Machrihanish Dunes Golf Club
Designers: Davd McLay Kidd
On the heels of his acclaimed debut at Bandon Dunes, David McLay Kidd was asked to return home to Scotland for a project unlike any other. What was to become Machrihanish Dunes was also Europe’s first golf course built within a Site of Specific Scientific Interest – a designation given to environmentally sensitive areas, such as coastal dunelands. The location and accompanying restrictions would be a monumental test of Kidd’s talents. Yet the opportunity to build a course next door to the historic club where he caddied in his youth was one dream he could never pass up.
Given the environmental constraints of the property, when ground was broken at Machrihanish Dunes it was self-described as the world’s most natural golf course. In reality, there was very little ground to be broken at all. Of the 259 acres on which the course sits, just 7 were touched by the blade of a shovel. The tee boxes and greens were the only areas shaped by man, while the fairways were left as they were and simply mown shorter. The result is a course that rarely yields a flat stance, but supplies intriguing rolls and bounces at every turn.
Although it is a far cry from the opening hole next door, the 1st makes a fine start to the round, rolling downhill towards the sea and a punchbowl green tucked against the dunes. From here the course tumbles and rolls its way over the untouched terrain, serving a number of blind shots and puzzling challenges to the short game along the way. The highlights culminate at the final four holes which combine for a rather strong closing for links golf – particularly the consecutive par-3s found at the 15th and 16th.
After the course opened in 2009, it seemed destined to follow in the footsteps of another Kidd design: the Castle Course at St. Andrews. Like its colleague at The Home of Golf, opinions on Machrihanish Dunes were as divided as they were many. The cynics decried it as too big and too unpredictable; labeling the severe green complexes and heaving fairways as too unfair. On the other hand, the fans of Machrihanish Dunes praised the course’s raw and natural features as golf the way it was meant to be played, while rebutting the claims of the naysayers with a simple question… When has golf ever been fair?
Like Mother Nature itself, Machrihanish Dunes has continued to evolve in the years since it debuted. Greens have been eased, the rough has been dialed back in places, and previously hidden bunkers have been reshaped or removed altogether. What remains is still the most natural course in golf, as well as one that is sure to inspire a lively debate. For that we suggest a visit to The Old Clubhouse Pub after the round, where they’ve mediated such disputes since 1876.
Major Basil Haversham, OBE