The small village of Machrihanish is situated on the western side of the remote Kintyre Peninsula; this is where the sky is big, the sunsets are dramatic and the air has been warmed by the Gulf Stream. Nearby Campbeltown was once the whisky capital of the world, but today only the Springbank distillery remains in full operation.
In 1876, the Kintyre Golf Club was founded; and in November of that year, Charles Hunter, the Prestwick professional, rearranged the course and extended it to twelve holes. Old Tom Morris then left his stamp on the links in 1879. The members felt that Kintyre was too ordinary a name for such a special golf course, so they changed it to the resonant Machrihanish in 1888.
The course was modified again in 1914 by J.H. Taylor and Sir Guy Campbell made further alterations when several holes around the turn were lost due to development work at the Campbeltown airport site next door.
This links must be one of the most natural, romantic and most enjoyable places to play golf in the whole of the British Isles. It’s not long, grand or a championship course, but it is sheer fun. It’s got an outstanding front nine and a thrilling start. The first, called “Battery”, is one of the best opening holes in golf, a teasing 423-yard par four with an elevated tee on the edge of the shore. The fairway hugs the beach and we must drive diagonally across it. How heroic can we afford to be with our very first tee shot? The beach is in play, not out-of bounds. But dare we play our second shot from amongst the seashells?
Machrihanish is not just about one great opening hole – the front nine is exceptional and the entire experience is magical. The greens are firm, fast, true and are positioned in the most varied of locations. Some are sunk in punchbowls whilst others are on a raised plateau or flattened dune tops. There are blind tee shots, fabulous sea views, undulating rippling fairways and exciting rugged dunes.
You have to make an extra special effort to get to Machrihanish, but it is worth it. The welcome is extraordinarily friendly and the golf is extraordinary. Expect to leave this place with a broad smile on your face... additionally, the results of a Top 100 survey suggest that Machrihanish is one of the best value golf courses in Britain..
The Old course at Machrihanish (Championship) is lovingly described by members as "quirky, rolling, blind shots, uphill, downhill, goes this way and that way and all in all its magnificent and great fun." Then when asked about the Dunes course they say it is "quirky, rolling, blind shots, uphill, downhill, goes this way and that way and is rubbish."
I have yet to play the Dunes course (will plan it for 2020) but I have played the Old course and I loved most of it for the description from the members that I know.
The self-described first hole as the best opening hole in golf over the curvature of the beach to the second longest par 4 on the course at 424 yards is a good hole, even a great hole, but probably not the best opening hole in golf. But you will remember it.
Then the next nine holes take you into the dunes and rolling hills and you do go up and down and play into some very tiered greens that are a delight to try to navigate.
The course loses a bit to a lack of length and the back nine is not nearly as good as the front side.
On a windy day, the lack of length of the golf course becomes less of an issue for the good player. On a windless day the course is a bit of a pushover.
The Old course gets a bit too easy beginning on 10, a short par 5 followed by a long but less interesting par 3, followed by another short par 5. The par fives are well designed, but with today's technology they are too short. The 14th is likely the best hole on the inward nine, the longest par four on the golf course at 437 yards with a good green followed by the longest par 3 at 232 yards where par is an excellent score.
The final two holes are forgettable, both short par 4's and with the last being pinched by the road.
But all in all, make the journey to play Machrihanish Old. But more importantly, don't do what I did and play only the Old because if the descriptions by the members are correct, you will want to play the Dunes and it is a long trip! The Old course is worthy of all of the praise given it as fun, quirky, and interesting. Its not the challenge of other links courses near the sea, but those first nine holes are pure joy. You will be very happy after you have played it.
As pure and perfect a links experience as you will find (assuming you get a lovely May day as we did!) - and yes I have played Cruden Bay. From the magnificent opening drive over the beach and ocean (we took on the tiger Blue Tee for this one, otherwise whites), the course just gets better and better. The front 9 goes out into the heartland of the magnificent dunes, with no gorse but the machair grass to gobble up your ball. The greens here are beautifully contoured, presenting a puzzle on every hole. The back nine moves away from the sea and as the dunes recede, expect raised greens with front troughs as protection and shaved run off areas in the modern championship style. The course conditioning is magnificent at the moment, easily the best for a links I have experienced, and then there are the magnificent views across to Islay and Jura. Well out of the way, but worth every mile and fantastic value (just £45 for a twighlight ticket). A must play course.
The clubhouse at Machrihanish was completely destroyed by a fire the week before Christmas last year – though I was told firefighters somehow managed to salvage most of the club’s medals, trophies and memorabilia – so it goes without saying the club has endured a really tough start to 2019.
I’m happy to say I’ve seen the plans for the new 2-storey building that will replace the old clubhouse and this modern design will completely transform the club’s fortunes when work is completed by the end of next year. In the meantime, it’s business as usual with temporary changing facilities and offices operating from the car park.
Two recent staff appointments will also stand the club in good stead going forward into a bright new era: Jennie Dunn is one of the few female Head Professionals currently working in Scottish golf and Craig Barr is an experienced Head Greenkeeper who’s already making his mark on course conditioning.
Out on the course, a few of the greens on the front nine have to be seen to be believed, especially those at the 2nd, 3rd and 6th – but it could be said the heaving contours of the putting surfaces merely match the turbulent undulations of the fairways leading to these greens!
The playing corridors on the outward half lie closest to the coastline and they constitute the best sequence of holes on the card – and don’t expect anything like an even lie on any of the fairways from the 3rd to the 8th as they rise and fall dramatically across a fabulous dune landscape.
Onto the back nine, and it begins with a couple of really strong par fives which are played either side of a rather nondescript par three. Both fairways on these 3-shot holes pinch in severely between the tee and the green, placing a premium on accuracy with the second shot.
The march for home continues with back-to-back par threes at holes 15 and 16 before the tee shot at the 17th brings play down from the sand hills onto flatter ground adjacent to the 1st and 2nd. I can understand if some feel it’s a bit of an anti-climactic finish (especially after what’s gone before) but you can only route the course over the landscape that’s available.
My away day to Machrihanish was made complete by a chat with the legendary Belle Robertson, British Ladies Amateur Champion in 1981 and 9-time Curtis Cup representative, who’s now in her 84th year and looking as sprightly as ever, I might add.
She told me the Championship layout was in as good condition as she’d ever seen it but she also reminded me visitors shouldn’t overlook her original home course at Dunaverty, located a 20-minute drive away at Southend, on the tip of the Kintyre peninsula.
Good advice (which I sadly failed to heed on this occasion) from a woman that can still easily beat her age with her score on the golf course.
Truly wonderful course with an iconic first tee shot ...and 17 great holes to follow.
It is a long way to get there but it is well worth the trip if you love your links golf as this is a classic to cross off your list.
Self proclaimed “the best opening hole in golf” Machrihanish Golf Club makes good on its boast. A long par f where your tee shot has to carry a small part of the Atlantic Ocean (depending upon the tide). It is truly a question of how much do you want to chew off on this 430 yard par 4 dogleg left. As intimidating as the first hole is it really gets tough when you get to the 2nd. A straight away par 4 at 390+ yards over a burn to an elevated green. Par this and you are off to a good start. Three -Six are your birdie opportunities with the 4th a short par 3 with a table top green, the 5th a par 4 with a punchbowl green and the 6th a short par 4. It was here that the worst weather of our trip hit. Temperature dropped ten degrees and the wind was pushing balls that had been at rest on the greens. We muddled on.
The 7th is a long uphill par four the number 2 handicap hole. The 8th is a birdie oppty especially if the pin is back. Alas, the pin was up and my approach was back, ^%&^$%^#^&*. Compared to other old school Scottish links courses, there are not a lot of bunkers, but I did manage to find the bunker short right on 9 and then proceeded to thin it into one of the three bunkers on the left.
The 10th is the first par five and it is a good one. Left off the tee is better with a blind second shot between the dune cleavage. The 11th is a straight forward 200 yard par 3. The 12th is the last par 5 and it plays longer than it appears, avoid the gunch short of the hole. On the par 4 13th there isa big ass bunker in the middle of the fairway that I encourage you to avoid. The 14th is the number one handicap hole. Long with moguls in the fairway that will play havoc with your lie. Back to back par 3s on 15 and 16 with the latter weighing in at 230 yards. I failed to get there with a well struck driver.
The finishing holes are disappointing. I was told that the 18th used to play longer, but when the road was put in the tee and the green were repositioned. This was our final round of the trip, 15 courses in 7 days. The front 9 of Machrihanish rival any of the others that we played. We all had birdie putts on 18 but it was not meant to be. A great finish to a great trip. I really liked Machrihanish. It is really remote and you have to be committed to get there. The locals are proud of this and more than one pointed out that the Beatles “Long and Winding Road” was how Linda McCartney described the road to Machrihanish.
The course is not long and is very playable with a variety green that keeps you wanting more. A very enjoyable golf course. Once teleportation is perfected, I will go back.
This is a stunning golf course and yes, it may well boast the best opening hole in golf ! Interesting and fun but also tough. Short hitters will struggle as there are many carries off the tee to be negotiated. Good variety of holes in terms of length and the directional flow. There were a number of wow holes amongst the dunes. Only 2 "other" comments would be that all the fairways had a huge coverage of daisies on them which diminished the aesthetics. Also, the closing hole is perhaps on the bland side. Notwithstanding this, I absolutely loved the course.
Glad you loved playing it. As have I. A friend and I spent a week in July, 2018, when it was as dry as a bone but the greens always delightful. I've played when it's had rain, wind, breezes and drought - to me, it is a wonderful challenge no matter the conditions, each round different. Love this links layout and hope to visit several more times before my ashes are spread over the links. Ugadale and its accommodations have really spruced it up - if you like golf, make the trip to Machrihanish. You will never regret it.
I waited a long time for the first visit to Machrihanish and was luckily graced with great windy weather and perfect conditions.
Above and beyond all the experience is very quaint and the setting idealistic for a game of traditional links golf. The first hole often described and declared to be the best starting hole in the world is naturally all about the tee shot. Given we were playing into a 30 mph headwind from the left we had to be rather careful about cutting off a little less than we visually thought we could take on. There is no debating it’s one of the more spectacular first tee shots in the game and a great experience. I was less impressed by the first hole in its entirety however as the rest of the first hole is basically flat with extremely gentle undulations.
The second hole may even be more spectacular as it requires a solid tee shot and on our day a great approach to the tricky green up on the hill. From there I would say the course just keeps improving on the front 9 and throws an entire run of excellent holes as you work your way out to the turn.
I’ll admit to being slightly less excited about the back 9 and am happy we played the course with significant wind. It’s a fun, classic links test and should be experienced by all golf nuts but it’s also very gentle by nature and really built to be played in the windy conditions that often exist down this way.
My favorite holes coming back in were probably the par 3 16th and the par 4 17th which has the golfer teeing it up from the top of the large dune with a great view on a tricky hole.
The coolest part of the 18th hole is that the village is the backdrop. The slightly raised green also makes for an interesting approach.
The Ugadale Hotel and Old Pub must be one of the world’s best golf accommodations, ideally located across the street with wonderful lodging and the absolute perfect location. I wouldn’t think of staying anywhere else when heading down that direction.
Playing at The Machrihanish Golf Club is perhaps not as romantic a prospect as it was several years ago. None-the-less it’s a fabulous golfing experience.
Located close to the bottom tip of the Kintyre Peninsula near Campbeltown its remoteness, and therefore its magical appeal, is not as obvious as it perhaps was decades ago. Getting there, either by land, sea or air is a much easier (and quicker) task than it was in years gone by.
A new kid on the block, Machrihanish Dunes built in the last few years and undoubtedly another top class links course, also means that the original Machrihanish no longer stands in splendid isolation.
There’s no denying that both of the above points are advantageous for both the traveling golfer and the Club itself but Machrihanish is now no more remote (read magical) than many other first class links courses in the UK. Growing up as a child and hearing about Machrihanish it always seemed that it was this mysteriousness that made it so special.
None of the above actually makes any difference to the golf course though and I can vouch that a round at Machrihanish is almost as good as it gets. The drive down from Fort William we made that morning to play the course was equally as satisfying.
Dubbed the greatest opening tee-shot in Scottish golf the drive at the first hole, over the beach or sea depending upon the tide, is certainly iconic but may not be quite as fearsome as it was in the days of hickory clubs and without the benefits of the modern golf ball. Still, it’s a terrific tee shot where you must bite off as much as you dare for a better angle of approach down the left.
The marrow of the course at Machrihanish, the part that really delivers, is the run of holes from the third through to the 15th.
Sadly the course doesn’t quite keep the momentum going until the very end. The 16th, the second of back-to-back par three’s doesn’t quite work for me whilst holes 17 and 18 return to the flatter land adjacent to the opening two holes.
The finish does leave a slight sour taste in your mouth but only because what came before it was so good and you just wish that it had continued to deliver over the final three holes. Regardless of this a visit to Machrihanish is a must for any serious golfer who has a love for pure links golf.
Ed is the founder of Golf Empire – click the link to read his full review.
This is an outstanding course and one of the best links to be found in Scotland. We played there in September under the best conditions you could imagine. Sunny, 20 degrees and a slightly breeze from the Irish Sea. The first hole is classy and the following five holes a amazing as well. No really bad hole on this course even the often as bad holes mentioned closing holes. In the same league like Portrush or Aberdeen. A Must Play course!