Unlike its recently developed neighbor, Machrihanish Dunes, the Machrihanish Golf Club boasts a rich history on the peninsula of Kintyre. Not many links in the world can say that Old Tom Morris, one of the pioneers of the game, shaped the course into what it is today. The course was founded in 1876 under the moniker of Kintyre Golf Club. Before the club was established, the course on the property consisted of merely 10 holes. A pro from Prestwick extended the course upon the birth of the club to 12 holes, the same length of Prestwick in its early beginnings. However, in 1879, the renowned Old Tom Morris laid his claim to the design and created an 18 hole routing through the dunes of Kintyre. Shortly afterward, the members agreed that the Kintyre name did not do justice to Old Tom’s masterpiece he had fashioned on their land. The course was donned Machrihanish Golf Club and the area around it began to hold the same name. Golfers from far and wide have traveled the long Scottish paths to “Old Mach”, to step back in time and experience the majestic beauty of a classic Scottish links course.
First tee jitters take on a whole new meaning at Machrihanish Golf Club. As you stride to the first tee, a sign confidently reminds you that before you lies “The Best Opening Hole in the World”. We have all been to significant arenas of the sports we love. The walk up to Wrigley, Wimbledon, or Madison Square Garden usher your mind into the nostalgia of all the greats who have graced the playing field. The stroll to the first tee at Machrihanish carries that same weight as the winds whip off the Atlantic Ocean. The view from the tee on Best Opening Hole in the World assures you that this is sacred ground. The hole is referred to as “Battery” which seems appropriate as it hugs the ocean for the entirety of its length. The beach on the left side is not out of bounds as most would assume. On the contrary, it is commonly played from after a wayward tee ball. The “royal highness” tee adds another level of difficulty with its daring angle over the beach, as Erik experienced. After the adrenaline rush of the opener has subsided, Old Mach takes you on a winding path through the dunes for the next few hours. The firm, fast greens vary in elevation from hole to hole. Some are sunken into a punchbowl, while some sit raised on a plateau or flattened dune tops.
Playing this course reminds the golfer of a simpler time in the game’s extensive history. Before golf carts roamed the paths. Before rangefinders called out distances instantaneously. Before graphite and titanium filled our bags. Before you know it, Old Mach reels you back to the age of hickory shafts, feather-filled balls, and pocket-watches. The worries of the modern world gently drift into the Atlantic as you climb rolling dunes and gaze onto the vast expanse of Scottish beauty.
A quick meeting with Old Mach’s Club Captain William Ross provides insight into the relationship of Old Mach and the neighboring Dunes track. Mr. Ross quells any rumors that there might be any bad blood between the old and new Machrihanish courses. In his classic Scottish dialect, he tells how the addition of the Dunes course has brought more travelers to Kintyre. Not just travelers, but droves from all around the world who desire to chase their white ball across the pristine lands of Machrihanish. Along with Old Mac and the Dunes course, William mentions Dunaverty, located just down the peninsula from the pair. With these three courses in close proximity, he tells, it gives them arguably the best golf in the world. Who would have thought a remote farming region in the Scottish Isles held hidden golf gems nestled in its dunes?
Perhaps one of Captain William’s more captivating phrases is that “All are welcome” at Machrihanish and “the more the merrier”. The warmth of the Scottish community is summed up concisely in these words. All are welcome to add their page to the golf history that is scattered across the Kintyre countryside like broken birch tees on the opening hole of Old Mach. “The more the merrier ” should be a credo for the game that all of us reflect every time we lace up our grass-stained cleats. This game can teach us so much about life, and the Scots have taught us even more about how to treat one another. The people of Kintyre open their arms to weary travelers looking for their next round. They reach out their calloused hands to the collared masses seeking to escape from tall buildings and bright lights far away. The only lights at Machrihanish are the flickering of a lantern on the Ugadale Hotel, the soft glow from a cottage in the distance, or the burning ember of a post-round cigar. Tom Coyne claims that you go to the Kintyre Peninsula to find yourself. You bring a piece of you back home that might have been missing for some time. Getting to the land of Machrihanish might have its challenges, but aren’t all the best things in this world worth working for?
The first of a 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.