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.
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.
For the Mach Dunes Course there is only one correct expression: Pure fun!
Forget about your score when you play here and enjoy the beautiful scenery and design with lots of blind shots, fantastic tee shots and (sometimes) crazy green complexes. Despite on the same scretch of linksland like Machrihanish Old this course plays totally different, is much more undulating, demanding and surprising. Not a championship layout (the layout is too extreme) but a wonderful natural links and the perfekt combination with the Old and Dunaverty. Three different links with different characters for a perfekt weekend. Even the journey by car is an adventure. Enjoy it!
The welcome and processing from Lorna and Peter the Starter at the Golf House was superb and as warm and friendly as I have experienced at any golf club. Both know how to treat customers. 10/10 to both.
There are some negative comments from reviewers here on the condition of the course when they played it. I can only assume these are old comments as the course was in fantastic condition when I played it last week; late August 2016. Tees, Greens and Fairways were top class and as good as the Ailsa ('Reborn') course which I had played a few days earlier. The practice chipping, putting areas and driving range are top notch and located right beside the Golf House and 1st Tee.
This course is just brilliant. The layout is just magnificent and views along the beach sublime I have never had so much fun playing a round of golf anywhere. Every single hole is interesting and challenging. If I wasn’t so knackered after playing 4 days on the trot I would have played 36 holes that day.
The front 9 has some excellent Par 3s at 5 and 6. Highlight of the front nine for me was when I managed to save par on the 5th after pushing my tee shot right and ending up in the long stuff at the top of the dune by the beach. My 60 deg. wedge slid into the lie nicely and the ball popped up and ran down the bank to within 4 feet of the pin. The back 9 are hard, especially 16 and 17. The blind shots some people refer too are no big deal to be honest; there actually aren't that many. Just aim for the marker pole and let rip. I found every ball that went offline during my round except one; the rough is cut back the a very ‘fair’ length. Only word of warning I would give others is that it’s a stiff walk around these links, so take a moto caddy or hire a biological one if you feel you may struggle with this links’ undulations.
One extra word of credit I want to give the owners. Juniors like my son are allowed to play free and locals can play for half price. They could teach others courses a thing or two about how to encourage the next generation of golfers and thus grow the game.
I will be back here to play again at the first opportunity. Brilliant course and staff!
We just returned from Kintyre and I have to agree with the comment from the guy june 19 2014. Allthough course has a potentially good lay out everything else is too extremely ondulated etc. Greens were in terrible condition! Greenfee way overpriced as the same as GC Machrihanish and these 2 really don't compare. So all these golfers hailing this course really should gain more knowledge about how a course is supposed to be when it comes to fair/unfair test of golf and risk and reward.
ps: I'm a hcp 6
The 1st hole is a gentle dogleg opener of 260 yds. and I sent a blind 4 iron shot with hope in the direction of the green. My second shot required a good 9 iron which I played on to the correct level of the green for opening par. That got my mood set for the day. The putts were all tricky, and an interesting challenge, as the green surfaces follow the contours of this heaving links land. After a slog on the long par 5 3rd, I enjoyed the challenge of the shorter dogleg 4th. It is a truly lovely golf hole, and you have to find the fairway,which I did, running at an angle to your tee shot. The green is tucked away in a secluded dune, but I used a wedge to get the ball to within 6 feet for a great birdie. The par 3 5th and 6th are lovely holes too - one hitting towards the sea, and one away from the sea. No more than a 9 iron or perhaps a wedge is required here. A good drive on the 354 yd. 9th left me in the centre of the fairway, but facing a blind shot approach over a huge ridge. I played a strong 6 iron, which glanced the top of the ridge and went spinning forward to the fringe of the green, where I was relieved to make par for an outward 43.
Climbing to the top of the hill, you come to the 10th tee, which points downhill, giving a great view towards the entire coast, with Islay and Jura on the western horizon. The down hill tee shot is hit towards a lovely hidden punch bowl green, sheltered by a high dune, and here my chip and run shot luckily ended up 4ft. From the pin! The 11th -14th holes are strong, and take you south along the coast and offer plenty of challenge for straight driving,and accurate approaches. The bunkers are so natural looking, with their irregular shapes and long overhanging grasses. I only visited two, and got out of these ok. The par 5 16th is a long beast of 500 yds. running in an alley straight between two dune systems. It takes three good blows to reach the sloping green, and well done if you can get par - I took 6. I did not particularly like the closing two holes, as they cross confusing ground which is quirky to say the least, and difficult to judge because of lay up areas and blind ridges, but I stuck with it, although I bogeyed both for a closing 45 which gave me a round of 88. I left the course with a feeling of satisfaction, and having been challenged to play many different shots. I did enjoy the majority of this layout. I hope to return in the future to try and beat my score.
On to the course itself. Thankfully Peter the Starter gave us instructions on how to play certain holes which was much needed. The 1st, a gentle start once you’ve got the right line off the tee, but the green gives you a taste of what’s to come. Having played a few David McLay Kidd courses you can see straight away his designs. I’m aware some of his green structures are not admired by some, but at The Dunes, while tough they were playable.
Holes 2, a Par 4 and hole 3 Par 5 require strong drives to set up chances of scoring well. Hole 4 is a quirky short Par 4 which is drivable. You can see this hole being designed 130 years ago and quite refreshing to see one being built today. Unusually you have two Par 3’s back to back on Holes 5 & 6. Both tee shots need to be struck well to the sensible parts of the green. Being a little brave could cost you.
Good holes remain for the rest of the front 9 with a very long challenging Par 5 on hole 8. Back 9 starts with an elevated tee shot followed by blind green, depending where you hit your tee shot of course. It is from this tee that you get a feel of the rugged landscape and how the course simply fits in. If you were to criticize, I won’t, but comment was made of the odd long walk from green to tee. Hole 11 to 12 was one such walk but not a problem to me. You do have a chance to catch your breath before commencing the challenge of the later holes, after all what’s the rush, this place is to be enjoyed.
The course continues to impress throughout the closing stretch and finishes with 2 of my favourite holes on 17 & 18. Both require strong tee shots and equally good approach shots.
This place will only improve with age when conditioning and a few tweaks here and there take effect.
Overall we came away wanting to play it again sometime soon. I loved to natural rustic approach to the layout, how golf was meant to be many many generations ago. Marty Brown
The course had to be set back ten metres from the top dune ridge and they were pretty much told where they could site tees and greens. Herein lies the first problem – there are very long walks from green to tee on many of the holes, especially on the front nine.
The round commences with a cracking opening par four that runs downhill and straight toward the sea and a receptive green that nestles amongst the dunes. There are some very good holes to follow with the 2nd, 6th, 7th, 14th and 15th being alongside the sea from where you look out to the islands of Gigha, Islay and Jura.
For me, the real fun part of the course was in the furthermost southern corner, starting with the driveable par four 13th, which requires a long fade into the bowl shaped green. The two consecutive par threes which follow are an enjoyable challenge with the wind coming off the adjacent shoreline making shot selection tricky.
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.