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Friday, May 10, 2019

Go West Old Men!.....to Machrihanish

Thanks Tom Coyne! I was lucky to have dinner last year with the English professor and author of fine golf books and discovering my love of all things Scottish he said, "You must play Machrihanish!" Now, I went to University in Glasgow, so have been very fortunate to play most of the wonderful links and non-links course in Scotland. Somehow, I have never found the time to visit Mull of Kintyre and its golf courses (maybe it was the dreary Paul McCartney number one song that put me off!)
In the last couple of years Coyne has become the "Rick Steves of golf." His books on Ireland and Scotland have promoted off the beaten path courses (let's not call them "hidden gems") and hopefully led to increased revenues for courses worthy of a golf travelers time and money. And so it was, as the unofficial golf booker of our motley crew that we found ourselves on the road from Glasgow to Campbeltown on the Mull of Kintyre.

Here's our route from Glasgow to Macrihanish. It's around four hours through the most glorious countryside and coastal roads you'll see. No need to rush - enjoy the views! We stayed at The Royal Hotel in Campbeltown, a delightful fishing town. Fair warning, there are very few dining options (very few!) in the town, so we had breakfast, lunch and dinner at the Royal - all were excellent.

Opened in 2009, Machrihanish Dunes brings another fine golf course to Kintyre. Designed by David McLay Kidd, the course rests comfortably in the natural dunes and is a gem. We played it on a five-club wind day and despite that we thoroughly enjoyed it. It does feel modern, which is certainly not a criticism and the greens complexes are remarkable. The course is a 10 minute drive from Campbeltown with a tiny pro shop that also serves food and drink.

The original Macrihanish course was built around 1876 and expanded from 10 holes to 18 by Old Tom Morris in 1879. Further modifications were made by J.H. Taylor and Sir Guy Campbell, so its pedigree is beyond reproach. This was our only planned 36-hole day and what a glorious day we had. The course was everything we had hoped for - great holes out in the dunes, completely natural and short walks from greens to tees. Go play it!
The Road South to Dunaverty
Another recommendation from Tom Coyne was the shortest course we played at just 4,600 yards, Dunaverty. It was founded in 1889 and is on the southernmost tip of Kintyre. It was designed by no one in particular and is a pure delight. Measuring 4799 yards from the back tees it is the definition of fun - there are seven par threes and a single par five. With a long drive north on the books, we needed a short, fun walk and boy did we find one! We left our money in the Honesty box in the modest clubhouse and headed to the straightforward short par four first hole. After scrambled pars there we embarked on a series of the most extraordinary and fun holes you will play - short threes, long blind threes, drivable par fours - it is breathtaking and I will be back.
A Long Drive North to Dornoch
With our change in plans we had the opportunity to reinvent the trip. So, one of the greatest venues in golf beckoned, Royal Dornoch. It's a long and scenic drive from the southernmost tip of Mull of Kintyre to the town of Dornoch, about 40 minutes north of Inverness. With a stop along the way and driving the full length of Loch Ness (with no sign of the monster) it took us about six hours. If you haven't played the course bestowed as a "Royal" in 1906 then I highly recommend you make the journey. The weather can be changeable at this time of the year, but the golf gods were with us and we had two fresh, but fine days. On both occasions we were round in three hours, despite taking photographs and admiring the gorse filled views. Dornoch was laid out by Old Tom Morris in 1886 and is justifiably ranked in the top 10 courses in the world.

And Back Down South to North Berwick
Back into the car for a drive down through Edinburgh (choose your timing carefully to miss the choked ring road) to the seaside town of North Berwick. The town, the golf course/s, the putting courses, the food, the people. It's all quite lovely. The West Links course is in the middle of the town with the first and eighteenth sharing a single fairway and the Glen Course is at the far end of the town and played on a bluff. Yes, I love the West Links, but having played it many, many times we opted to drive east down the coast road to another personal favorite, Dunbar Golf Club.

East to Dunbar
If you are planning a trip to the East Lothian area, do not miss Dunbar. Improbably wedged between the sea and an old deer park wall this true links golf course is an absolute gem. The staff are wonderful and despite a rainy day we once again spent three lovely hours enjoying the scenery and delightful holes attributed to James Braid and Ben Sayers in the 1920s.
And on to Gullane
Gullane hosted the Scottish Open a couple of years ago, won by Rickie Fowler and it is the perfect warm up for the professionals warming up for The Open. There are three courses in Gullane (well, four if you include Luffness) and they are called One, Two and Three - inspired! The number does determine the quality too, with Number One being the course of choice for most visitors. That said the view from all three at the top of Gullane Hill is equally inspiring. With the Forth Road Bridge and Edinburgh in the distance and the North Sea in the foreground the view is wonderful.

By the way, if you haven't read Tom Coyne's books, they are a must read. He walked around Ireland (no, really, he did!) with his golf bag on his back, but sense prevailed for his Scottish jaunt and his musings are delightful. You can buy A Course Called Ireland here and A Course Called Scotland here. Oh, and I hear an American book is in the offing. I'm not a betting man, but I'm guessing it's called A Course Called America! Also a shout out to my friends at Holderness & Bourne for the best quarter knit sweaters in the game!

PS - if you want to see many more pictures visit @macduffgolf on Instagram.