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.
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 !
First off, this is by no means a course for everyone. Some will be frustrated by the severity of the slopes and call it gimmicky, but that is definitely part of the course's defences. It's incredibly photogenic as a course, particularly if you play in the early morning light (for my second round, the Pro Shop let me go out at 6.30am and it was just stunning). The conditioning is much better than most courses and I loved the natural feel and setting, but a course planner is a must - even with it, I struggled with some of the lines off the tee. Particular favourites were the front nine's back-to-back par threes as well as the tricky 8 and 9. I preferred the front to the back and didn't much care for the tenth hole, but as an experience, it's worth the 5*.
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.
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.
Ed is the founder of Golf Empire – click the link to read his full review.
Never have I felt my on-course golf experience as tightly linked with my clubhouse experience as I did at Machrihanish Dunes. I’ve read earlier reviews posted here, so I know that Peter and Lorna have already been praised, but I strongly feel that their presence truly enhanced our day there. We were barely out of our car, putting on golf shoes, when Peter was there to greet us, offering coffee or tea. He gave us an extensive lay-of-the-land summary of the front nine while we stood on the first tee, and he encouraged us to come find him when we made the turn. Wanting to keep pace ahead of the group behind us, we opted to go straight to the 10th tee after putting out on 9; but Peter clearly was keeping an eye on us and came zooming up in a buggy to give us his back nine preview. He was so full of information, we encouraged him to write it all down to hand out to newcomers to the course.
And what a perfect day of weather we had! Sunny, warm, and calm. Like completely calm. We discussed how much more brutal the course would have been in a 3-club wind, but on that day we lucked out. I loved this course: stunning scenery; fun, undulating fairways and greens; many memorable, imaginative holes; and when played in the doldrums, not a difficult course at all. Midway through the back nine an eerie fog drifted in, making Peter’s instructions to aim at the 3rd windmill off the 16th(?) tee useless. We had hoped strongly to play it a second time, but St. Andrews was beckoning so we moved on. But this course is high on my list of courses to come back to Scotland for. And, if it’s not too heretical to say, we three unanimously preferred Machrihanish Dunes to Machrihanish.