clubhouse. Some may think this trio of holes at 461, 620 and 435 yards are bit of a slog, especially if played into any sort of a breeze, but again I thought they worked well both individually and collectively. Each is a fine hole although a regime of extensive mowing has lessened the fear factor from the tee and allows you to wield the driver at will.

When the course opened it received a lot of negative publicity about the penal nature of the rough and the narrowness of the fairways. My first visit was in August 2014 so I can’t comment on what it was like back then but five years on it looks like they have gone too far the other way and having no rough on this part of the course didn’t feel right. The greenkeepers do have their hands tied to a certain extent because they are dictated to by Scottish Natural Heritage as to where they can and can’t mow the grass. However, having spoken to a group of them on my visit I don’t think this was the case for the area I am talking about. And not for one moment am I saying it should be returned to its former state but I’m sure there is a middle ground that would not only help give these holes more definition but also improve the playing nature of them immensely. I must also stress that this is the only real negative from my experience here and one that could easily be remedied.

The back-nine is really where Machrihanish Dunes comes into its own. Over the next nine holes you will experience some wonderful and memorable moments. Ten and eleven are prime examples of this with fluid fairways and fantastic green settings. The 12th is a strong par three before the next returns to the more thrilling golf and another fine green complex.

I wasn’t particularly a fan of the driveable 14th but the closing stretch of holes really delivers. Again they head back towards the clubhouse and are long, demanding holes that require strong hitting but also guile and craft around the greens. The pick of the bunch is the epic 17th that will have ruined many a scorecard. At 455 yards it’s a beast off the back tees and a natural wetland must be carried with the second shot played off what is likely to be an uneven stance.

There are some blind drives on the course and several semi-blind approaches but nothing more than I’ve experience at other top links venues. It certainly wasn’t overdone and if you like this type of golf you will really appreciate Mach Dunes.

Beforehand I had also heard that the walk was a tough one. A ‘mountaineering expedition’ it had been called by some. But again I didn’t think this was the case. Yes, there were some longish treks from the greens to the next tee and a few dunes had to be scaled but the walks were worth it for the optimum playing angle and to do so from the exhilarating elevated tees was a joy. I certainly wouldn’t have wanted it any other way.

In terms of a comparison between the Old and the Dunes I personally thought there was very little in it. The traditionalist in me perhaps sways slightly towards the original but in terms of actual shot values and the way that the Dunes delivers 18 strong holes it’s a tough call.

There was something I couldn’t quite put my finger on that just left a slight niggle in the back of my mind about the Dunes. I still can’t describe it except that it is to do with the way the greens don’t flow harmoniously with their surrounds; they don’t quite melt seamlessly into the dunescape as one. Don’t get me wrong they are exceptional but having played both courses on the same day everything just ‘felt right’ with the older course. I suspect with time the Dunes will mature, settle down, and in another hundred years will be regarded as the superior course. But for now, the Old (just) gets the nod from me.

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