Golf Digest (South Africa) - - Jack -

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.

the machrie wide fair­ways are a fea­ture of the re­designed links. fea­ture of the re­designed links. This is the sixth.

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