Alone on Machrie

by LINKS75 on August 28, 2013

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After major links75 problems we try once again to fly to Islay. The first time the flight ended in Glasgow because of fog as dense as at a West Cornwall graveyard. Number 73.

After toasting our successful arrival at the world’s best-stocked Islay whisky bar we order a full Scottish breakfast before the day’s upcoming adventure. We arrive at Machrie GC and Hotel. The hotel has been abandoned since 2010 – foreboding isn’t the word – and immediately “The Shining” comes creeping into one’s thoughts. In the extremely small locker room someone has written “Flog” on the mirror and our blood runs cold. In the combined bar / pro-shop the armchairs seem to have come right out of the late 1800s. A sense of security returns when our host tells us of his 16 years at the club – from weddings without electricity to today’s disputes over water access with the neighbouring landowner. Suddenly the owner turns up. LINKS75 is introduced to Sue Nye, Gordon Brown’s former secretary, who together with her husband, Gavin Davis, has bought the course and the hotel in order to restore them to their glory days by 2015. Our writer friend has talked warmly of Machrie and its scraggy character.

Two of very few bunkers at Machrie

Two of very few bunkers at Machrie

We head off with the day’s hired set of clubs – all of them extremely forgiving. At the 1st hole we encounter an unusual swarm of gnats. These small blood-suckers have found the only place on Machrie out of the wind, so we play as quickly as we can to escape them. The 3rd plays alongside thee sea and we end up in the elephant grass, which swallows our white gold. The landscape ahead is full of sand dunes covered by thick elephant grass. An original, gnarled response to Trump’s modern implant. Things pick up – the 3rd, a par 3, contains 4 of Machrie’s 12 bunkers! We suddenly find ourselves in a links labyrinth – blind tee shots over high elephant grass-carpeted dunes – approaches over even higher examples of the same – the sea as neighbour – fairways as narrow as pencils – fairways like hidden islands – greens with hidden bunkers that simply must be visited – cairns showing the way to the next hole – and beyond the sea on one side and something like the Swedish high country on the other. Not a single car.  Not a living soul. We are alone. Completely alone. We will talk again after the round. The 2nd and the 10th holes are being re-laid. Ian Woosnam is the designer and architect. The 10th will be a spectacular hole with the tee being elevated onto a sand dune. We are already keen to play it. The entrance to the green on the 13th – a par 5 – is only 10 yards wide. To gamble on a long approach gives really bad odds. On the 15th we once again enter the labyrinth, which serves as a premonition of one of the most addictive closing holes LINKS75 has seen, the 17th – a par 4 – “Ifrin”, which is Gaelic for Hell! A completely blind tee shot, which must be achieved with a wood to have any chance of attempting an approach,  over and below a high elephant grass-covered mound, and is like an extremely knotty version of Prestwick’s 17th, more elephant grass and mounds, past small, hungry bunkers to a waiting, rollercoaster green. Scoring par creates LINKS75-delight.

17th green, Machrie

17th green, Machrie

We want to go back and play it over and over again. Links love at its purest. The 18th has a blind approach to the green. We smile broadly as we make our way towards the empty hotel, which is lit up by the glow of our links delight. Machrie has a secure place in our links hearts.

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