Goosebumps and Nerves
Golfers know THAT feeling when they arrive at certain golf destinations. It’s the feeling you get at Pebble Beach, Old Head, Bandon Dunes and St. Andrews, to name a few. The hairs on the back of your neck stand up. You get goosebumps, you get a nervous feeling in the pit of your stomach, you may even find a tear running down your cheek.
It’s a feeling of excitement, illogical emotion and nerves that your golf game might not be good enough today, but you remain hopeful. It’s the feeling you get standing on the first tee at St. Andrews, especially if it’s your first time. You have waited a lifetime to tee it up there and it’s the biggest fairway in the world. Yet you still worry you might knock it out of bounds when the starter says ” Play Away”.
That’s the feeling you get when you arrive at The Machrie, a perfect golf destination you may never have heard of. You don’t just come across the Machrie. It’s on Islay, one of the southern Hebridean Islands off the west coast of Scotland. You can fly to Islay, it takes around 25-minutes from Glasgow but you would miss so much of the adventure.
Scenic Road Trip
We recommend the road trip to Kennacraig and then the ferry over to Islay. The ferry takes just under 2 hours to Port Askaig and just over 2 hours to Port Ellen. The drive from Glasgow to Kennacraig takes you through some of Scotland’s most spectacular scenery – out of the city towards Loch Lomond and Loch Long, Rest and be Thankful, round to the picturesque town of Inverary with its beautiful castle and Jail, passing through picturesque villages and points of interest, down to the Kintyre Peninsula to Kennacraig.
Private charters are also available for smaller golfing groups linking Northern Ireland with Islay and Scottish mainland.
A Voyage of Discovery
Once on the ferry, you head out into West Tarbet Loch, out past the Isle of Gigha and into the Atlantic Ocean on the journey to Islay. There is nothing like being out on the viewing decks on the ferry on a sunny day, it’s magical. Once you have disembarked at Port Askaig, it’s a 30-minute drive through the rugged Islay countryside to the luxurious hotel and golf course that is The Machrie. There is another option available, you can play golf in Northern Ireland in the morning, get a ferry from Ballycastle, not far from Royal Portrush, over to Islay and play golf later on the same day in Scotland. This ferry only runs in the summer months as not many fancy an Atlantic crossing, however short, in the winter!
Willie Campbell and friends
The Machrie was founded in 1891 when the original course overlooking Laggan Bay on Islay’s southwest coast was laid out by Willie Campbell. Born in Musselburgh, Campbell was the professional at Prestwick in the 1880s. A perennial contender at the Open Championship, he finished no worse than 11th in any of his 10 appearances. He was reduced to tears in 1887 when a bunker on the 16th, cost him the Open Championship.
In 1891, he spent only two days on Islay designing a course. He concluded: “This place was made for gowf.” The course officially opened with a match between Campbell and the 1883 Open champion Willie Fernie. Fittingly, the architect triumphed.
The Unplayable Links
The course he left amid Islay’s wild dunes was one of a kind. Laid out across, not along, the dunes, it was a throwback to the days when blind shots were considered essential in a great seaside course although perhaps 17 were too many for most golfers.
The Machrie’s reputation was quickly established and in 1901, the Great Triumvirate of Harry Vardon, JH Taylor and James Braid, who amassed 16 Open Championships between them, came to Islay to play a challenge match that was followed around the world. The prize money of £100 was, remarkably, the richest prize in golf up to that date. Like many Scots Professionals at that time, Campbell emigrated to the US, becoming a leading designer of his era, and building the great Country Club at Brookline in Boston. Willie’s wife, Georgina Campbell is documented as the first ladies golf professional in the USA.
The Machrie was redeveloped on several occasions from the 1920s onwards, most notably when a local farmer reclaimed some original land in the 1970s. Although a quintessential 19th-century Scottish links, the Machrie was, by modern standards, unfair and sometimes confusing with so many blind shots.
The Final Rebirth
The course has changed many times over the decades. The route played today represents the latest stage in The Machrie’s long and gradual evolution. It was brought up to modern championship standards by DJ Russell from 2013-18 and has retained its charm and its challenge.
The 1st, the 4th and the 7th greens are the original greens. They have been altered slightly, in that they have been enlarged, creating more interesting and challenging pin positions. The 6th, 12th, 15th and 17th, were rebuilt on their original sites but where necessary raised by up to two metres, to make The Machrie playable 52 weeks of the year.
The Adventure Begins
Standing on the first tee, you can’t see all of the first hole. It’s a wide fairway but the best line is the right half of the fairway. The 2nd shot is downhill and it feeds in from the right side. The addition of 5 bunkers in late 2021 has made this a much more challenging par 4.
The second hole is a dogleg left par 5 with a burn, in play all down the left side. The fairway narrows on the corner and there are 3 bunkers in play off the tee. The safe play is to aim to the right and short of the trouble off the tee and lay up in 2. The burn continues on the left and all the way around the back of the green so this early in the round, be pragmatic and play for a 5.
The third is a strong par 3 at 200 yards and any wind off the water will play havoc with your club selection.
The 5th Green
The 5th is a spectacular hole, the perfect line is just left of the marker pole, if you are right of the marker, your second will be a blind shot to a large green with a ridge running across it. Holes 6, 7 and 8, all par 4’s run parallel to the beach and the 9th is a beautiful short par 3 with the Atlantic Ocean as the backdrop.
The back nine starts with a strong par 4 at over 470 yards, with the Machrie Burn in play on your tee shot. The 11th is a risk and reward short par 4. At 280 yards, it’s drivable but beware of the heather on both sides of the fairway.
The 12th and 13th are both dogleg holes, one right and one left where finding the right line off the tee opens up your approaches to the green.
The Magnificent 14th
The 14th is a gorgeous par 3, framed by heather on both sides and beyond the green. You must hit the green, miss right or left and you are looking at bogey, or worse. The green has a steep tier running through it so finding the tier the pin is on is paramount.
The 18th Green and the Hotel
The penultimate hole, the par-4 17th, is a nod to The Machrie as it was. It’s a dogleg that turns sharply right towards a green, which is completely obscured until you get to within 100 yards or so of it. It’s followed by a par-5 heading back up towards the hotel, the kind of hole that you might reach in two one day and then come to grief the next you play it.
A special mention goes to the Wee Course, a 6 hole par 3 challenge which is fantastic fun to play. Hole lengths vary from just 60 to 160 yards and each day you play it, the routing of holes changes. It’s very popular especially for those staying at the hotel as they can play it late into the evening.
The Machrie provides a great variation of holes, which include risk and reward short par 4s and strategically challenging par 5s. The playability and variation can very much change on a daily basis with the moving of the pin or the slightest change in wind direction. Even though the redesign has reduced the number of blind shots, you can still find your view of the green blocked out, if your tee shot is not in the perfect position.
With a choice of four sets of tees, the Machrie Links is playable and more importantly enjoyable for all players, no matter their skill level.
Eat, Drink and Sleep
Opened in the summer of 2018 after a complete renovation and expansion, The Machrie is a unique hotel with 47 individually designed rooms, suites and lodges, some with their own outdoor terraces and with stunning views across the links.
The 18 Restaurant and Bar
With its cosy lounges and welcoming open fires, the hotel is a wonderful retreat for golf groups, couples and families. The restaurant has breathtaking views over the links and out to the ocean, with a diverse menu from comfort food through to mouth-watering fine dining, using locally sourced Scottish ingredients.
Facilities include an on-site cinema room, boutique spa, a fitness centre, as well as meeting spaces for private dining and celebratory events and reunions. The bedrooms vary from classic doubles to family rooms and suites.
One of the Suites
The hotel is renowned for the warmth of its staff and with their island connections, they can source all manner of on-island and in-resort adventures for guests from around the world to enjoy.
It’s Not All About The Golf
Islay is such a special place. With a population of only 3000, it’s never crowded and The Machrie is the only golf course. It has miles and miles of wonderful sandy beaches and NINE whisky distilleries. You can come here to relax, play golf, walk the miles of beach, enjoy the scenery, bird watch, fish and learn about the history of the islands distilleries as well as taste their products at them all.
Oh, and if you don’t like whisky, the island also has 3 gin distilleries. Islay really is the perfect hideaway destination with a wonderful golf resort in The Machrie.
We can’t wait to go back.
At a Glance:
- Only Golf Course on Islay
- Fantastic Hotel and Restaurant onsite
- 6 hole short course, Covered driving range and short-game area
- A 45-minute flight from Glasgow Airport
- Ferries from Oban, Kennacraig and in the summer, Ballycastle in Northern Ireland
- More details at www.themachrielinks.com
Win a Trip to The Machrie for You and Three Friends