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Scotland, day three: Wonderfully, another round at Machrihanish Golf Club

by Ron Bellamy

Ron Bellamy

(View this article and more on Ron’s website:

Whereupon the writer shoots a front-nine 39, but …

MACHRIHANISH, ARGYLL, Scotland – On Sunday, the sun came out, and the wind disappeared, and you could see, very clearly now, the islands of Islay, Jura and Gigha beyond Machrihanish Bay in the North Atlantic Ocean and, to the south, much farther in the distance, Ireland.

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But we hadn’t needed to look at a forecast to decide to stay another day, to wait until the late afternoon to spend 71 British pounds (about $100) to take the ferry from Campbeltown across Kilbrannan Sound and the Firth of Clyde to Ardrossan instead of leaving in the morning to make the long drive up the Mull of Kintyre and down to our next stop of Irvine, in the Ayrshire district, where we might have played a more modern course on Sunday, and where we will play Prestwick, Trump Turnberry, Western Gailes and Royal Troon in the coming days.

Because spending another full day in Machrihanish meant a chance to play Machrihanish Golf Club again, for the second time in three days, to hit another opening tee shot across the bay and beach on the iconic first hole, to walk through the dunes, to look out across the water to the views of the islands and, wonderfully, of distant Ireland, not visible the previous days, when the sky was gray, but clearly in view now.

What a graceful golf course this is, laid out by Old Tom Morris in 1876, redesigned in 1914 by J.H. Taylor, with further alterations after World War II by Sir Guy Campbell and, since then, changed very little.

It is a golf course that begs to be played more than once.

This is a place to come for a week, to play the course as much as you can, and if you need another challenge, to play the newer course, Machrihanish Dunes Golf Club, designed by David McLay Kidd and opened in 2009, parts of the Dunes course visible from behind the eighth green and along the ninth fairway at the old course. Wonderful for this remote area to have both, and worth the effort to get here.

Often, golf travelers are in a hurry, in a rush to check off so many courses in so many days, and we will do a lot of that in this trip. But there’s much
to be said for spending a few nights in the same place, as we did at the Ugadale Hotel & Cottages in the little village of Machrihanish, so beautifully peaceful and isolated. In Oregon, it’s always special to go to Tokatee, stay along the McKenzie River for a couple of nights, or immerse yourself for four rounds and three nights on the courses at Bandon Dunes.

And in my very limited international golf travel, I’m grateful to have been able to experience a few places like that, places I could happily stay for a week, or many weeks, and play the same course again and again:

Waterville, in Ireland, with its Waterville Golf Links, near the Ring of Kerry; Harlech, in North Wales, with its ancient castle and Royal St. David’s Golf Club.

And Machrihanish.

We were here Sunday at the invitation of David Connor of VisitScotland. With me were colleagues in golf journalism – former Register-Guard sports editor Blaine Newnham, one of the most respected golf writers in the Pacific Northwest, a mentor and friend for many years; Tom Cade, the communications director for the Pacific Northwest Golf Association and editor of Pacific Northwest Golfer Magazine, and Rob Perry, the gifted golf photographer.

In the warmth, we played in shirtsleeves, the course more familiar now after playing it Friday, a good round with friends. We epitomized a poem written about golfers at Machrihanish by Kintyre poet James MacMurchy in 1888:

So thus they play wi’ pleasure keen/Alang the grassy sward sae green;/They view sweet Machrihanish tide/Where health an’ happiness abide.

My own round was the classic tale of two nines. It started promisingly – my drive cleared the beach! And somehow, I found, for this uncoordinated 16.4-handicapper (at best), a somewhat magical spell of golfing competence – I made the turn in a rare 39, with six pars, and parred the 10th, a par 5 called Cnocomoy.

I was driving it well, reaching greens in regulation, or nearly, putting decently enough.

Then, on the relatively simple (albeit 195 yards) par 3 11th hole, my tee shot found the rough, short and right, the ball lost, and the next shot found the bunker behind the green, and suddenly a triple bogey there was followed by an unsightly quad on the par 5 Long Hole, when a terribly struck third shot, a 7-iron from 135 yards, found the deep dune grass, the ball (barely found) resisting the first few attempts to gouge it back to safety, and so it went on the back nine, more trouble ahead, a final par on No. 18 too little, too late, a back-nine 53, the golfer over the last seven holes closer to the golfer I’ve always been, rather than that stranger on the front nine who was seemingly touched by the spirit of Old Tom.

Ah, well. That’s golf. Links golf. And afterward, we thanked assistant pro Craig Barrett in the golf shop.

“See you here again?” he asked.

Oh, I would hope so, somehow. And certainly in my memories.