In the second installment of the Scotland Diaries, Erik and Alex make their way to one of the newest courses in Scotland for a match. Or should we say “Mach”. The site of the duel? Machrihanish Dunes Golf club. The course came into being from the hands of David McLay Kidd – the Scottish-born architect of Bandon Dunes. More on him later.
If you find yourself nearby, a trip to Machrihanish Dunes Golf Club is well worth the drive, followed by a short ferry ride and another drive to the small plot of land near Campbeltown. As you cruise down the coast of the Atlantic, it’s only just to blare the famous “Mull of Kintyre” tune from the car speakers and let it drift into the Scottish hills. Paul McCartney owns the High Park Farm on the Mull of Kintyre, and the song proclaims his love for the Scottish land it sits on. The song was written on the farm in 1968, recorded in the converted barn studio on the grounds, and includes bagpipes played by the nearby Campbeltown Pipe Band. The song holds an infamous note in history, as it was the last single released by the band before separating.
After a quick stop in Campbeltown to walk among the port, you make your way to the Ugadale Hotel in Machrihanish. A town is absent from the scenery in Machrihanish, apart from the hotel and two famous courses. The older Machrihanish Golf Club was founded in 1876 as the Kintyre Golf Club, and Old Tom Morris left his mark on the course in 1879 with a redesign and expansion to a full 18 holes. Nearly 100 years later in 2009, world-renowned architect, David McLay Kidd stamped his mark on the land by developing a new course by the name of Machrihanish Dunes. Kidd was well known for his designs at Bandon Dunes and the Castle Course at St Andrews. When Kidd was a young boy, he spent his summers playing on the adjacent Machrihanish Golf Club and fishing the waters that wind through the historic course. He caddied for his father and grandfather on the famed links, and it was a personal dream to be at the helm when talks of adding a new course commenced. It was pure destiny for this man to breathe a gust of new life into the Machrihanish property. “Mach Dunes” was designed to mirror the courses of his Scottish ancestors, an 18-hole route that would make Old Tom Morris beam with pride. The course’s motto “The Way Golf Began” is a friendly reminder that the terrain underneath the tight lies has an old soul.
The Dunes course is crafted on a “Site of Special Scientific Interest”, and to obtain development permits came a decree that disturbance was only allowed at the land of each green site. From the teeing grounds to the fringe were to remain natural, which creates the classic links aura that can be felt on each blind approach shot. The fairways are full of drastic undulation and visibility is a lingering issue. In the early beginnings of the course maintenance crews were not allowed to mow the rough, as sheep were left with the task of manicuring those areas. However, the sheep proved to make their own rules and took to the shorter fairway grass for grazing. The rough became so unruly it made any wayward shot disappear into its gnarly depths. The Mach Dunes course ushers in a modern links-style which illustrates advances in environmental and design work but remains true to its links roots. Since the development of the Dunes, the only other Scottish courses to hit the market are Trump International in Aberdeen, Castle Stuart in Inverness, and Dumbarnie Links, which opened recently (May 2020) just down the road from St. Andrews.
When Alex and Erik arrive at the Ugadale Hotel, their minds are already drifting to a friendly match that day at the Dunes. The hotel staff helps them arrive at a wager to get the competitive juices flowing. In no time at all “The Haggis Challenge” is appropriately born, with the loser of the Challenge destined for a plate of Haggis as their post-round meal. This brings us to a format as old as the Scottish grounds that Machrihanish rests on Match Play. The format of match play allows the spirit of the competitor to come out in full force with its head to head nature, as shown by Erik’s yardage book purchase in the Dunes pro shop. Instead of keeping the individual score from hole to hole for a final tally at the end, the player’s score is compared with their competitor at the end of each hole. If the player has bested their opponent on that given hole, they are said to be “One Up”. This is continued until the number of holes won by either side is greater than the number of holes left to be played. For instance, if Player A is “3 holes up” and there are two holes left, they have already won the match. The format allows a large score on any hole to not ruin the round, as you only lose that one hole and can carry on to the next tee with the slate wiped clean. If you’re in the mood for a game try good old fashioned match play as Erik and Alex did. Or head on over HERE and check out our recent article of games to try during your next round.
Playing against the course is one of the beauties of the game. However, this format adds a different layer of intrigue to the round. The battle against the course has now transformed into a mental and emotional rollercoaster of competition against the person walking the fairways with you. Each shot takes on its own meaning, and each putt to win a hole is accompanied by the rush of victory. There is a special tingle in the air of a match on a golf course.
At the end of the day at Machrihanish Dunes, the match ends in a draw and a haggis dinner will have to wait for another day. Reminiscing on the day’s round, stark comparisons are made of the course to Bandon Dunes. Many have noted the similarities in both of the “Dunes” courses born from the hand of David McLay Kidd. It is such a remarkable course, as the current layout is only 10 years old but rests atop dunes and landscape that has been visited for centuries. The heart of Scotland is beating strong in Machrihanish, where old and new harmoniously align themselves. The next video in our wandering series takes us just across the path, to one of the oldest courses in the Scottish hills. Stay tuned my friends.
The finale of the five-part series highlighting Erik’s travels in Scotland
Ryan is a writer currently living in Atlanta, GA by way of Augusta. His writing evokes his passion of golfing throughout the south with friends, family, and total strangers. The people who have crossed his path inspire each piece, aimed at peering into the beauty of the game and its untold tales. He prefers his coffee black, on a first tee, in the Georgia pines. It is rare to find him without his Ray-Bans and a witty quip to lighten the mood. His approach to writing, life, and the game made him a perfect match for the Lang team.