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 has 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 seven 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 excluded zones on the property leading, as a consequence, to several lengthy walks along grass paths between holes.
Fairways have been mown but they are far from manicured because the use of fertilizers and installation of drainage or irrigation is forbidden. In fact, the fairways remain virtually untouched here so expect very few even lies on any of the holes as the heaving landform often rises and falls dramatically between tee and green Ė this is basic, no frills golf in as natural a setting as you could imagine.
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 action to address these problems. Several tees were repositioned, 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 17th was removed. More importantly, half a dozen greens were altered (at holes 1, 2, 7, 12, 14 and 18) and the putting surface at the 8th hole repositioned 40 yards closer to the fairway.
The rough remains uncut (there are two roaming flocks of sheep to keep the grass down) and bunkers Ė some of which are absolutely enormous Ė 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 some may feel that they reflect, rather than complement, the testing topography of the site.
The 392-yard 1st hole sets the tone for the round at Machrihanish Dunes. A downhill par four, it plays towards the dunes that front the shoreline of the Atlantic Ocean and the blind approach to a hidden punchbowl green will be the first of many such shots to be played during the round. Hang onto your hats as this golfing roller coaster ride has another seventeen wild and wonderful holes to go.
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An R&A member once said ďthis is another example of David Kidd ruining a golf courseĒ. This golf course is a slog and too extreme for the majority of golfers. If youíre not a single digit player, I wouldnít rush here. A parade of Elephants is buried under every fairway and green. Youíll stand on tee-boxes and not have a clue where to hit the ball which gets frustrating as you canít even see fairways or landing areas. Too many blind shots and a very difficult walk due to the punishing terrain.
Having played Machrihanish and Dunaverty several times I really look forward to getting the chance to get onto Kintyre to play golf whenever I can, with this in mind I was very excited to make my first trip to Machrihanish Dunes today. The weather was looking pretty poor with heavy rain and string winds, but undeterred we set off from Arran and made the drive down. A on arrival we were warmly greeted and told we could tee off early if we like, a quick putt later and we were on the 10th tee ready to begin in a howling North Easterly wind. Right from the off I was in love with the course, each hole was consistently great, with some massive contours on fairways and greens only adding to the occasion. I really enjoyed all the par threes, especially the 14th and 15th, of the longer holes I thought the 17th, 1st and 8th stood out but the rest were of a very high standard. It probably clouds my judgement that my scratch score was only +5 but I think I might actually prefer the dunes to the old course, but to be sure I'll just need to play them both a few more times to be sure!
Mahchrihanish Dunes did not deliver up to my expectations. The scenery is great, the hospitality is warm, but the course is not in a good condition. Especially the greens were in a real bad shape. No consistency at all between the greens, too long grass or grass mats, brown spots, areas with no grass. normal putting was not possible at all. on top of that a difficult pin position, which makes a normal 2-putt rather exceptional than normal, which can't be the objective. perhaps in 5 years time, this will change. The potential is there, but far off the level of the Championship neighbour.
Four years after I first played here, I returned yesterday to see if the course had fulfilled the early promise it had undoubtedly shown back in October 2009. I suppose the fact that it now sits high in the Scottish Top 100 rankings AND it has entered the Top 100 listings for GB&I tells its own story. Nonetheless, I wanted to see for myself just how well the place had matured and Machrihanish Dunes certainly didnít disappoint in any shape or form. Indeed, the course was, if anything, even more impressive this visit. Like last time, my notes made reference to the thrilling 8th, one of the more heroic holes on the layout, which is as difficult to play today as it was in its previous, slightly longer incarnation. And the short par four 13th, which has one of the most imaginative greens Iíve ever come across, is still an absolute delight to play. Those for me were again the highlight holes on the two nines but there were plenty of other memorable aspects of the layout to be savoured: the downhill opener (played blind to a punchbowl green), the tiny putting surface on the short third hole (which is nigh impossible to hit and hold) and the wonderfully taxing closing three hole stretch (where net pars come at an absolute premium). I did notice thereís still no Stroke Index indicated for the five tee positions on the scorecard. Is that an oversight I wonder? Or maybe the club doesnít want to unduly alarm visitors; although Mach Dunes is a beauty, I suspect it can also be a bit of a beast! In yesterdayís blustery wind, itís an animal that I didnít tame this time around but I sincerely hope I donít wait another four years to play it again. Jim McCann.
Played the Dunes course 3 times over 4 days, in combination with the nearby Machrihanish Golf Club. The first round was in heavy rain and wind and it was frankly too difficult to enjoy. And for some reason we decided to play from the white tees.
But the next day the sun came out, the wind died down to a stiff breeze and we moved to the yellow tees. Then the Dunes was a joy to play. Tiny teeing areas are the only flat areas on the course, the undulations are sometimes enormous making a trolley sometimes more of a hindrance than a help. But the course is spectacular, the views are stunning and the greens entertaining (small, often blind approach and huge breaks).
Downsides are the rather ugly buildings on the adjoining airfield and the remote location. You need a car or to take the shuttle bus from Machrihanish Village to get there.
But overall well worth the effort and the combination with the "old course" is perfect.
Great fun and very testing. A long drive to get to from Glasgow, but well worth the journey. The course design is as you might expect of a course 100 years ago, with large irregular bunkers, some blind shots and few flat lies. Lots of wildlife and natural fauna. Much of the course was brown, and very fast, from the recent dry weather, which accentuated the experience. Clubhouse a little basic yet staff friendly and eager to please. A truly great day out!
While on a 10 day trip to Ireland and Scotland in July 2011, we took a boat from Northern Ireland over to the Mull of Kintyre. The first round played there was Machrihanish in the morning, and we headed to Machrihanish Dunes for an afternoon outing. The weather was perfect, but we were in a 15 to 20 mph wind the whole round. You would have to see this course to believe it. It looks like the surface of Mars, except it is beautiful. The whole property tosses and turns wildly, iincluding the greens. Some of the greens are struggling to survive as the ocean spray apparently is killing the grass, but they say there is a plan in place to correct it. The most extreme green was coined by our group as a double helix, which was very appropriate. The views are spectacular, blind shots prevail, and well struck shots can end up in bad places. This resulted in a spirited yet comical discussion with the caddie on one hole, but some of these fairways are almost impossible to hit. But if you will just take it for what it is, an all natural piece of terrain with a golf course on top of it, you can have a great afternoon like we did. No one shot their lowest round, but we were all glad we were there that day. On the last hole, I struck a good drive, which landed in the fairway and then turned and rolled backward down the dune. This could be despised by some, but we just laughed it off. If you are at Machrihanish, you definitely should take in the Dunes course, and just flow with it. Our van driver told us that few had played both in one day and survived. We survived, and will always remember the Mach's.
We played this course a couple of times last week and absolutely loved it even despite the rain on the second time out. It's not easy and the high number of blind shots combined with fairways like a rumpled duvet make keeping your ball out of the rough very problematic. Hats off to the previous poster who kept the same ball all the way round.
The course is exhilarating, remote, echoing to the crash of the waves on the beach and the cry of oystercatchers and curlews. The rough is a mass of yellow, purple and white wildflowers and an absolute picture. The greens, despite one or two having problems settling down, are great fun. The bunkers are all natural and, though in fairly random locations are visually stunning. The whole course is natural, wild and memorable. If you want a pristine parkland course forget it. If you want a round unlike anything you've experienced before you've got to play it. Enjoy.
I really enjoyed the Dunes in a perverse way. Played this September and found the course pretty brutal and any errant drives usually resulted in a lost ball. Found the course really challenging and our guide, a must have, stated the course record was 74 which I would imagine was set in the spring when the rough was a little lower. The fairways were a little bare in places, which is understandable with such a young course and I personally think the nines are the wrong way round. One of my playing partners hated the course I loved it, you will have to go a play it yourself to make your own mind up.
Whilst I agree with most of the things stated in the previous reviews, I canít agree that the course is unfair. I certainly didnít find that to be the case. I started and finished with the same ball, (as did one of my playing companions) even though there were times I sprayed the ball around like a demented paintballer. It is all about opinions. I agree that it is not a quick round, with 5 hours being about the norm, that didnít bother me a bit, I was enjoying and revelling in the Mach Dunes experience.
I had played the Machrie the previous day and that was a magical and, at times, an almost surreal experience. There were times during the day you felt like an extra in 'Local Hero' such was the intimacy and remoteness of the place. Fast forward 24 hours, and you could have been a bit part player in an episode of 'Upstairs Downstairs', as we were assigned our very own golfing butler. Our ĎMr.Hudson' was called Peter, with more stories that Roald Dahl and JK Rowling put together, Peter was delightful company throughout, very helpful in showing us lines, and excellent at pointing out potential dangers of which, there are many.
I will single out the 12th as the weakest hole on the course and trust me it is not that bad, it is just a bit prosaic in comparison to the others. Peter came into his own on holes 4,6,8,11 and 16 where the antithesis of Paper Lace's monster 1974 hit, 'Billy, donít be a hero' is required, with loins requiring proper girding when driving from the respective tee boxes. My favourite stretch of holes were 13-15, a drivable par 4 followed by back to back par 3s which are a striking as they are tough. I guess that it is inevitable that comparisons will be made between Mach Dunes and The Castle at St Andrews, same designer same contentious greens. I think that this is unfair at this stage with Mach Dunes still requiring time to fully mature. When this happens in the next 18 months to 2 years I feel confident that both will sit cheek by jowl, in the upper regions of any Top 100 Golf Courses of Scotland list you care to publish. For this reviewer there is no confusion or ambiguity of whether he liked the course or not. He loved it! MPPJ
I am hoping that MPPJ didn't take "unfair" from my 6 ball review...upon somewhat mature (on our parts) reflection I and my playing partners still rave about the experience of playing this course. We had also played The Machrie (simply Golfing Heaven) the day before and for Mach Dunes to still be so memorable puts it into its rightful context. Must play. Can't wait to go back.
Played Machrihanish Dunes on a calm, warm October day and first impressions were excellent. The newly built stone clubhouse is apparently temporary but very functional and sits nicely on the edge of the dunes. My first surprise was the practice facility which was really good with free balls and an interesting modern range. The practice putting green was equally impressive. My second surprise was the requirement to take a compulsory guide for your first round. This was no ordinary guide in paper form, this was a real person, who not only showed you the correct line for the many totally blind tee and approach shots, but also he imparted some interesting Kintyre local knowledge. Donít expect a quick round here at Mach Dunes. You may well be able to play the original Machrihanish in 3 hours but it will take around 5 hours here, especially first time round. Apart from the par threes and Iím surprised there are no blind one-shot holes, the only hole whereby you can see where you are going is the 2nd. All other holes are from a school of golf course architecture which I honestly thought was dead. ďHereís a nice big sand dune, letís hit over it and hope we find our ball as it kicks viciously off rollercoaster ground at the other side of the dune.Ē This type of golf is unfair and does not appeal to everyone. I have no problem with old fashioned courses that are routed with blind shots, but Mach Dunes has alarming modern greens and numerous tees, coupled with so many hit and hope situations which leaves me with a conundrum as to whether I like it or not.
Great course, must play for lovers of traditional golf. You also need to be fit - there are no golf carts allowed, and even though you may be playing off the forward tees you walk the full championship length of the course over rough paths. It gives you a perspective on how hard it must be from the back, but this isn't an easy walking course.
Getting to the course is half the battle - it's a long way from anywhere, but the drive down the peninsula is a great build up to the task at hand. The prevailing south westerly wind is clear to see as waves crash onto the shoreline and the landscape is wild and beautiful.
Once you get to Macrihanish you check in at the new Village development and then drive back round the old links, through the airport, through a farm and finally arrive at the new course.
Keith the starter was very friendly and helpful, with free NXT Tour range balls and a course planner, pitch mark repairer and tees to fill your pockets.
The course is clearly new, the paths between tees are still ill defined in parts and there are still a handful of GUR areas where grass has not taken.
The day we played the greens had been dressed (reduced green fee of £60) which took the pace off them somewhat but they are very nicely contoured and encourage running shots.
The in places severe fairway undulations add to the wonderfully wild feeling of the course.
The semi rough is almost non existent, and the rough is very punitive, which brings us to the common criticism of the course which is that it is unfair.
We played in a 3 club wind, and a couple of times drives were hit over the dune top markers never to be seen again. Several not so good shots landed in waste areas and were lost. The bunkers are true brutes, rough edged with overhanging lips giving us a glimpse of how hard golf used to be.
On balance, despite some moments where bottom lips quivered we were happy to take these set backs in order to have the true fun and experience of playing this course.
Highly recommended, and it can only get better.
Machrihanish Dunes promote their new course as "the way golf began" and a plaque in front of the clubhouse quotes David McLay Kidd describing it as "golf in its purest form, untamed and raw" - there's certainly no denying the elemental nature of their 18 fairways but the greens are another story altogether! Unlike the one year old Askernish course on South Uist which is TRULY basic with putting surfaces laid on top of the existing landform, the greens at Mach Dunes have been constructed to a very high standard which should, in theory, add to the pleasure of playing a round here. However, as Mach Dunes has been designed by the same DMK team that shaped the new St Andrews Castle course, you will not be surprised to learn that many of the contours on the greens here bear an uncanny resemblance to those that have come in for sharp criticism on Kinkell Braes so be prepared for a testing time on most of the putting surfaces! And don't anticipate an isolated, out of the way location at Machrihanish either as an enormous old disused MOD base adjoins the course on its west side and artificial mounding along the left of the 12th fairway does little to mask the unsightly buildings that lie behind Ė but enough of the negative aspects here as they are vastly outweighed by the positives.
The left dog legged par four 8th hole faced into the wind when I played and it was a beast at 415 yards from the medium white markers. I hear the green to that hole is already under review, and it will be moved forward 40 yards in order to accommodate a new, improved, elevated tee position for the 2nd hole which, when you look at it in situ, is an eminently sensible proposition. I really rated the driveable short par four 13th, and not because I managed to reach the green with my tee shot, but because the long, narrow green was located so fantastically between protecting dunes that in order to get close to the pin, you had to putt away from the hole and use the opposite slope to return your ball near the pin Ė brilliant! (Memo to Paul Kimber at DMK: more of this in future please and less of the mildly outrageous as found on several other greens).
Intimidating blind tee shots and/or approach shots predominate throughout the round and these may also not be to everybody's liking however, having just warmed up for this type of golf at the Machrie the previous day, I loved them. I'd say it was more difficult to score here than on the old Machrihanish course next door and I'll be interested to see how the standard scratch score compares to the par of 72 once it is established. Hopefully, Mach Dunes will complement the old Machrihanish course and attract a substantial number of new golfing visitors to an economically depressed area of the country. It's far from the finished article but well worth the accolades that are bound to come its way as it matures into the upper echelons of the Scottish Top 100 golf course listings. Jim McCann