David McLay Kidd’s much-awaited Machrihanish Dunes course on the Kintyre peninsula in Scotland opened on Tuesday. Unfortunately for the guests at the opening ceremony, which GCA attended, the Scottish weather didn’t cooperate: the sunny conditions of Monday were replaced by constant rain and a strong easterly wind.
Nevertheless, your intrepid reporter ventured out onto the links, and can report that the course does indeed occupy some of the most stunning terrain any golfer could ever hope to see. It is pretty extreme stuff though: the restrictions placed on the architect by the course’s planning consent – which essentially banned any disturbance of the land at all, except for the creation of greens and tees – combined with the site’s big dunes, means radical greens, more blindness than most golfers would see in a year and some hefty walks between holes to avoid sensitive areas. It starts from the very beginning: the first green, a punchbowl, is set in a deep hollow and is completely blind from most of the fairway, and the theme is continued for much of the round.
Everything at Machrihanish Dunes is predicated around the course’s environment. Fairways, except in a few areas, were simply mowed out of the existing grasses with no tilling or seeding; thus the sward is not yet the carpet of fescue one might expect on a course of this kind. No herbicides are permitted, so only time, foot traffic and the attentions of the sheep who will patrol the property will eliminate the weeds and undesirable grasses. Mowing the rough is prohibited, so those sheep can’t come too soon – at the moment, any ball hit in the rough will most likely be gone.
Southworth Development, the American firm that bought a controlling interest in the project earlier this year, has said it is in for the long haul: it will need to be. Support from the Scottish Executive and its agency Highlands and Islands Enterprise, should hopefully ensure that getting to the course will become easier in the near future: improved ferry services for Kintyre, both from Scotland itself and from Northern Ireland are currently under discussion.
Those who venture to Machrihanish Dunes at the moment will need to abandon their preconceptions as to what a modern golf course looks like: it is nothing like that. Nor is it much like an old course nowadays; I suspect actually it has much in common with what new courses might have looked like towards the end of the nineteenth century. But the location is phenomenal, the project admirable, and the golf memorable. The course has many hurdles to overcome, of which the opening is really only one of the first, but it deserves to succeed.
A full review of Machrihanish Dunes will appear in issue 18 of Golf Course Architecture.