Machrie - Argyll & Bute - Scotland

The Machrie Hotel & Golf Links,
Port Ellen,
Isle of Islay,
PA42 7AN,
Scotland


  • +44 (0)1496 302310

  • Ian Brown

  • DJ Russell

  • None

Islay, the southernmost island in the Inner Hebrides, is probably best known for its whisky production – there are currently eight active distilleries in operation there – but, for golfers, it will always be associated with the iconic Machrie links on Laggan Bay, a course that was originally laid out back in 1891.

Designed by Willie Campbell three years before he left for America to become the first professional at The Country Club in Brookline, the old-fashioned layout was modified by Donald Steel in the 1970s when, in the words of the architect, he made it “more complete, more modern and more challenging”.

Unfortunately, the hotel and golf course then ran into financial difficulties, bringing about a change of ownership in 2011. Ex-BBC chairman Gavyn Davies and his wife Sue Nye, former diary secretary to Gordon Brown when he was British Prime Minister, acquired the business with the aim of rebuilding the hotel and renovating the golf course.

Architect DJ Russell was called in to oversee what amounted to a complete redesign of the layout, ably assisted by course manager Dean Muir (who’d been at Muirfield for 17 years) and construction men Eric and Robert Sammells from Edinburgh Landscapes. A short par three course, driving range, putting green and practice area were also added to enhance the golfing infrastructure.

The refurbished course reopened for play in May 2017 with only seven of the original greens retained in an imaginative new course routing that still weaves wildly in and out of the dunes. Fairways are wider than before, offering a good chance of recovery from poor tee shots or wayward approach shots, and blind shots aren’t entirely eliminated, though there are far fewer to be played now.

Traditionalists will mourn the loss of the old Machrie and for sentimental reasons that’s understandable. However, the nostalgic attributes of the former course weren’t enough to attract golfers in sufficient numbers and the place was dying on its feet – it might well have perished forever – before a significant level of investment was made to remodel the layout and build new visitor accommodation.

The new Machrie is now geared up to handle visitors long into the future, the 48-bedroomed hotel opened in 2018. Rather than look back with regret at the loss of the old course, golfers who still pine for the old days and the old ways should really be grateful that somebody felt it worth their while reviving an old classic to make it fit for purpose in the modern era.
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Description: The refurbished Machrie golf course reopened for play in May 2017 and it's now geared up to handle visitors long into the future... the 48-bedroomed hotel opened in 2018. Rating: 8.5 out of 10 Reviews: 34
TaylorMade
Brian Ward

These are exciting times for anyone involved with the Machrie. With a major course renovation well under way and a new hotel in the pipeline the latest owners have certainly committed to a substantial investment. The MachrieWe were lucky enough to play alongside Robert from Edinburgh Landscaping who is the lead shaper and finisher of the new design.

The majority of the old course is the layout we played last week, but it's now possible to get a genuine feel for the bold new routing as most of the fairway shaping is complete and many of the new greens are built.

The course will be lengthened from 6300 yards to almost 6800 from the back tees and to 6440 from the yellows as well as being changed from a par 71 to a par 72. A handful of the weaker holes are being altered dramatically or removed completely, many of the greens retaining their current location but most are being altered in some way.

Course changes at the MachrieThere are currently six bunkers in play but all will disappear as course architect D J Russell feels that such an undulating and interesting piece of land can defend itself perfectly well without them. The new design cleverly routes many fairways between or around the dunes therefore removing most but not all of the numerous blind shots.

There is, without doubt, a real charm to the location of the course with fantastic views over the peat beds to the mountains and across beautiful Laggan Bay, making this is a special place for anyone who has played here.

Inevitably there will be much discussion as to the merits of such dramatic alterations to iconic golf holes but I firmly believe that when the dust settles the vast majority will see this as a positive leap forward for golf on Islay. I can't wait to return in a few years time to view the finished article. Brian W

July 14, 2015
8 / 10
Machrie
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Martin Brown
July 15, 2015
I must endorse Brain Ward’s above review. I travelled and played with Brian on our annual golfing tour. Having Robert the Lead Shaper alongside showing us the changes was a real joy. We walked off the course with a great sense of wanting to come back soon as the changes have bedded in. It is hard to name a course which hasn't had changes made to it, maybe not as bold which The Machrie are undertaking, but courses need to evolve while retaining a sense of their past histories. I can’t help but think in a few years’ time The Machrie will be on everyone’s must play list. It will be on mine. Marty B
David Worley
This is a teaser of a course. At 6292 yards it is about the same length as Machrihanish. There are a number of short par fours, for example the 1st, 3rd, 8th, 15th and 17th, where the blind shot is not from the tee but rather to the green which may be tucked behind a large dune. In fact, almost every hole has some sort of blind shot except for the2nd, the 9th and the three par threes.

Often the green is on a downslope behind a dune so your ball will tend to run through the back. The nature of the undulating fairways and hidden greens has negated the need for bunkers and as a result there are only ten on the whole course. The light rough at the edge of the fairways is actually quite thick so you will get very little run if you are just slightly off line.

Seven, eight and nine run alongside Lagan Bay on the left and are bordered by lovely dunes along the right. The par three 10th has the Machrie Burn in play on the left. Like the 5th, the wind tends to be from behind so staying on the green is the trick, even though you may only be hitting an eight iron. Not so the par three 12th, ‘New Mount Zion’, which is 174 yards uphill and usually into the wind.

There are some good par fours on the back nine but none better than the 17th. The shot into the sunken and hidden green is a real test of skill. It is far better to be a little long on this hole, otherwise you may have a virtually unplayable lie in the little craters that form natural bunkers. The par four 18th finishes with a blind second over a very high dune in the centre of the fairway, only 35 yards short of the green.

This review is an edited extract from Another Journey through the Links, which has been reproduced with David Worley’s kind permission. The author has exclusively rated for us every Scottish course featured in his book. Another Journey through the Links is available for Australian buyers via www.golfbooks.com.au and through Amazon for buyers from other countries.
April 14, 2015
8 / 10
Machrie
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James Hunt
I cannot believe anyone would give this course a bad review. The only downpoint of this course is its remoteness. We played a fourball in September and the course was in perfect condition with not a divot or pitch-mark anywhere. This course is a MUST play for any keen golfer and I doubt if you'll find a golf in better condition anywhere.
December 05, 2013
10 / 10
Machrie
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Frank Ricard
When you play this course you cant help but have a feeling of nostalgia and romance. My playing partners and I certainly felt this, or maybe it was the Lagavulin and isaly ale!Many will not enjoy the Massive dunes that you need carry off the tee and also when hitting approach shots. An element of chance/luck is involved with these blind shots, however, it adds to the fun and certainly tests your technique. Whilst the setting, atmosphere and history cannot be beaten the course itself is a mixed bag. The first 3 holes were a disappointment and had me worried that most reviews were purely from a nostalgic perspective rather than a golfing one. After that the course comes into its own and has some wonderful holes. 6,7,8, 11,13,14 and 15 are excellent. A couple of bland par 3's and a average closing stretch the only let downs. I played the course on a relatively calm sunny spring day for £35 and easily played to my handicap. On a windy day or for someone who struggles from the tee I can imagine the course would be fairly brutal!The hotel and cottages are closed indefinitely due to a water supply problem and in any case they looked run down and in need of major investment. I was quite surprised with how poor they looked after reading some of the comments on here. 3 of the greens were damaged due to sea water encroaching on the course, however, should be fine for May. The course itself is conditioned well enough just don't expect too much. The greens (bar the damaged ones) were firm, true and consistent.A good course with a number of excellent holes in a setting/location that is hard to match.
April 05, 2012
6 / 10
Machrie
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Ileach
May 16, 2012
I am surprised at this review. I agree that holes 1, 3 and 10 are bland, but 2 is a fine hole, especially from the back tee ... but probably not a par 5 for a long hitter. 12 is a magnificent, natural, unadorned par 3 on the peak of a crowned hill. 16, 17 and 18 are a terrific finish, albeit all blind approaches. And 17 is unique - I personally dislike it, but it's definitely not "average". Incidentally, the fate of 10, by far the weakest hole on the course, is most unfortunate, because it has a lovely, usually racing, burn off to its left that would a great hazard if the green could be placed behind it. This would transform the hole into a "stunna" of perhaps 200 yards maximum, with plenty of room for forward tees., but I'm told the owner of that adjacent property is not interested in making the necessary land available to the course. The writer is absolutely correct about the hotel buildings ... they have been decrepit for a number of years (there are many issues in addition to the water) and one hopes that the new owners can get it all sorted out and return the Hotel to its former glory (although that was before I was born, and that wasn't yesterday!). I wish them the best of luck, and trust they can succeed.
mike
September 19, 2012
Playing it on Saturday - cant wait these reviews have realy whetted my appetite - Sunday Mach Dunes - Monday Machrihanish I must have done something good !
The Laddie
October 03, 2012
Another summer spent on Islay, playing The Machrie perhaps 20 times. It remains a wonderful experience, and although the facilities are extremely limited due to the hotel's closure, the course is in great shape, fully recovered from the winter damage mentioned in the above comment. In fact it's much more "playable" than it ever has been in my memory. The new owners have funded the purchase of modern maintenance equipment, which has permitted the staff to cut back quite substantially the rough so that the fairways are much wider than they used to be. For all but the sadists among us that is a great step forward, because the one criticism of The Machrie that mattered was that the fairways were too narrow and the rough almost inpenetrable, resulting in far too much time spent looking for, and not finding, balls that really weren't all that much off line. Consequently play could be slow. There are also changes in process to re-align the second hole, and completely re-route the tenth and eleventh holes, which will add further to the course's attraction. And recent news is that it looks like the water problems can be resolved, and when that is done, the way is clear to renovate the hotel. Probably 2 or 3 years work, but it all augurs well for this iconic course. Incidentally: why is it rated #2 in A&B? It's streets better than Machrahanish.
John
This course epitomises Scottish golf at it's best.Wonderful vistas, friendly people, whisky and wind!If you want to experience all the best of Scotland in one place go to the Machrie and Islay.John
January 05, 2011
10 / 10
Machrie
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fourputter
I am an old man now and where I live the summer sun stings and the warm wet wind drains energy as blotting paper draws ink. I am hot, sticky and tired. The dog days draw close. I shall doze. No! I will not let this listless malaise consume me. It is time. Time to pack my bag. Time to go to Islay. The greenness. The stiff cool breeze; maybe rain, but do I care? Or even a glorious sun, high in the infinite sky, but bereft of tropical sear. The links beckon come hither. The Machrie. My Innisfree. Is there another golf course on this planet that offers you, if you wish to partake, such remoteness, such solitude, such a magical aura, such a sense of the insignificance of man in the scope of the universe? Dornoch, perhaps, wonderful, but possibly a little too pretty? A little cramped in comparison? A little yellow at times? Bandon Dunes? Awe-inspiring, but unquestionably placed there by man. The Machrie persuades us that it fell to earth, untouched by hand: such is its naturalness, its appropriateness. What a course to play.

The ingénue first and tenth holes gently and with little drama seduce you into the front and back nines, coaxing you into two sequences of natural golf holes, each carving pathways of immaculate links turf through deeply grassed dunes to beautifully presented greens. There are few bunkers, but each one is exactly where you wouldn’t want it to be. From a golfing perspective the progressions from the 4th to the 9th and from the 11th to the 18th are breathtaking; indeed the latter is simply brilliant. The views from almost every vantage point on the course across the island’s sea lochs and hills are stunning and unforgettable at all times; on a fine day they are sublime. Now the golfer who is not given to raising his eyes from his tee might grumble that the course is quite short, that he wasn’t able to capitalise on his length, that he lost his ball every time it went in the rough, and that there were a lot of blind shots (far too many I hear him say). All true. The Machrie would never be built today. But bear in mind that it wasn’t built at all; it’s been teased out of the existing land, great artists seeing the shapes that lay buried in the wild grasses.

Nostalgia plays its part, as at my years it must. In a warm glow I see the friends of my youth, many already gone, as we battled against each other and a raging gale, frozen and soaked to the skin; at other times in high June sunshine we managed four rounds in a day … the course was a little less demanding to walk back then. The long strolls(!) with the girls on the beach at Laggan Bay – jump over the fence at 3, 8 or 9 now – when my parents happily believed I was on the course perfecting my game. I was in a way. Golden recollections. Long, long ago. And so on to university, responsibility and real life. I was well prepared for the last. The Machrie had taught me to take the bad breaks with equanimity, the good ones with quiet pleasure, and to treat all mankind as equals, as they are, and do, at The Machrie. The Machrie. I shall arise and go now.
June 03, 2010
10 / 10
Machrie
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mppj
June 03, 2010
Bravo my friend,bravo.A fantastic review
dan
June 10, 2010
I smiled all the way through your review, thank you for your redolent look back - "Im Abendrot" should have been playing in the background ! I have played The Machrie just the once but can't wait to go back, it is to date my singularly perfect golfing experience.
suist71
July 03, 2018

Without a shadow of a doubt the best golf course review I have read! Would be interesting to hear the authors view of the new layout.

Keith Baxter
Ah the Machrie… I yearned to play here since the course was first ranked in 2000. After nine years waiting and a colourful pilgrimage from the south of England, which culminated in a rather protracted ferry crossing, we finally arrived on the Hebridean island of Islay. Was it worth the effort? Oh yes it was and it’s a pilgrimage that I thoroughly recommend. The course will not appeal to everyone because there are many blind drives, some of which feature fearsome, long and high carries over towering dunes, additionally there are numerous blind approach shots which many will not like. I lost my fair share of balls at the Machrie, if you can’t see where your ball lands in this terrain then you are in the lap of the gods. Keeping the ball in play here is easier said than done. Having said all of this, there is something very special about the land and it has a humbling, calming aura which made me feel good from within. Most designers would never consider trying to replicate the Machrie, as it goes totally against the modern grain, but somehow it works perfectly here on Islay and purist architect David McLay Kidd has created Machrihanish Dunes back on the mainland which competes with the Machrie in the blind-shot stakes. When I played the trio of Mach courses on a recent trip, I found the Machrie to be the best conditioned and am hard pressed to decide which of the three courses I prefer. If you are travelling to this remote outpost I suggest you take your time and play them all.
November 07, 2009
8 / 10
Machrie
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dan
March 19, 2010
Funnily enough, my 6 ball review further down was just before playing Machrihanish Dunes - we moved from Islay to Arran so also played Shiskine which is in the same league of jaw droppingly scenic natural, quirky links golf. Mach Dunes is like a newer, longer Machrie. Can't be too fulsome in my praise for both of them, golf in Scotland is in safe hands ! Whether by island hopper or ferry, The Machrie and Mach Dunes may be somewhat inaccessible but you will wonder why you made a fuss once you have played them. Magical.
Martin Jordan
My Day at the Machrie can best be described by re-arranging these words into a well known saying. Banjo, cow’s arse, couldnae and hit. The King of Ireland certainly came down to earth with more bumps than Humpty Dumpty’s napper. And yet, despite this and, a score which crept into 3 figures, I adored absolutely everything about this far flung beauty. If you don’t like blind shots or quirkiness then perhaps this is not the place for you but I urge you to give it a try for if ever there is a must play course it is this one. Embrace the bind drives over the taunting marker posts. Accommodate the ever changing wind and the hungry rough. Accept more capricious bounces than you can shake a stick at and simply rejoice in the complete Machrie experience. You will love it. The start may seem undrstated, perhaps it is in comparison to what lies ahead, but there are still dangers to overcome. Watch out for the wee sneaky bunker just over the brow of the hill at the first and don’t underestimate the water at the under-rated second. From the 3rd the course shows its true colours so buckle up and enjoy the ride because, with the exception of the prosaic 10th, every other hole falls into the great, super or marvellous categories (copyright Jim Bowen) Holes 6 -9 inclusive are absolute show-stoppers. With 12, (a very difficult long par 3, especially in the wind), 13 and the brilliant 17th the pick of the back 9 but, as I have stated previously there is not a bad hole on the course. It is here that I feel that I must enter The Machrie v Machrihanish debate. Well, I think that a swap in places in our chart would be a more accurate reflection of their worth The Machrie doesn’t have Machrihanish’s celebrity but I think that it has more merit over 18 holes. But, it is all about opinions and these can be discussed at length afterwards with the fantastic locals, who can’t do enough for you, over a plethora of the Island’s special malts. MPPJ
October 30, 2009
10 / 10
Machrie
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Jim McCann
The Machrie - Photo by Jim McCannI returned to play the Machrie six years after I'd first played it and despite really enjoying my round the time before, it was even better than I'd imagined it would be second time around! Granted, the weather was far kinder than the rain soaked-day I had endured in 2003 (which allowed a decent score to be made in benign conditions) but the feel of the place is just something that cannot be put into words properly and any attempt at describing the almost religious experience of playing here on Islay will never do the course full justice.

How Machrie does not make it into the Top 20 of course listings for Scotland defies belief because if it was on the mainland, the many golfers that would play it would rate it as they do Cruden Bay, for instance, rightly elevating its position but then, exposed to the golfing masses, would it retain the same charm that it undoubtedly possesses? Links lovers should make the pilgrimage to play here at least once and follow in the footsteps of the golfing greats from yesteryear. That Willie Campbell knew a thing or two about designing great golf courses, you know… Jim McCann
October 29, 2009
10 / 10
Machrie
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Patrick McGarey
I played the course under very poor conditions (gale force rainstorm; numerous slow four-balls ahead of me in a local competition) - and still loved it. The many blind shots off the tee and approaching greens make this a course you need to play several times to appreciate. Course maintenance was very good and the greens were terrific. Not the easiest place to get to, but the staff is welcoming in its own quirky way. Highly recommended for all links golf fans - and essential for true afficianados of traditional Scottish golf. As a side note, the starter shack appears to be an unofficial shrine to busty models from the UK men's magazine "Nuts".
October 14, 2009
8 / 10
Machrie
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