At 05:30. Kennacraig Ferry Port, Kintyre Peninsula. It's early, we're the first. The journey from Campbeltown has already taken half an hour. In the morning darkness, the only light burns in the window of the small ferry terminal. Quick confirmation that we are in the right place and there is room for our car on the ferry. Years of dreaming are finally coming true. As the ship approaches the port, the parking lot is suddenly filled with trucks. Soon we find ourselves taking a nap in the company of the truck drivers on the sofas on the ferry's top floor. Planning has always been to me a significant part of the trip itself. Those who buy a ready-made vacation package lose a lot. Booking tee times and in this case ferry trips is a fascinating activity. This destination has been on my mind for years. So moving the trip forward by few years due to COVID was so frustrating. The Machrie Golf Course on the island of Islay in the west of Scotland is not the easiest of destinations. From Glasgow to Kennacraig, you should allow three hours for the drive, and the ferry takes a couple of hours. In October, you can get to the island twice a day with morning and evening ferries. Of course, you can always fly to Islay by small plane. And the ferries operate better in the summer season. Traveling is not easy, but rewarding. If you travel for golf to the southern parts of Kintyre, to the wonderful links area of Machrihanis, you should definitely add Machrie to your itinerary. Located just a quarter of an hour's drive from the harbour town of Port Ellen, Machrie is an iconic links destination. The original course on the shoreline of Laggan Bay was designed by legendary course architect Willie Campbell in 1891. The story says it took him two days. For decades, the course flourished until it gradually fell into financial difficulties. In 2011 Machrie came under the ownership of former BBC chairman Gavyn Davies and his wife Sue Nye, and since then Machrie has been quietly but purposefully developed. Renovation of the course began under the leadership of DJ Russell and finally in 2018 a 46-room hotel was opened in addition to the course. Dean Muir, a long-time green keeper at Muirfield, took over Machrie's golf operations in 2014 and development continues. The bunker renovation was completed in the 2020, and together with Machrie head pro David Foley, Muir has already created a unique golf center. The place is completed by great practice conditions and a fascinating practice course with six short holes.
The original course was famous for its blind shots. Even though blind shots are one of the fascinating features of links golf, the total of 17 fairways with blind shot is admittedly a lot. In the renewal of Machrie, both the details of links golf and the fact that it is a resort course have been taken into account. The result is a course that is fair and challenging at the same time.
Although there are only seven of the old greens left, the course has been renovated with respect for the old. The fairways running through the fine dune landscape are wide. The result is impeccable links course where you can still experience the finesse of blind shots. The course offers different playing routes and an honest test for players of all levels - as long as you choose the right tees for your level.
The course is full of strong holes, and you need to take out your camera after the eighth fairway, at the latest. The ninth hole, the par-3, which plays towards the sea, is perhaps the most memorable. The huge dunes are reminiscent of Ireland in some places, and the green island is not far away. Travel about 30-40 kilometers to the south, and you will land in Northern Ireland.
Machrie is still a very untouched destination and the COVID era did not make traveling to the islands any easier. Golf World has already ranked the it Top 100 golf resort in the world, and in Scotland it is right at the top. The island of Islay belongs to the so-called Inner Hebrides island group and is the most southerly of the western Scottish islands.
Machrie is a real hidden gem, but the island is even more famous for its whiskeys. Port Ellen is a sympathetic harbor town; a couple of hotels, restaurants and pubs. And the post office. In the summer months, the number of people on the island multiplies and a small island surcharge can be noticed in the prices. Whiskey clearly attracts more tourists to the island than golf, and in October Machrie's hotel was full of seminar guests.
On the island known as the Queen of the Hebrides, there are still ten distilleries in operation. For example, the names Lagavulin and Laphroaig already tell a lot, even if you are not a whiskey aficionado. Those who enjoy Islay's whiskey do so for its intense flavor, and you recognize the aromas of smoke and peat. In addition to whisky, tourism and agriculture give the three thousand islanders plenty of jobs and unemployment is unknown.
The Machrie also knows how to take care of the local community. The staff at the Bed&Breakfast confirm how excellent the golf activities Machrie has organized for the locals are.
Following a quick 24-hour visit, the main thing on my mind while waiting for the morning ferry back to the mainland was when I would return. A familiar feeling, but now it's especially strong. The Machrie course is a classic links in brand-new clothes. The golf needs to evolve and Machrie is a wonderful example of how it can be done. In addition to the course, the resort's services and friendly atmosphere make it an attractive destination even for a longer period of time. Machrie's story will surely continue.