Andy Mossack travels to Islay to play the Machrie Golf Links, hailed by some as one of the greatest links courses in the world.
Getting across to Islay involves only two types of transport. You can either fly or take a ferry. But, for such a remote tiny island in Scotland’s Inner Hebrides, when you do make it there, you’ll find nine of the world’s finest whisky distilleries and perhaps one of the world’s finest links courses too.
Let’s just say it’s well worth the effort.
Laid out in 1891 by Willie Campbell atop Big Strand Beach, The Machrie Links is part of the legendary Machrie Hotel, something akin to royalty status on Islay.
This is pure Scottish links golf; blind shots, deep bunkers, and hollowed fairways. However, Campbell’s original design which was always about using brain over brawn has had a recent slight makeover by course architect DJ Russell. Although the blind shots remain, there is a little respite for accuracy. Golfers who manage to plant a drive in the correct position on the fairway will be rewarded with a view of the green and flag position. Anything other than that, they will have to face the consequences.
Interestingly, there is very little upfront to give you the impression you’re in for a challenge as the first tee is hidden away around the side of the hotel. But once you’ve found it, you’ll soon realise what’s in store on this 441-yard par 4. It’s a dogleg right facing the sea, so the breeze is stiffly against and although the members might take on the dogleg, safety first is best. Then it’s a hit and hope the contours of the fairway will guide the ball around and onto the green.
The second is a 511-yard par 5 with a wide burn running along the entire length. Taking on the burn might get you a birdie or even an eagle, or just end up wet. Great hole.
The third hole runs parallel to the sea. It’s a 200-yard par 3 and picking the right club here is everything.
Another memorable hole is the 5 th. At 430 yards it’s tough par 4 made all the more difficult because it’s one of the aforementioned blind holes unless you hit the right place on the fairway. Not easy because it’s a tiered fairway and you need to be right on the marker pole.
Hole 8 is Big Strand, named after the huge beach that runs along it. The green is protected by an enormous swale that you really don’t want to find yourself hitting out of it as I did. It’s a very tricky green too, and I was extremely fortunate to escape with a par.
Turning back home starts with a 472-yard par 4 which, depending on the wind speed could bring the burn into play from the drive. Either way, it’s a long way and the green is pretty small, so any par should be treasured.
At 15 you’re faced with a drive straight over the dunes which could be very costly if the wind is against. Then again, if you fly it over, the downhill fairway will be a bonus to cherish. The green has runoffs all around and is easily missed so an accurate iron in is a must.
My favourite hole is 17. A short par 4 at 340 yards but the acute dog leg is packed with danger everywhere. There’s no reason to know you have a lot of room to drive left because most of it is hidden. So regardless of your instincts telling you not to, hit way left and you’ll realise when you get to your ball, that anything right would be in all kinds of trouble and face a totally blind shot over dunes to the green. The green also slopes from front to back, so don’t be long!
You finish the round with a 526-yard par 5 and the Machrie Hotel frames the green the entire way home. It’s a three shotter to the green for most people and a great way to finish a memorable round. That cold beer up on the terrace looking back at the course is a perfect place to think back on all those missed opportunities.
The Machrie Links are deservedly held in high esteem by those lucky islanders who not only have great whiskies on their doorstep but a truly remarkable golf course too. Not bad for such a small island.
All course images (C) Peter Inglis
Tell me more about the Machrie Golf Links
Machrie Golf Links, Port Ellen, Isle of Islay, Argyll, PA42 7AN, Scotland
April to October 2021: Visitor: £130 per round, £160 per day. Hotel Resident: £80 per round, £100 per day.
November 2020 to March 2021: Visitor: £65 per round, £100 per day. Hotel Resident: £65 per round, £100 per day.
Islay is situated in the Inner Hebrides and can be accessed by a short flight from Glasgow operated by Logan Air, or by CalMac ferries from Kennacraig to Port Askaig or Port Ellen which takes about 2 hours.