Our club golfer always held a vision of his perfect links course. On a visit to Islay, he finally found paradise
I have this recurring dream. It involves me pitching up, the sun on my face, a half set in a pencil bag and just meandering along – untouched by anything else that’s going on in the world – through a dunescaped links paradise.
Sound familiar? It had always been a vision, a kind of golfing mirage, though I’d been very close to recreating it at some glorious venues in my travels across the UK.
Now I’ve found The Machrie.
Just the drive in, a mile-long run through the Islay countryside to a clubhouse that gleams in perfect white against a solar reflection, hints at what is to come.
And that’s before you even see the golf course. But I’m getting ahead of myself…
What can we expect from The Machrie?
I like a test but I’m also big on having fun. If you’re going all the way to Islay what you don’t want is to be thrashing every second shot, constantly reloading, and running back to the pro shop to buy another box of balls.
The Machrie is fun in spades. Don’t confuse that with simple. There’s plenty in DJ Russell’s redesign to fox you. It’s watchword, though, is to inspire rather than irritate.
Fairways are wide – a couple will genuinely be touching 100 yards – and if you struggle with the big stick (guilty as charged) then finding the short stuff from the off starts to fill you with confidence.
But blindly flailing will only get you so far. If you want to build a score at The Machrie, you need to be in the correct spots.
Take the 7th, Achnamara, a drivable short par 4. If you feed an iron into that angled fairway, you’re going to have a blind second to a green that slopes from left to right.
These little challenges pop up all over the golf course, testing your wit and mettle with short iron in hand.
Blind shots get a raw deal in my book, but they are used sparingly by Russell – the original Willie Campbell iteration had nearly a dozen and a half before DJ calmed everything down. Now they add a touch of doubt, but shouldn’t define your view of the layout.
The green complexes are epic. We’ve got everything here – double and triple tiers, funky slopes, but it never feels insurmountable. The surfaces are true and hold their line. A good putt is rewarded.
I love that The Machrie works its way through your bag. I’m pretty good for my handicap with a short iron and, for once, I got to use them. I love that it asks you questions – giving you extra marks for a well-thought out shot if you respect the challenge.
I love that it harks back to a more innocent time when playing a course didn’t depend solely on the technology you were carrying.
I just love it.
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What were your favourite holes?
How long have you got? There are obvious showstoppers, such as the par 3 9th and 14th, the former of which shoots downhill to a green that dips off a false front and is surrounded on all sides by thick fescue.
The 11th is instantly in my all-time best 18. This short 4 moves through a valley with heather on both sides and is absolutely glorious. But the hole that really struck a chord with me was its predecessor.
The 10th, An Avon, requires the player to risk a burn on the left hand side to get the best angle in, while the approach is to a small green and demands a very well hit iron.
But there is joy throughout The Machrie. I loved the tee shot on the par 5 2nd, for example, where I could take aim at the bunkers and look to bend it round the dogleg.
The 6th might be a straight down par 4, but the two deep bunkers in the middle of the fairway mess with your mind. From the tee, they look side-by-side but there’s actually 50 yards between them – something you only discover when you’re hitting out of the bottom of the first of them.
There is not a disappointing hole on this golf course. How many layouts can you say that about?
Tell us about your best bit?
Funny I should mention the 10th, as my scoring highlight came here. I hit a soaring drive that found the fairway and then ripped a 5-iron to a green that sits below the fairway. Delighted to get there and then find it above the hole, 10 feet away, I drained the putt for as good a birdie as ever I’ve put on a scorecard. That was very helpful indeed as I carded a 79 – the first time I’ve broken 80 in about three years.
Will you do anything different next time?
I’ll blend the course a bit more and play a few holes off the black tees. The 5th is fantastic enough from the blues, but it’s just another proposition entirely from the tips.
The fairway appears to narrow in for a tee shot that now looks very tight flanked by two large dunes.
Finally, where is The Machrie?
You might have known Islay for its whisky, but now you know it for something else too. The Machrie is about four miles from Port Ellen. If you’re travelling from the Scottish mainland, you’ve got a couple of choices to get there but the easiest is to take the CalMac ferry and enjoy the stunning views of Gigha, Jura and Islay as you cross.
For more, visit The Machrie’s website.
Have you played The Machrie? Let me know in the comments below, or tweet me.