A NEW MACHRIE ON ISLAY
Islay is synonymous with whisky pilgrimages, and most visitors to the island are there to sample and buy the strongly flavoured peat whiskies of Ardbeg, Laphroaig and Lagavulin, or the lighter ones of Bowmore and Bruichladdich.
But golfers have also been visiting Islay for the best part of a century, to the Machrie links on Laggan Bay. Willie Campbell built a championship course in the dunes there in the 1890s which endured as a raw and wild links for many years, with numerous blind shots over and around the dunes.
A new Machrie emerged in 2017 with a significant overhaul of the original design by former European Tour player D J Russell. He’s created a remarkable links, unique in having just a handful of bunkers sprinkled around the 18 holes.The Machrie I played in August is one of the most enjoyable links in Scotland in terms of playability.Wide fairways give you a sense of freedom, although there are still enough tight tee shots to catch your attention. It retains its old wonderful routing where holes are continually changing direction, and Russell has fashioned strikingly varied and challenging greens complexes with a notable lack of sand to defend them.
The unspoiled setting on a broad and long stretch of deserted beach is what makes the Machrie such a magical place to spend time.
The Machrie is not an easy course to reach from Glasgow, unless you fly in with Logan Air to the airport close by. My own journey had entailed three separate ferries from Ardrossan, via Arran and Kintyre, and the new links will attract enthusiasts for whom remoteness appeals. Scotland is all about the choice between the high road and low road and taking the slow route to Islay is part of the adventure. Having early morning coffee and rolls at the Sandwich Station (run by an exZimbabwean woman) at the Lochranza ferry, a seafood lunch in the harbour village of Tarbet, and discovering the scenic 9-hole course at Caradale.
The Machrie’s new look is due to the development of an upmarket hotel on the property, overlooking the 18th green.There has always been accommodation there, but it had fallen into disrepair over the years.The new Machrie Hotel opened in September and provides much needed rooms on an island where accommodation is at a premium during the summer.There’s a range, fitting studio, and a par-3 course on which to practice or have fun.
The Machrie today is one of the best 20 courses in Scotland, with superb conditioning of the kind you only expect at Open venues. Any visit here should be combined with one to Machrihanish and Machrihanish Dunes near Campbeltown, both already among the top 20. Old Machrihanish is not to be missed, while the adjoining Dunes, a modern McLay Kidd design, is less satisfying and suffers from erratic conditioning. Open for nine years, it still only has a humble hut for golfers.
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