Monday, November 28, 2011

Machrihanish Dunes

“An un-aged whisky...”

Machrihanish Dunes is a David McLay Kidd design. The course is extremely remote and is located directly next to Machrihanish Golf Club (click for review).

Machrihanish Dunes is nearly brand new, being only two years old. Herein lies the biggest problem with Machrihanish Dunes: It is too young. The course has an unfinished feel and many attribute this problem to a pre-mature opening on the part of the developers and owners. The course was opened in 2009 with the implied purpose of catching the tourist rush accompanying the Open Championship at Turnberry in Ayrshire. This is said to have been a year or so before the course should have been opened. The course is like an un-aged whisky that has spent too little time aging in the barrel. Mach Dunes is rough, but you know there is something special there.
How rural? Ask the sheep on the 10th tee....
The design of the course is enjoyable and impressive. There is ample land for the golf course, and this presents both benefits and negatives for the golfer. The journey between green and tee is very long on most holes. According to the starter, this is because there are rare and endangered plant life and animals that inhabit the system of dunes. Laws and regulations protecting the dunes habitats inhibited the designer and a strange course routing. This strange course routing is both interesting and, honestly, confusing. At one point, I turned to my partner on the golf trip, Matt, and said, “This is beautiful, but I have no idea where we are or where we go next...”

The benefit of the open expanse of land is the ability to make a very long golf course. The tips are over 7,100 yards. A course of this length is rare in Scotland. The 17th hole is a par 5 of over 620 yards. Dundonald Links is the only other course in Scotland that I have played which has similar length. David Kidd offered many different teeing options in his design, so despite the course being so long, it is manageable for golfers of all skill levels.
Tee boxes set deep into the dunes allowed for very long holes
Bad golf course conditions are to be expected in Scotland during November (just look at Gleneagles), but Mach Dunes had a truly “unfinished” feel. The course felt as if it hadn’t completely settled into its skin. Three greens were being re-done due to salt-water damage, which was caused by close proximity to the beach. One must assume that if due diligence had been performed and not rushed at Mach Dunes, developers would have better anticipated the problems that have arisen.
2nd green set deep in some dunes
Jim Kidd is the father of the course’s designer David McLay Kidd. He is also his right hand man in the golf design business. Jim was at Mach Dunes helping with the re-design of the aforementioned greens. He had participated in every Kidd design from the St Andrews Castle Course to Bandon Dunes in Oregon, USA. We were able to share a pint with Jim Kidd and then receive a ride back into Campbeltown with him at the end of the day. It was extremely interesting to speak with this design master about the golf the course and the thought that went into some of the routing decisions.

If you are on a golfing trip to the Mull of Kyntire, play Machrihanish Dunes. However, make sure that you play the course in addition to Machrihanish Golf Club. Unfortunately, it is this juxtaposition of golf courses that makes Mach Dunes feel inferior to its older neighbor. When you play Mach Dunes, don’t expect an ancient links with a tons of history. Do expect an enjoyable design set within beautiful dunes that features as much length as any golfer could want. If I am able to play the course again when I am 60 or so, I will expect an incredible and settled links course hidden in western Scotland.

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