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.
Date: October 13, 2020