Exactly 130 years after Old Tom Morris journeyed from St Andrews in 1879 to the southernmost tip of the Kintyre peninsula, extending the world-famous Machrihanish course from 12 to 18 holes, a new golfing layout emerged from the sand hills that lie just to the north of the venerable old links.
The vision of Australian businessman Brian Keating, the property at Machrihanish Dunes extends to over 270 acres and, quite remarkably, only a small fraction of these acres were disturbed by architect David McLay Kidd and associate Paul Kimber when they laid out the holes.
Machrihanish Dunes sits within a Site of Special Scientific Interest (monitored by Scottish Natural Heritage) and because of constraints imposed to protect selected wetland areas and dune formations, the routing avoids a number of excluded zones on the property leading, as a consequence, to some lengthy walks along grass paths between holes.
Fairways are mown but they're far from manicured because the use of fertilizers and installation of drainage or irrigation is forbidden. In fact, the playing corridors remain virtually untouched here so expect very few even lies on any of the holes as the heaving landform rises and falls dramatically between tee and green – this is basic, no frills golf in as natural a setting as you could imagine.
The rough remains uncut (there are flocks of roaming sheep to keep the grass down) and bunkers – some are absolutely enormous – are located in all sorts of unlikely places, having originally been formed by burrowing animals over the years. Greens are described in the course yardage guide as "audacious" but they reflect, rather than complement, the testing topography of the site.
The club, after listening to golfers who complained about excessive blindness, long walks between holes, length of the rough and severity of the greens, decided in 2011 to carry out some remedial work to address these problems. Tees were re-positioned, new paths created and a program of rough management was undertaken. A number of bunkers were reshaped, and the large, hidden bunker on the par five 8th was removed. More importantly, six greens were modified and the putting surface at the 17th hole re-positioned forty yards closer to the fairway.
Despite the long walks between holes that must add another 1500 metres to the experience, just loved this course. Much fairer than its neighbour IMO. From arrival to departure, just an excellent day - thanks to Mr Stogdale in the bar!
Machrihanish Dunes uses a black sheep for its logo, and I feel that this is the way the club is characterised within some golfing circles. Locally, it’s tarnished by being the new boy in town and greater recognition is typically given to Scotland’s other new links courses at Kingsbarns, Castle Stuart, Trump Aberdeen and Dumbarnie. I for one feel that this is unfair to Machrihanish Dunes as it looks and plays more like a traditional links than any of those other courses mentioned. Its remote location means that it is not so accessible, and its SSSI status led to course designer, David McLay Kidd being hugely limited with how his team was able to shape the land, but I found the results surprisingly excellent. The hospitality is very good too, from the moment Lorna provided her greeting in the intimate and humble clubhouse, we were made to feel welcome and comfortable here.
The course remarkably opened just over ten years ago, and you would never guess that to be the case were you not told in advance. That’s because this links dunescape has been lying here for centuries and the use of bulldozers or excavators was largely restricted when working the land, instead good old fashioned design principles had to be employed. As such, and what makes this course different from the other new Scottish links, Machrihanish Dunes is a minimalist design in the truest sense featuring lots of blind shots to marker posts perched on top of natural dunes. The routing isn’t as efficient as it could otherwise be and bunkers, rather than being located strategically, have often just been opened out from original animal scrapings, but their shaping all the same is still exceptional. The fairways are dotted with lumpy moguls everywhere, another aspect missing from most modern course designs. I also understand that the course has improved considerably over the last ten years. It’s matured properly now and the rough is better managed than when it first opened as they’re now able to use machinery to limit the height of the rough.
The greens are big undulating surfaces. I understand that they have been softened over time, but I’d argue that they’re suitable for the undulating land upon which this course sits. Despite being gently softened, there are still some wonderfully crazy contours where you can play some fun chips into greens off backboards and across heaving slopes. The club also made the decision to switch the nines a few years ago so don’t be confused like I was when reading older reviews. The switching of the nines was probably a sensible idea as the 10th must have been a severe start and the 17th and 18th pack more of a grandstand finish than the current 8th and 9th.
Onto individual holes of note and after a solid start through the opening holes, the 4th will be the first hole that sticks firmly in the memory. This short par four is played almost completely blind towards a cross in the distance and then into an elongated but hidden dell green that’s buried within a dune. Another hole worth mentioning on the front nine includes the stunning par three 5th that is the first of back to back par threes. The 5th green site is tucked into the corner of the property and guarded by a lone bunker having the appearance like it was always intended for golf, although they’ve recently had to erect a wind sheet to prevent salt spray from damaging the green. The long 8th was another of my favourites and reminded me of the 3rd at Royal Cinque Ports. The second shot plays blind to a rumpled fairway before a green that drops away heavily to the left hand side sliding anything in that direction into the mouths of two greedy bunkers.
The back nine is also littered with strong holes with the 10th probably being the stand-out. After hitting a drive into a dip in the fairway from a high elevated tee, this hole then has a large punch-bowl style green. Later in the round, I found 17 to be something of a disjointed hole. Admittedly, I made a mess of this one, but after hitting what I felt was a good tee shot, I was then left with the most ludicrous shot to the green that offers no option of bailing out and making a safe bogey. This is a do-or-die hole where you’ll need to strike your ball cleanly over a big depression in the land before a deep bunker ahead of the green also stands waiting. A hole straight from the penal book of course design.
That being said, despite the long drive and not completely seamless design, I’d happily return to the Kintyre peninsula at a point in the future to play this lovely course that harks back to the ages. Alongside Dunaverty and the old Machrihanish course, the Dunes course makes an excellent addition to this part of the world and definitely shouldn’t be bypassed.
I thoroughly enjoyed Machrihanish Dunes having just played it. I wasn’t too sure what to expect based on previous reviews but I found the course to be a lot of fun. Yes there are a lot of blind shots and some of the walks between greens and tees are a bit long but I don’t mind that. The only walk I found to be overly long was the one between 11&12. Apart from that there was nothing that bothered me too much. I though 4, 5 and 10 in particular were all great holes. The green complexes were great as well and allowed for a lot of creativity around the greens. Overall I really enjoyed it and would actually rather play this again rather than the other course at Machrihanish which I know would be highly controversial!!
Machrihanish Dunes is a wild, rugged golfing location. A round here is an elemental experience where you are exposed to everything Mother Nature can throw at you. You come off here on a windy day feeling bruised and battered. While I have no qualms with that overall ambience I was not particularly impressed by many of the holes ( one exception being the sensational par 3 5th). So while I would recommend a trip to this remote part of Scotland to play here and Machrihanish itself, I would be surprised if you did not prefer the latter.
Backing on to the existing Old course Machrihanish Dunes is sited in a beautiful dunescape right on the coast. The land carried the most environmentally sensitive designation allocated in Scotland, and the routing of the course, and placement of tees and greens was only possible after considering endangered species of marsh orchid and Burnet moth.
Not only did Kidd and his team work with these restrictions, but they embraced the concept of a natural course much in the spirit of Old Tom years before. The course is not irrigated. No pesticides are allowed. Instead a flock of 80 or so sheep graze the fairways in the off season, eradicating ragwort. The theory is that the tramping of golfers and constant mowing will over time allow the fine fescues that links golfers love to dominate.
Kidd moved little dirt in creating the dunes. With due consideration to the environmental constraints, teeing grounds and greens were tweaked based on the natural topography. But the fairways remain essentially untouched.
Playing the Dunes really does feel like you have gone back in time. The greens have a lot of movement, and are true but slow. The fairway grasses are largely good to play off, but are some years off being a pristine cover of fescue.
At present there is a mixture of broad leaved grasses and weeds in with the fescue, and occasionally a poor lie will present. It is all just so natural, and uncontrived.
There are multiple teeing grounds at The Dunes giving so many different perspectives on the same hole for returning golfers. I would argue this is a positive.
But because of the aforementioned environmental concerns the trails to the tees are both prolonged and circuitous. Personally I don't mind a good walk through some lovely dunes, but many feel the walks from green to tee are just too long and detract from the enjoyment of the game.
The front nine starts relatively quietly as it heads through lower lying land to the bigger dunes in the southwest corner of the property. I particularly liked the short driveable par 4 fourth hole with its lovely protected green in the dunes. The par 3 fifth hole is also a photo hole and a joy to play. However it is the back nine that impresses most at The Dunes.
The terrain is much more undulating throughout the nine as the holes move through bigger dunes, closer to the sea. In fact I liked all the holes bar 17 which I thought a bit dopey. It has a totally blind tee shot to a violently rolling fairway split by a gully, followed by a big carry to an elevated green. It was all a bit too much... Hole 10 with elevated tee box and green down in a bowl in front of the larger dunes was my favourite.
Machrihanish Dunes is an interesting course and great fun to play. It will be interesting to see how the course matures over time. I played in 2014 and I am sure it will have already evolved considerably.
Combined with the older course at Machrihanish it makes a delightful golfing destination. The renovation of the Ugadale hotel and pub also ensure that golfers will be very comfortable in what is really an ideal place for a short golfing getaway.
Peter Wood is the founder of The Travelling Golfer – click the link to read his full review.
A very good second to the Chmapionship course. Some great links holes (18 in fact !) and amazing contours and bunkering and particularly the greens. Try to go out with no one behind you as you will want to have a play with putts to and from certain areas of most greens.
Machrihanish Dunes Golf Club opened in 2009 and is a David Kidd design. Supposedly, it is also the first 18-hole links course to be built on the west coast of Scotland in 100 years It is very remote and difficult to get to. I was told that on a clear day, you can see Ireland. As it was developed on land protected by the Scottish government only the tees and greens were shaped by man. The fairways, dunes, gorse have not been sculpted by human hands. Thus, there are a couple of striking elements to Mach Dunes. By Scottish link course standards it is long and takes up a lot of acreage. There are treks green to tee and these treks can be confusing. Heck, even standing on the tee box can be confusing. This is a course for Ray Charles, Jose Feliciano and Stevie Wonder.
We were just about to tee off when these two gals pulled in. They had another tee time in the PM and wanted to get ahead of us and said they would be done in about 2 ½ hours. We said fire away. The first is a short par four that could be driveable by big hitters and a good welcoming hole. The 2nd is a brutal par 4 followed by a much more golfer friendly par 5. This led to Vince’s favorite hole in Scotland the short par 4 4th. From a blind approach Vince holed it for an eagle. This could be a great risk reward hole as the green is in bowl but the green was in tougher shape than the hair on my head. Vince came back to earth on the par 3s, 5th and 6th, with consecutive 3 putts. The 5ths green is much tougher and almost understandable based upon the tiers. The 8th is 620 yards from the tips, fortunately, we were playing the whites and that was still too tough for us. Fortunately, the 9th is a birdieable par 4 dogleg right.
We made the turn and lo and behold in the distance we see the two gals in the 10th fairway. We did not think we could reach them until Moyo blasted his drive a good 20 yards over their heads. After apologizing we gave them some running room. I think the 10th was my favorite hole, even with the blind approach. The 11th is a par 4 with a two tiered fairway. As a group, we screwed it up from both levels. The par 3 12th was another par 3 with a really tricky undulating green. There is only one par 5 on the back and it is much more manageable than the 8th. I had heard a lot of complaints about the 17th, not easy, but not penurious. I was told that they did move the green forward about 40 yards. Overall, not impressed, great value, not sure how they are staying in business. There were only 5 golfers there when we played. Glad I got to play it but I cannot imagine why I would go back
Extraordinary review which manages to include traits of misogyny, racism and ableism. No doubt an attempt at humour, but missed the mark and would not encourage me to buy the book !. Some of the golf narrative is ok but an overall 3 ball rating is way off. Yes, its opinion based and fortunately the vast majority of opinions expressed regarding Mach Dunes is very positive.
I didn’t feel this review was misogynist, racist, or ableist (had to Google that one).
Simple mention of ladies, black, and blind persons in a review isn’t sufficient to qualify. I felt the context was relatively harmless.
As for the review, I enjoyed it despite the low rating. This reviewer either has very high standards or generally prefers US style golf
It is a difference in styles and admittedly I like reviews without the extraneous fluff.
I went back to Mach Dunes in June 2018, 6 years after having played it for the first time. I had fond memories of the course and its many unforgettable holes, despite its overall brutal nature, and I have to say that my hopes for as good an experience as before was easily surpassed. The course was extremely difficult in 2012 with invasive rough colluding with a general sense of disorientation as you played. However, with the rough now more controlled, a clearer idea of the task in front of you, greens that hold approaches much more than your typical links course and whose speed is moderated due to the severity of the breaks, scoring can be made with good shots and poor shots are still heavily punished. You are forced to think all the way round, especially when faced with multiple options on and around the greens. Many drives have to be aimed at marker posts, a couple of approaches as well, massive changes in elevation on fairways can help or hinder, on plenty of putts the only way to get it close is to aim off in a totally different direction and try to use the massive borrows around the greens. Whilst I found all this enthralling and the most fun I’ve had on a course in years (bar playing Ballybunion last year), another of our party found it all a bit too unfair and less proper than it should have been. There are too many amazing holes to go through them all, however I would play hole 10 over and over again despite the raw deal it gave me! If you get a chance, play it, and enjoy all it throws at you.
I was a fan of DMcLK before, I am now a big fan ! He has used the land seamlessly and produced a natural, attractive routing. Most holes have walks between the green and the next hole's tee which gives a sense of isolation and serenity. It is a much "gentler" golf course than Mach. There are no weak holes (played off the white tees) and even the 2 short par 4s (1 and 4) require thought. Best holes for me were 2, 5 (a high quality par 3), 13 and 16 ( the view from the tee is sublime). The toughest hole is undoubtedly 17 (a 400 yard par 4 playing over a lateral water hazard at approx 90 yards from the green). I think, if he's honest, even Mr Doak would be impressed with this course ! Ps - very welcoming staff in the clubhouse added to the already wonderful experience.
Over the years I’d heard a lot about Mach Dunes and honestly a lot of it was negative. Now that I visited myself I have to say that in its current shape every negative comment I heard was ludicrous and ungrounded. Even the day before at the Ugadale bar we ran into a small group of Scottish lads that claimed to be good players and spoke of a 5 ½ hour round there due to how spread out the holes were.
Imagine my surprise when we casually played in just under 3 hours, found no such long walks and absolutely loved the course. It leaves me wondering what everyone was on about.
Mach Dunes must be the local ode to Prestwick with its wildly undulated terrain. Apparently it’s all perfectly natural and little to no shaping was done. Indeed, this is golf as it was meant to be. Crazy quirky fairways and wild, fun and natural greens looking like someone just walked up and pinned the most appropriate locations. I’ve played quite a few David McLay Kidd designs and to date this is most certainly my favorite.
For me there are too many great holes to start detailing them but I loved the drivable punchbowl par 4 at the beginning and the wonderful little par 3 right after it. On the back 9 as well as the front you find one strong hole after another and it starts with the 10th where a solid drive affords a blind approach to green hidden in the dunes. Really great stuff on this hugely underrated and unfairly overshadowed course.
In retrospect, some of the comments about the course being too penal I understand but definitely are not true in its current form. In the beginning they were severely restricted with cutting the native areas and this created fairways that were too narrow and penal for this windy area. That is no longer the case and these restrictions have been all but dropped.
If you are heading to the area, do yourself a big favor and don’t miss Mach Dunes, it’s some of the best natural links since Prestwick. Nice work Mr. McLay Kidd!
Nice review, and I can only concur that in my opinion Mach Dunes, like the Castle Course at St Andrews, gets too much criticism and not enough praise as a new course showcasing the fun of Links golf.
The walks weren't too bad and the golf was great fun - makes a great Kintyre/Inner Hebrides golf trip with Machrihanish Old, Dunaverty, The Machrie, Shiskine and Lamlash. Haven't got the invite to Jura yet !