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Machrihanish Golf Club: Authentic Links on the Kintyre Peninsula

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Scotland’s remote Kintyre Peninsula is the home of one of the great hidden gems of links golf – Machrihanish Golf Club. Founded in 1876 and redesigned by Old Tom Morris three years later, Machrihanish provides a pure links experience, with undulating fairways carved through epic sand dunes and sweeping views over the Atlantic Ocean. Jack Nicklaus once called its opening hole, requiring a long carry over the sea, “the best opening hole in the world.”

Machrihanish is much more than just one great hole. The course is laid on spectacular sandy dunes with sweeping views over the Atlantic where blind shots abound, but wide fairways inspire bold play. Tom Doak called it “the only unspoiled links left,” and many pilgrimage to this remote outpost to experience golf in its purest form. Old Tom Morris declared that the site was (paraphrasing) “designed by the Almighty specifically for golf.”

In this post, we’ll visit the Kintyre Peninsula (the Wings Song “Mull of Kintyre,” written in tribute to the Peninsula, is now in my head). We’ll cover the origins and history of Machrihanish, learn about the development of Machrihanish Dunes, take a walkthrough of the course, and learn what is happening at the club today. The further reading section has some great recommendations to enhance your knowledge of the links of Great Britain, and the videos will help to bring the course to life.

Machrihanish Golf Club

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Origins and History

The Machrihanish Golf Club has a rich history dating back to 1876, when it was founded as the Kintyre Golf Club by a group of golf enthusiasts who met at the Argyll Arms Hotel in Campbeltown. Originally, there were only ten holes, based on the rules of The Prestwick Golf Club. Over the next few years, the course was expanded to twelve.

In 1879, Old Tom Morris was brought in to redesign and extend the course to 18 holes, which included creating the now-famous first hole, requiring golfers to hit their opening tee shot across the beach. Minor modifications were made over the years by J.H. Taylor in 1914 and Sir Guy Campbell in the 1940s. But the essence of Morris’s classic links design remains intact.

In its early days, the club did not own the land; it just leased it from local farmers. Sheep and cattle often wandered across the course, making the greens a particular headache to protect. The club eventually secured ownership of the full property in the 1970s, but sheep remained a feature until the late 1980s.

Machrihanish is also notable for having a separate women’s club, formed in 1890. The Ladies Club originally had its own 9-hole course before gaining full access to the main course. A distinct ladies’ clubhouse still exists today. Machrihanish has hosted the Scottish Ladies Championship several times over the decades.

Machrihanish Golf Club origin

Did You Know?

The neighboring Machrihanish Dunes course opened in 2009, is the first links course built on Scotland’s West Coast in over 100 years. Its construction on protected land led to several restrictions, including not being able to shape fairways.

Machrihanish Dunes was built on a Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI), meaning the land has special protection due to its environmental and scientific importance. As part of the terms of building on this protected site, there could be no altering of the natural fairway contours – they had to be kept as nature intended. This led to some unique blind holes, as the architects and builders could not move any sand to open up sightlines or create wider landing areas. It also meant the course had to thread carefully between protected plant and animal habitats, leading to strange routings between some holes with very long walks.

While the construction restrictions made building Machrihanish Dunes more difficult, it also gave the course a natural feel. With fairways simply mown from the existing dunes and greens and tees hand-shaped, the course has been called the “most natural golf course ever built.” It’s a modern tribute to how early Scottish golfers simply found good land and played over it with very little shaping or interference. The architects could add very little to the land, instead letting the fantastic raw terrain of the coastal dunes dictate the design. This gives Machrihanish Dunes a wonderfully old-fashioned character, more akin to the game’s earliest origins in Scotland than a modern engineered golf course.

Machrihanish Golf Club dunes

The Course

Machrihanish is a par 70, with both halves of the counter-clockwise out-and-back routing playing to 35 at 6,228 yards. In researching these courses, I have found so much contradictory information between books, articles, course websites, and the passing of time skewing yardages and facts. I have even found incorrect information in well-known books and course websites. I frequently reach out for clarification and correction. An interesting note on Machrihanish is that today’s scorecard on their website is the same as listed in Donald Steel’s Classic Golf Links, which is almost 30 years old. Talk about keeping it authentic! Their social media content is also inspiring and second to none.

The outward nine, and perhaps the course, is highlighted by its spectacular opening hole, the 423-yard par 4 “Battery,” where a sign welcomes you to the “Best Opening Hole of Golf in the World.” The first hugs the shoreline and demands a heroic carry over the beach, where another sign reads, “Danger, first tee above, please move farther along the beach.”

The entire Morris-designed outward nine are spectacular and routed through the rugged dunesland. In particular, the stretch from holes 3 through 8 is notable for its blind shots, aiming stones, elevated greens, and dangerous bunkers. Eight of the first nine holes are par-4, except the 4th, “Jura” (named for the Isle of Jura in the backdrop), a standout short hole and a true test of shotmaking ability and creativity. The tee shot on nine is played adjacent to the Campelown airport, reminding you that not everything here is untouched.

Making up for the early run of par-4s, things change as you turn back inland. You are faced with two long holes at 10 and 12, with a long one-shotter in the middle. The course features two of its most interesting green complexes at the 12th and 13th. The 12th green is an elevated bowl guarded by deep bunkers, requiring precision to hit and hold. Even more unique is the 13th green, which features a massive false front and slopes noticeably from front to back. Pre-dating but reminiscent of Cypress Point, back-to-back short holes greet you at 15 and 16, with the latter being anything but at a stout 233 yards.

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Machrihanish Today

In recent years, the club has earned accolades from every major golf publication, consistently ranked among the top 100 courses worldwide and the top 50 in Great Britain & Ireland.

The original clubhouse, along with decades of history and memorabilia, was destroyed in a 2018 fire, and a new £1.8 million replacement clubhouse opened in 2021. It received widespread praise for capturing Machrihanish’s timeless spirit while offering upgraded amenities. The club also opened a separate 9-hole “Pans” course in 2020, winding through the dunes near the main links and presenting a fun additional challenge.

Throughout its history, Machrihanish has steadily grown its membership base. Originally drawn mostly from nearby Campbeltown and Glasgow, it now counts golfers across Europe, North America, and Asia. The club takes pride in this international makeup, warmly welcoming visiting golfers worldwide to experience the unique links..

Visit Machrihanish at https://www.machgolf.com.

Machrihanish Golf Club course

Further Reading

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Classic Golf Links
by Donald Steel

Summary: Classic Golf Links of England, Scotland, Wales and Ireland by Donald Steele is a guidebook featuring 75 spectacular links golf courses in the British Isles, covering their history, design, and challenges. The book includes scorecards, hole maps, photos, and playing tips for each course, providing key information for golf travelers while celebrating these revered seaside tests.  With writing by Donald Steel and photos by Brian Morgan, Classic Golf Links is considered an essential reference for experiencing the best of links golf.

This book is a must for anyone with an affinity for links golf. I bought this book years ago and still return to it often. The pictures are amazing and they alone will make you fall in love with these courses.

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Sand and Golf
by George Waters

Summary: “Sand and Golf” explores how sandy terrain uniquely suits golf, studying similarities and differences between courses worldwide with sandy features. It examines all aspects of the relationship between sand and golf, from the sport’s origins in Scottish coastal dunes to its global spread onto sandy sites. Written by golf architect George Waters with a preface by renowned designer Tom Doak, it details through examples and illustrations why firm, rugged, windy sandy terrain makes creative shot-making integral to the game. The book appeals to knowledgeable golfers interested in course design and architecture, analyzing the art and science behind why golf belongs on sand.

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Golf Courses of the British Isles
by Bernard Darwin

Summary: “Golf Courses of the British Isles” by Bernard Darwin is a classic text that explores and celebrates the unique beauty and challenges of golf courses throughout the British Isles. Darwin, a revered golf writer and grandson of Charles Darwin, provides insightful commentary on the architecture, history, and character of iconic courses, blending personal anecdotes with expert analysis. His vivid descriptions transport readers to the very greens and fairways of famous venues, highlighting their natural beauty and the intricacies of their design. The book, illustrated with evocative drawings by Harry Rountree, remains a timeless tribute to the game of golf and is considered a must-read for enthusiasts of the sport and its storied landscapes.

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True Links
by  Malcolm Campbell & George Peper

Summary: True Links by Malcolm Campbell and George Peper profiles over 240 of the world’s top links golf courses across the British Isles and beyond, examining their history, design features, and status as an authentic “true links.” Organized geographically, the book offers photos, maps, scorecards and playing tips for renowned seaside tests like Royal County Down, Ballybunion, Cabot Links, Barnbougle Dunes and others that meet the authors’ criteria.  For links golf aficionados, True Links serves as an illustrated guidebook for experiencing the unique joys and challenges of the game’s most revered coastal courses.

Videos

Welcome to Machrihanish
Machrihanish – Random Golf Club
Machrihanish in 59 Seconds

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