Machrihanish Dunes: The iconic Mach Dunes celebrates its first decade of excellence.
Opening day at Machrihanish Dunes was not an auspicious one. Morning had slipped into town with a black eye, and by tee-off time rain was hurtling from the heavens with such ferocity that even the course's famed Hebridean sheep were running for cover.
Few of the invited media wonks and dignitaries finished nine holes, much less all 18. But the verdict from those few waterlogged warriors who did battle their way through the untimely storm was unanimous: this place is off-the-charts good.
Ten years later, the reviews of this now-mature links course are even better – while the resort that's associated with it has earned equally high marks both for its luxurious facilities and the warmth of its welcome.
What was once an all-but- impossible dream has taken its place alongside the great golf resorts of the world. And it has a young Kidd to thank for it.
Scottish golf course architect David McLay Kidd grew up frolicking on the beaches of Machrihanish during summer holidays he spent in the area with his family. David's dad, Jimmy, golf courses manager at Gleneagles at the time, introduced his son to the game and together they walked the hallowed fairways of Machrihanish Golf Club almost daily.
As they did, they often wondered – might there be room for another course in those brawnier dunes to the north? The answer, many years later, was an equivocal yes; equivocal because the ground upon which Mach Dunes would later be created was a Site of Special Scientific Interest, meaning that building a golf course there would be all but unthinkable.
Fortunately for links golf lovers, Kidd and the course's owner, Southworth Development, were able to accomplish the unthinkable. Working hand in hand with Scottish Natural Heritage, they crafted a plan that would disturb very little of the site's fragile environment. Tees were built, greens shaped, rabbit scrapes turned into bunkers, and fairways mown. And that's about it.
In effect, Mach Dunes was birthed in much the same manner that Old Tom Morris brought neighbouring Machrihanish GC to life: by hand, and by following the lay of the land. Within a year, Mach Dunes had earned its spot high on the lists of the UK's finest courses. A star was born.
Today, the course differs in some important ways from its opening-day ancestor. The original par-3 6th hole, which had been located so close to the sea that it got unmercifully pummelled with salt every winter, was replaced by a new hole sited more in-land. The choking rough that lined the fairways in the first year is all but gone. You have to hit a seriously wayward shot to lose a ball at Mach Dunes now. And the greens – suffice to say that you'll be hard-pressed to find smoother putting surfaces anywhere in Scotland.
"Links courses take time to settle into their landscape," said Head Greenkeeper Simon Freeman.
"And the creation of a healthy sward is a gradual process. The task of refining what was originally wild, natural machair into what are now the most inspiring of fairways to play from has been a tough but rewarding challenge.
"Eliminating meadow grasses and replacing them with the fine fescues that we strive to encourage is a task that will never end, but we have made tremendous progress and what we possess now are a set of greens that perform admirably year-round and are extremely consistent across the site.
"Every inch of the course has benefitted from the gift of time and from the subtle care that has been lavished on it. The mature course you see today bears little resemblance to the one that was presented in that first year."
If that now-mature golf course were all that awaited you at Mach Dunes, it would still be well worth the journey. But the golf course wasn't the only thing that debuted in 2009.
That same year, The Ugadale Cottages opened – the first of what would be three different accommodations options at The Village at Machrihanish Dunes. Naturally, they won an award immediately, too – the 2010 Scottish Golf Tourism Award for Best Small Hotel. These two- bedroom cottages are a far a cry from a normal hotel room. They're like having your own luxury apartment, and perfect for families or groups of golfers.
In 2012, the Ugadale and Royal Hotels opened – the former in Machrihanish, the latter overlooking nearby Campbeltown Harbour. Their plush rooms aren't much like your typical Scottish hotel rooms, either.
Never had the area been able to offer visiting golfers four-star luxury like this before, and both hotels were met with rave reviews. As were the Village's celebrated dining options: The Old Clubhouse Pub, Advertising Feature Kintyre Restaurant + Bar, Harbourview Grille, and Black Sheep Pub. With a constantly changing menu of the freshest local fare and creative offerings, Mach Dunes changed the way people thought about this little corner of Kintyre.
Many more awards followed, but the ones that the people at Mach Dunes are proudest of are its TripAdvisor Certificates of Excellence, because they're awarded based on reviews and comments from the resort's guests.
"What we love most is seeing our guests smiling, and seeing them come back year after year," said David Southworth, Founder and CEO of Southworth Development. "They know they'll be welcomed back like family, and we couldn't be more grateful to have had their support over the past 10 years. It's been a great ride."
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