"We left the Clyde towards evening on a golden Sunday and it was wonderful to see the traffic lessening as we came to Inverary, to know that there was still 80 miles to go and that the workaday world was receding fast. I shall not forget the magic of that drive along Loch Fyne, all gleaming silent peace, and the marvel of the sunshine dying over West Tarbert Loch, gold and purple, silver and black."
-Pat Ward-Thomas, Remote Courses in Scotland, 1960
The anticipation of something is half the fun of doing it. Remote locations in the golf world are like a siren call to a certain type of golfer. Even the names take on an almost magical significance - Connemara, Ballyliffin, St. Enodoc, Durness, Askernish, Reay. A drive down the Kintyre Peninsula is a thing to be treasured. There is no reason to rush. Cows crossing the winding A83 are liable to stop you anyway. When a round at Machrihanish Dunes is the ultimate objective, the wonders of the natural world and the game of golf combine in a way that is only possible near the Mull of Kintyre.
This remote part of Scotland is one of the unique and special places in golf. Machrihanish (1876) and Dunaverty (1889) have long been targets for the adventurous golf traveler. In 2009, a third course, Machrihanish Dunes was added to this pair to create one of the great triumvirates of golf courses - a trio that could theoretically played in a single day, during the
seemingly endless Scottish summer days. The story of its construction has been well documented. Built on a “Site of Special Scientific Interest,” a minimal amount of earth was moved to create the links. It exists in some of the most precious linksland on the planet, a continuation of the wild, rolling dunes that make up much of its older next-door neighbour to the South.
This approach to construction dictated the layout of Machrihanish Dunes. It is one of the great walks in golf. The machair and dunes seem ancient and natural – and they are. A herd of black sheep assist with the greenkeeping duties. As golfers, we are fortunate to be able to walk on such sacred ground. The constant wind off the Atlantic creates a calming symphony (on most days) as it blows through the native fescue. The Dunes is a dreamscape of links golf.
Machrihanish Dunes is the ultimate match play course. Score is irrelevant in such a place. What matters is getting into the hole in fewer strokes than your opponent. A few holes stand out to me –stunning back to back par threes - the 165-yard 5th and the 134-yard 6th - and the brilliant 332-yard par four 14th are the three that first come to mind. More than many courses, the Dunes demands to be considered as a whole – each piece of the puzzle is integral to the experience. The glorious remoteness of Kintyre precludes such an event, but a Ryder Cup could easily be held here – and the golf world would be much better for it.
Playing Machrihanish Dunes alone, in the late evening, is also a distinct pleasure. I have been fortunate to do this, walking slowly, taking my time, hitting different shots into the fantastically wild green complexes, standing alone high above the beach and simply staring at the sun descending over the Atlantic. I have played 120 courses in Scotland over the past 30 years. Some of the most striking photos I have ever made were taken at Machrihanish Dunes. In almost every direction you look, your mind instantly frames a perfect vision of a links. My solitary walk - which finished at 9:30 pm - was a much different experience than a four ball match with good friends, but one that was no less enjoyable.
I think about Kintyre every day. It is a magical place. A quote from 1891 in the newspaper Golf, Far and Sure seems appropriate:
"It is a sight not easily to be forgotten when one witnesses for the first time the careering
billows of the great Atlantic, rolling, breaking and expending themselves, in ever varying
shades of colour, in crested spray, and snow-white foam, to the music of a melodious
bass, on the vast sandy beach."
This is a round at Machrihanish Dunes.
Words by JimHartsell
Photography by Graeme McCubbin
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