Machrihanish, My Spiritual Golf Home

The time had finally come to make the pilgrimage to my spiritual golf home: Machrihanish Golf Club. The journey down the Kintyre Penninsula reminded me of the famous Paul McCartney song: The Long and Winding Road. It is said that he wrote the song at his farm in 1968 near Campbeltown, just a few miles from Machrihanish.

We arrived in darkness after a 6-hour drive. I was never happier to get into a cozy room and have a hot bath. We woke to the gorgeous view of the sea, pro shop and first tee — known the world over as the “Greatest Opening Hole in Golf.” Your drive has to carry the Atlantic Ocean, or at least a lot of beach if the tide is out. Exhilarating.

This is a pilgrimage of a different nature and like the Camino it is also filled with trials and tests. This is one of the most natural golf courses you will ever set eyes on. The 18-hole course we play today was laid out by Old Tom Morris. The club was founded in 1876 and Old Tom was brought in to extend the course to 18 holes in 1879. The course was modified in 1914 by J.H. Taylor and later by Sir Guy Campbell. The allure of the course has never been ruined. What will you find? Charm and mystery. At least I do.

“Specially designed by the Almighty for playing golf.” ~ Old Tom Morris

You like quirky, you say? Plenty of it here. Blind shots all over the place, rarely a flat lie, aiming posts to guide you on many fairways, and a bell to ring on a couple of holes to let the group behind know it is safe to send their ball to the green. All the holes have a name. I like Punchbowl. It’s just like it sounds. On the par-3 fourth hole you can see the majestic Paps of Jura (hills) that run the length of the island. Name of this hole? You guessed right, Jura.

We were thrilled to romp around Machrihanish two days in a row with splendid weather. And then to be able to have dinner in the new clubhouse was an absolute joy. When the original clubhouse burned down to the ground in December of 2018, I got an email from the club letting me know about the disaster. As a member (since 2003) I always followed the club news to keep track of all the goings on. But this disaster was absolutely devastating. Thankfully nobody was hurt. It is a marvel to see what stands on the site of the burned out rubble.

Even though they had to deal with the COVID pandemic, the G-1 Architects were hired, design approvals were given and construction carried on. The new building is modern, but not overly so. The structure is very sympathetic to the entire environment. The views of the course and the sea from the second floor of the clubhouse where the restaurant is located are superb. We even saw dolphins playing by the shoreline.

We loved being cocooned in the Ugadale Hotel. The staff is genuinely friendly and you can’t beat the convenience of just having to walk next door to the Machrihanish clubhouse or across the street to the first tee.

Along with creating Machrihanish Dunes, designed by Scotland’s own, David McLay Kidd, and also refurbishing the Royal Hotel in Campbeltown, Southworth Development made a huge investment in elevating this magical golf destination.

Alas, it’s time to make the epic journey to Cairnryan to catch the ferry back to Belfast. I reflect on our all-too-brief experience in this remote part of Scotland. I say goodbye to the Hebridean islands Islay, Jura and Gigha off the coast to my left. From the rock clusters along the jagged shore to the changing landscape of rolling hills dotted with sheep we leave the extraordinary Kintyre Peninsula and make the turns around the lochs.

Racing around Glasgow on motorways we hurtle toward the linksland of the Ayrshire Coast. We retrace our route, and then bang — the massive Ailsa Craig comes into view as we approach Girvan. It is lit up gloriously in the sunshine like a spectacular cabochon. Zipping along, passing through the little hamlets of Lendalfoot and Ballantrae that greeted us at the start of our Scottish adventure, at last we see the familiar signs that tug at our heartstrings:

Haste Ye Back.