I hope y‚??all enjoyed Mike‚??s Machrihanish video as much as I did. ¬†Certainly it encapsulated for me what was a very special 24 hours on the Mull of Kintyre. ¬†It‚??s a stunning part of Scotland and the course is really something to behold. ¬†Pooky‚??s company was sparkling as ever ‚?? we got a few more juicy stories on the course than we had bargained for! - as was that of Belle Robertson who is quite an amazing lady indeed. ¬†And so it was with much anticipation that our party set off on Sunday morning to the neighbouring Machrihanish Dunes: a fledgling course designed by David Mclay Kidd (or DMK as his company is creatively called). ¬†The views from Belle's rented cottage whetted the appetite: first, looking across the coastline past the old course to the site of the Dunes; second, looking next door to the starter's hut / pro shop at the old course.
‚??Built‚?Ě on (leased) farmland adjacent to Machrihanish GC (now sometimes referred to as ‚??old Machrihanish‚?Ě), it‚??s drawn a mixed response from the punters in the year or so since it opened. ¬†With respect, I can see why. ¬†DMK‚??s mantra is ‚??pursuing purist golf‚?Ě; and on the MD website you‚??ll find the slogan ‚??This is the way golf began...this is Machrihanish Dunes.‚?Ě ¬†The point of difference (if there needs to be one) is that the course is the first to have been built on a Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSi) since the days of Old Tom Morris. ¬†Now let me first make clear that the site is a stunning one. ¬†From the website you‚??ll no doubt gather that the views are knock-your-socks-off-good, and the air as pure as can be. ¬†
However. ¬†I do question the wisdom of ‚??building‚?Ě a golf course atop an SSSi when the restrictions on what dirt can be moved are so tight. ¬†At one end of the spectrum you have the Kingsbarns, Castle Stuarts and Whistling Straits of this world ‚?? where megatons of earth have been moved to create the appearance of a natural links. ¬†The ethics (for want of a better word) involved in these projects is for some a thorny issue ‚?? to be honest I‚??m not bothered as long as the golf course is a good one, with a few minor caveats ‚?? but at least the designer is in complete control of what the golfer will experience. ¬†With projects like MD that‚??s not the case, because the developers weren‚??t allowed to move any dirt (save to cut the tees). ¬†Thus the golf course really does follow the lie of the land, quite literally ‚?? which in many cases will cause the average golfer a headache or three. ¬†
The folks at MD were very hospitable and greeted us warmly as soon as we‚??d stepped out of our cars (the fact that we were the only people there perhaps meant we were easy to spot!). ¬†They clearly believe in their project and spoke openly about the challenges they faced. ¬†I hope for their sake that those hurdles can be overcome. ¬†The background information we heard about the concept, the process and the course‚??s reception since opening was a useful introduction ‚?? but ultimately we just needed to play golf and see what it was all about for ourselves. ¬†So we did. ¬†(Please note the evaluative undertones here refer more to Pooky‚??s need to form an impression, rather than ours, given he runs a golf tour business and needs to feel comfortable about a place before sending paying clients along; we were just privileged to be along for the ride, and to enjoy Pooky‚??s and Belle‚??s good company in the fresh air).
Peter a mature chap whose background lies in hospitality rather than golf kindly gave of his time to come and be a forecaddie. ¬†Pleasant though he was, I must confess Peter didn‚??t inspire me with confidence with his pearls of wisdom on line and length. ¬†At the Dunes there are more blind shots than you can shake a stick at, so local knowledge is of paramount importance. ¬†Absolutely key. ¬†Number 1 tee sets the tone. ¬†From where we were standing (us boys played from the backs) we couldn‚??t see a hint of a fairway, or a green for that matter. ¬†There are little arrows dropped at the front of every tee block pointing you in the right direction, but you still need to know how far to hit it and where the trouble lies. ¬†Enter Peter. ¬†
Y‚??er man was doing his best to keep us on the straight and narrow, but it‚??s an unenviable task for the most experienced of caddies ‚?? because the course is something of a labyrinth. ¬†Peter (wearing a little backpack with those rope straps; more like a sack really) would toddle off to the apex of the dune ahead, then edge one way or another to show us the ideal line down to the mythical fairway. ¬†Once we‚??d all pinged one in roughly his direction we‚??d march on, hopeful that our ball supply would last us the day. ¬†Belle‚??s tees were in most cases a hundred yards ahead, as they should be for 99% of ladies. ¬†But Belle plays off 1 and still ‚?? at the ripe old age of 74 (I hope she won‚??t mind me saying so) ‚?? hits the ball 220 yards or so. ¬†What timing... ¬†She would take counsel; take aim; and nearly drive half the par 4s. ¬†It was a pleasure to watch.
For us mortals the blind tee shot would be followed by a blind approach ‚?? again, Peter would trot off into the distance and give us a line. ¬†With variables like strong wind, different shot shapes and greens with more undulation than the Himalayas putting green at St. Andrews, it was something of a lottery to be fair. ¬†The offshoot of this, however, was the acute delight you‚??d feel for a moment if you trudged over a dune and saw your pill lying on the dance floor. ¬†In some cases though, the delight would turn to despair when you realised that the prospects of a 2 putt (let alone a 1 putt) were at best 50/50. ¬†
On holes like the 2nd you forget about the golf and marvel at the scenery around you. ¬†Perhaps ponder the more important things in life. ¬†
The front 9 is a bit of a blur because it seemed to take an eternity. ¬†Taking into account the walks between greens and tees the pedometer will read something like 3.6 miles by the time you walk off the 9th green, if you‚??ve played from the blacks. ¬†That‚??s a long way. ¬†Especially when you take into account the energy expended wrestling with the abundant tussock in the hope of finding a dozen wayward golf balls. ¬†It‚??s the most washed I‚??ve been after 9 holes this year. ¬†How your average 65 year old could walk the course I do not know.
Things improved on the back, I must say. ¬†The blind shots became fairer and fewer. ¬†Greens on the whole were more puttable. ¬†And there were actually some very nice golf holes. ¬†What we couldn‚??t understand though was why Mr DMK didn‚??t make use of the numerous flat(ter) areas left vacant between the existing holes. ¬†Belle in particular was at a loss. ¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†
Amongst the frustration were a few lovely moments. ¬†Pooky the wee sod that he is made back-to-back 2s on the 13th and 14th to bring the match back to all square. ¬†The second one dam nearly went in. ¬†Still life in the old bugger yet. ¬†Belle‚??s competitive spirit clearly hasn‚??t left her either; on the 17th and 18th as things were starting to go down to the wire the tone of the match changed ever so slightly. ¬†Belle wanted to win, and was very disappointed in Michael and me for taking our stroke (us playing off 2; Pooky off scratch and her off 1) on the Stroke Index 2 17th to win the hole, going dormy 1 up. ¬†Justice prevailed when that wee fella chipped in on 18 for birdie, prompting widespread applause, laughter and the odd wry smile. ¬†We had a lot of fun.
But we were glad to be in the comfort of the clubhouse after 5 hours of battle. ¬†Again the staff couldn‚??t have been more obliging, and passed around complimentary coffees. ¬†Just the ticket as the air had crispened throughout the morning. ¬†Belle‚??s good humoured husband Ian joined us too, as we reflected on what was a fun but trying morning on the links. ¬†Ian looked fresh as a daisy; all he‚??d done was read the paper. ¬†But then I guess we can excuse him given he‚??s 85!
With a 6 o‚??clock ferry booked (over to Islay) the time soon came to farewell our new friends and get on the road up to Kennacraig. ¬†We‚??d had a famous time in the company of Pooky, Belle, Ian and Jane ‚?? so it was with heavy hearts that we pulled away. ¬†The Mull of Kintyre had been good to us. ¬†
Our ferry trip across to Port Ellen was a nourishing one under the evening sun. ¬†Deck 4B was packed with folks of all shapes and sizes and accents, giving a holiday-like atmosphere. ¬†It felt like we were off on an adventure. ¬†To somewhere far off and unchartered. ¬†I stood on the deck for an hour or so, listening to the ‚??Soul Food‚?Ě playlist on my iPod, and absorbed the mystic beauty of the confluence of sea and coast. ¬†I was in another world. ¬†As we pulled closer to Islay those famous white buildings (the distilleries Laphroiag, Lagavulin and Ardbeg) glowed luminously on the shore, emitting a magnetic pull. ¬†I felt at once relaxed and excited. ¬†Enchanting stuff.¬†
Unfortunately however the 2 taxis on the island had been commissioned before we could flag one down. ¬†The 5 mile walk to our hotel ‚?? The Machrie ‚?? wasn‚??t an enticing one with all of our gear, so we headed to the nearest pub for a pint to ponder our options. ¬†Eventually Ian the hotel manager was kind enough to pop down in the van to collect us, thank God for that. ¬†Very interesting chap that he is. ¬†After his wonderfully welcoming email appeared in my inbox a few weeks ago (‚??The Machrie Hotel would be delighted to be involved and we will certainly be prepared to put you up in the hotel on a dinner bed and breakfast basis at no charge to yourselves and of course golf too, regards aye‚?Ě) I was looking forward to meeting the man himself. ¬†With a shaved head and hybrid accent he filled us in on the Hotel‚??s place past and present on Islay, and of course on the delights of the golf course we would discover the next morning. ¬†14 years Ian‚??s been there; he just loves the place. ¬†Over the next 24 hours we‚??d see why.
JP ¬† ¬†
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