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Readers rip into Scotland's new David McLay Kidd course, Machrihanish Dunes Golf Club

Brandon TuckerBy Brandon Tucker,
Managing Editor
Machrihanish Dunes - No. 10
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Scotland's newest links creation, Machrihanish Dunes Golf Club is set on rugged dunesland on the Mull of Kintyre near historic Machrihanish Old. (Courtesy of MachrihanishDunes.com)

Scottish golf course architect David McLay Kidd has certainly been making a mark on his home soil lately.

Last year, St. Andrews' Castle Course, which Kidd designed, opened to a mix of rave reviews and spirited invective. And earlier this summer, his Machrihanish Dunes Golf Club on Scotland's remote Mull of Kintyre entered Scotland's links scene.

Much like the Castle Course, Machrihanish dunes is being received less than warmly, according to WorldGolf.com exit polls.

Machrihanish Dunes is the first links course built on a Special Site of Scientific Interest in Scotland since the early 1900s. As a result, the golf course is set on tremendous links land with heavy, wild dunes. Kidd was also unable to move much earth in his construction. The result is a minimalist and quirky golf course in the spirit of Old Tom Morris designs like Prestwick and next door Machrihanish Old, a 19th century links course.

Machrihanish Dunes no "gentle walk in a garden"

From the onset, Kidd has insisted that Machrihanish Dunes would be as wild as the Morris courses of the late 19th century, and an Old Tom Morris impersonator has inspected the site. Said Kidd on Machrihanish Dunes' Web site:

"For maintenance we will do a little mowing, but will mostly rely on the wandering sheep to keep the fescue in check - just like the old courses used to do. We are returning golf to how it should be played; no longer is it a gentle walk in a garden, it will be a full-fledged mountaineering expedition at this course."

So with Machrihanish Dunes open for play, the four-hour drive from Glasgow is a little easier to stomach now that there are two golf courses in Campbeltown, along with the village's storied whisky distilling history. Machrihanish has always been considered one of Scotland's great "hidden gems" and has quickly become one of the most coveted out-of-the-way links in Great Britain.

Along with the new 18-hole course, a real estate and resort development has been planned. Additional golf is possible as well.

Generally speaking, it usually takes a little time for new golf courses in Scotland to win the praise of traditionalist locals. So far, all of the WorldGolf.com reader reviews of Machrihanish Dunes have been negative, with nothing but one and two-star ratings.

Said John Simons, a 2-handicap, of his round: "Shots are all blind and you have no idea where you are going," he wrote. "I love links golf, but this course just does not cut it. You also need to be a Billy Goat to walk the course."

One bright spot for Machrihanish Dunes, according to our readers, is the club's service. Neal James, a 13-handicap, was especially impressed with the spotters available for hire. They can help navigate the course.

"I would recommend the use of a spotter to walk with you and suggest lines on the blind holes," James wrote. "Our spotter was particularly helpful and saved a fortune in lost balls."

Reader kudos for Tetherow and Bandon Dunes

On the flip side, Kidd is enjoying the praise of his new Tetherow Golf Club in Bend, Ore., home to the designer's North American office. While Bend has experienced the doldrums of the real estate bubble, Tetherow's unique high desert design has received nothing but four and five-star ratings from WorldGolf.com readers.

And of course, Kidd's design at Bandon Dunes Golf Resort has received nothing but high praise. The course, with its sod-walled bunkers, is actually the most manicured-looking course of the bunch at Bandon, which is set to open its fourth design, Old MacDonald, in the spring of 2010.

As for Machrihanish Dunes, we'll have to wait to see if the tide eventually turns. Readers often said the Castle Course in St. Andrews unlocked its many mysteries after a few rounds. We'll see if the same is true for 2009's controversial links in Scotland.

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The Castle Course in St. Andrews - No. 9Bandon Dunes - No.16

Brandon Tucker is the Managing Editor for Golf Advisor. To date, his golf travels have taken him to over two dozen countries and over 500 golf courses worldwide. While he's played some of the most prestigious courses in the world, Tucker's favorite way to play the game is on a great muni in under three hours. Follow Brandon on Twitter at @BrandonTucker and on Instagram at BrandonTuckerGC.

Any opinions expressed above are those of the writer and do not necessarily represent the views of the management.

Reader Comments / Reviews Leave a comment
  • David Mclay Kidd

    Michael Peak wrote on: Jul 31, 2009

    Have played both the Castle Course and Machrihanish Dunes, major disappointments for both. So he's shooting .500 with Bandon and Tetherow! machrihanish Dunes will turn to seed in less than two years, maybe sooner, the Links Trust has enough play to feed the Castle Course and they'll be tinkering to soften up the design, so it should be find.


      • RE: David Mclay Kidd

        cameron wrote on: Aug 15, 2013

        Good call, "turn to seed". have you been yet?