On the south-west tip of mainland Scotland is a peninsula that stirred Paul McCartney and Wings to song – the Mull of Kintyre. From here on a clear day you can look east and see the Isle of Arran, on the other side of which is Troon and the Ayrshire coast. To the north-west are romantic Western Isles like Islay and Gigha. And south, closer than you might think, is the Antrim coast of Giant’s Causeway and Portrush. Finally, behind you are two of the nation’s golfing treasures lying side by side – namely Machrihanish and Machrihanish Dunes.
While the former has been here for hundreds of years, the latter was untouched by golf as recently as a decade ago. Yet it happens to be as perfect a site for a links course as you could wish for. Designing a course here was a complicated process because the area is an SSSI (Site of Special Scientific Interest). It meant the process took that much longer because, like it or not, this could be no modern design.
David McLay Kidd and his team had to work with the land – and design a course in much the same way the likes of Old Tom Morris did next door at Machrihanish a century and a half ago. At such times the skill of the architect lies in identifying natural green sites and working backwards from there. This means that Machrihanish Dunes, by contemporary standards, is a quirky course.
What you get is a bit of everything. There are back-to-back short holes – the 14th and 15th– some long and testing par 4s – like the 8th, 476 yards from the tips and doglegging all the while ever more towards the sea and into the prevailing wind – and drivable par 4s – none of the 5th, 10th and 13th stretch to 350 yards even from the black tees.
Perhaps the most special feature of Machrihanish Dunes is the green complexes. You can expect dramatically sloping surfaces with only the occasional flat shelf for the pins to be cut. Approach from the wrong angle and it can seem impossible to get the ball close. Conversely, there is always an angle of attack that makes the shot easier, to reward those who are skilful enough to plan ahead.
The sound, smell and sight of the ocean are never far away, and your experience as a first-time visitor is enhanced by a guide, who is there to help you navigate the sometimes lengthy walks from green to tee (another consequence of the SSSI site) and offer an overview of each hole. As very few holes are entirely visible from the tee, there is plenty of information to impart.
The comparison with neighbouring Machrihanish is fascinating, and of course the beauty of this part of the world now is that there is enough on offer to base an extended trip around. Also on the Kintyre Peninsula is Dunaverty, homely, natural and entertaining, while should you continue to Islay then you can tackle the Machrie. All of these courses are special, and together they make for a trip you will never forget.