Specially designed by the Almighty for playing golf (Old Tom Morris)
A course set out initially in 1876, extended by Old Tom Morris to 18 holes from the original 10, and later slightly amended by Open champion J H Taylor and Sir Guy Campbell. In an era when virtually all courses have face lifts, tucks and liposuction Machrihanish remains its own self. Proud of its lines, wrinkles and creases – Machrihanish is driving Miss Daisy.
No 1 – Battery 436. A drive over the Atlantic Ocean and beach. The more you bite off to shorten the hole the harder the drive becomes, the greater chance of playing the next from sand. We are playing from the back tees on this hole so as far left as we can be, on a rocky promontory which sharpens the angle to the fairway. Jura and Gigha stand out in the haze. I would have liked to hit some practice balls before lining up for one of the most important drives of my life. No second chances. The top opening hole needs a top shot. But no practice area or even a net so have to make do with a few stretches and swishes of my driver. Playing with David Wightman 6 handicap. First up. Great drive. Long – straight over the beach. Tony Kane, gets over but a bit of power fade and ends up by the 18th green. David Beattie. Good hit but just too tight a line. Catches the sand a few yards short. That’s fine. It is traditional to have one of the group on the beach. Then me!! I visualise the shot I want to hit. Aim for a high draw to use the wind behind us. And I do it. Perfect. Absolutely perfect. Couldn’t have pointed a laser more accurately. Trip totally worthwhile with that shot. That’s what golf is all about. 6 iron to the front of the green. 2 putts. Par at the world’s best opening hole.
No 2 – Machrihanish 393. An elevated tee down to a half moon shaped fairway with a burn at the end (270 to find it). The rest go with drivers. I think that is too much downhill down wind, especially given how well I hit my first drive. I think David W comes to that conclusion halfway through his downswing because he tries to hang on to it and pulls it out of bounds! David B hits a beauty but it could be in the water. Tony Kane hits a solid one but he is probably the shortest off the tee so it is fine. I go with 3 wood. Again perfect!! High long with draw. Finishes 15 yds short of the water. David Bs ball is on the bridge over the burn. Clean living. He hits a good approach as does Tony if a little left. I have an 8 in my hand. Shot is like the second to the opening hole at North Berwick. Up a steep hill with rubbish everywhere and a pot bunker two thirds of the way up to catch the under hit shot. I know there is dead ground over the top of the hill before the green. I know it but can’t see it so don’t believe it so I quit on the shot, try and finesse it. It hits the top. Please stay. Stay with me baby. Stop in the name of love. No matter which song I choose to encourage my lame effort to defy the laws of gravity it doesn’t listen. Pauses for a moment to torment me then pirouettes and declines gracefully into the bunker. Why do that? I hit a lifetime bunker shot but even that is 5 yds short of the green. But then an excellent approach putt to 3 ft and hole it for a fighting bogey. David B has a two and half footer for his par but makes a mistake. He asks me for the line. I tell him, with some authority, left centre. He hits it there but it moves left and rims out. What I didn’t tell him is that I have the same accuracy level reading putts that Mystic Meg has reading tea leaves.
No 3 – Islay 373. Back towards the ocean. Fabulous view. But not of the fairway!! It is a blind shot featuring the sea and islands. Again a majestic ball down the left centre. Ends up just in semi by 6 inches. Most of the fairway is to the right of the direction post! But I have a fantastic tunnel down the rest of the hole to an extremely long narrow green which seems to gather the ball from both sides, probably more from the right. Rather than hit a hard pitching wedge I decide to play a clever links shot. Punch an 8 iron, let it bounce before the green and then channel it on. Hit it too well. Runs up to the side of a deep bunker at the right of the green but instead dropping back down onto the green, carries on for a yard too much and dives in to the trap. My bunker shot is interesting! I am looking down a lift shaft to the hole. Only option is to come out at 120 degrees to the pin and use the slope to bring it back. I do but even so it is 25 ft away. Another bogey.
No 4 – Jura 121. Green on its own slightly down from the tee. Isolated in an ocean of rough. Hit a very good PW right over the pin. It bites and holds. 15 ft downhill for a birdie but I misread again and leave it 6 inches left. A longer version of the Postage Stamp.
No 5 – Punchbowl 388. Down wind and huge dog leg left. Semi-blind tee shot which I hit quite well but tight to the massive dunes which now obscure my second. I walk 25 yds right to get a view of the green and wish I hadn’t! Looks like the pilot of a 747 has put it into a steep right bank, the tilt must be 30 degrees and I am hitting blind to it at the wrong angle – from the left hand side. Hit great 7 iron. Well it feels great. Can’t hit it any better. But as I walk it’s not in sight on the green and nobody saw it bounce. Find it pin high but at the end of the wing tip, 20 yds right. Good lob wedge to 8 ft behind the hole hoping it would release back but it stays. On 3 of the last 4 holes the ball has not heeded my instructions – I am not the ball whisperer it would appear. Then we have one of the moments only golf can create. David B has hit two good shots on but is just on the front fringe of the green. 35 yds away. To continue the plane analogy, on the left tail fin and having to putt along the fuselage to get anywhere near the hole. Would be a good three putt from there. At least 3 different breaks and up and then down twice finishing with a downhill left to right. I am attending the flag and as soon as he hits it I know it is in. Don’t think anyone else does but in the 8 seconds or so it takes to snake, almost stop twice, then restart, I know it will drop. And it does for a fantastic birdie 3. David should stop there. No chance of bettering that hole.
No 6 – Balaclava 348. Another raised tee with great views of everything but the fairway. Blind Pew would feel right at home on the opening nine. Again hit a good drive but again I miss the fairway by a yard. Bad uphill lie and I try to do too much. Hit it a massive 30 yds to the top of the dune but I now have a perfect view down to a beautifully contoured green with the pin towards the right side. The vista is too gorgeous to allow anything but a sublime shot and I oblige with a sand wedge to 12 inches. Saved the par.
No 7 – Bruach 476. Another blind tee shot but we hit the best 4 collective drives of the day. Within 15 yds of each other. Tony has hit a scorcher to be up with us. Just for a change another blind shot with a huge mound to fly over and little/no idea of where the green really is. This is the blind leading the blind. I am last. The rest all hit excellent woods or rescues. I go with 4 iron. Melt it. Scale the summit to see two balls just short, one to the right and one in the centre of the green, about 20 ft short of the stick. It’s mine!! Yes. Good birdie chance on stroke index 2. Three putts later I am less ecstatic about the glories of the hole.
No 8 – Gigha 341. The most beautiful driving hole yet and that is a tough contest to win. High tee looking down on a valley of rough, fairway in the distance then more rubbish in front of an elevated green. Sun out. Just three putted from nowhere. What more could a golfer want. Hit it well. As we all do. David W especially. Miles up the left. I have an 8 iron again, a club which has betrayed me twice already. The pin is at the very front of a highly banked green. The percentage shot is firm, over the flag, middle of the green. Against all the evidence so far I convince myself I can cradle my shot into the pin and go for the subtle, touch shot. It is certainly soft off the club head. Soft into the heather in front of the green. Hack out two feet. No lie but get it onto the back of the green and hit a fantastic putt dead for a strange six.
No 9 – Ranachan 354. We turn away from the ocean now and play at 90 degrees to the fairway which is visible from the tee. I am surprised by this development! A good ball, leaving a PW to the pin at the far end of the green. Nip it beautifully at last. Pitches and draws up 6 ft to the right. Birdie to be out in 40. But I miss!! 41 to the turn. I nearly start thinking it doesn’t seem fair. Feel like I have hit numerous really good shots and only 3 bad ones. But when I remember the classic riposte to that complaint. ‘Who telt you it was going to be fair?’ I trudge to the 10th tee. In days gone by, during the years of excess the bank would have erected a marquee at the turn. A string quartet would be playing Bach and we would be met with flutes of Crystal champagne and sirloin mini sandwiches. It is not quite that decadent. We are handed a Mars bar each. Bon appetite.
No 10 – Cnocmoy 502. Proves as hard to play as it is to spell! We are now heading back home into a stiff but not killing breeze. Good drive but a bit short for once. No shot at the green which is 280 away. First I have to navigate the twin peaks which define the sides of the fairway. I hit a really good rescue for position. High and moving right to left so should set up a straight forward approach. Unfortunately a mischievous child must have dogged school seen my ball rolling majestically down the fairway and decided to throw it into the deep rough. That is the only logical explanation for finding it 2 feet above my feet in tangled grass!! I look for the culprit but they must be hiding. I have plenty of time to carry out the search as my team mates have decided to visit every part of the hole. We are scattered – looks a bit like Napoleon’s retreat from Moscow. I get it out – just SW in but two putt for a six. What a start back!
No 11 – Strabane 198. A long par 3, uphill to a very large green which slopes to the right. Shot on is a high fade which I attempt with a four iron but produce a high pull instead. It finishes pin high left. I am lucky and it runs round the top of the final bunker on that side about 10 yds off the green and 30 yds from the pin. Decide to play a cunning, canny shot and run it to the stick using my rescue. Hit it exactly 11 yds it surges proudly onto the green then pulls up!! I know I am going to 3 putt from there and I don’t surprise myself. This is the hole which loses it for us as a team. From good positions on or adjacent three of us take 4 to get down. The honourable exception is Tony who gets a hard worked for 4. My initial inclination is to dismiss this hole as a bit bland but that is probably because I played it so badly. It is a better hole than that and if it was facing in the opposite direction and we had been hitting towards the sea we would have been singing its praises.
No 12 – Long hole 510. Well named! Back into the wind. Needs a good hit to carry the first trance of rough but we all manage that. Tony has hit a good ball but makes a bit of an ar** of his second. Unlike most golfers I know he doesn’t swear about but admonishes himself with the catch phrase ‘Wrong club Tony’. I like it and may adopt it as my own verbal excuse. I am the long ball. The green isn’t reachable so I am playing for position, towards the huge hollow before the green. A large dune obscures and protects it on the right. Intimidating and grand together. As I have such a large target area I need to protect against a sloppy execution. So I pick a spot right on the pin at hit it at that. Really well. Probably the best strike of the round. Takes me down onto the pit, 75 yds short of the flag. Edgar Allen Poe must have popped out for a cup of tea as I am alone. Quite cut off. I misread my stroke saver. I think it says the green slopes right to left so aim off on that side. Push it a bit but am not worried as the natural contours will run it back. Walk up expecting to see a birdie chance. What I actually see is my ball 10 yds off the green. Mystified until I check the card again and see that it says the green slopes left to right. Literacy is helpful playing golf. Chip. Two putts. Another 6. Four over for the last 3 holes. Is breaking 90 my new target?
No 13 – Kilkivan 369. High tee again and blind shot but I hit another good drive down the right side .8 iron left. Not my favourite club today but a chance to redeem itself. Approach to the green looks very tricky from this far back. I try another links shot. Drop it 20 yds short and let it run up the slope onto the green. I hit it and think -yes. At last. Ball is rolling as I expected until it is sling shotted back off the green. What happened? As I get to the green I understand. The first 10 yds of the green is a miniature version of the north face of the Eiger. The pin is at the summit being held in place by a Sherpa wearing climbing gear and crampons. Then the green is shaped like the take off ramp on an aircraft carrier running away from the pin. What!!! If there is an area on which it is possible to land a ball and get it to stop close to the pin I can’t find it, having failed to pack an electron microscope in my bag. Come on!! This is a green which would have been rejected in a crazy golf layout as too extreme. I am a huge admirer of Tom Morris but when he was outlining this hole to the greens committee the convenor should have said ‘come on Tam, screw the heid’ and taken the whiskey bottle away at that point. I play 3 more great shots to escape with a 5.
No 14 – Castlehill 437. Looks flat and innocuous but after another great drive I am fooled by the distance to the green. I hit rescue thinking it is enough but against the wind it pulls up 30 yds short and I cannot get down in 2. Another bogey. When was the last par I had? Again on reflection a much better hole than I originally gave it credit for. Will be even more fun in summer when more run on the ball and the good drive can be followed by an attempt to chase a long iron through all the humps and dips.
No 15 – The Hut 166. I have found the answer to the overwhelming feeling that the back nine are nothing like as good as the first. Rather than being blinkered and focusing on looking down the holes we are playing, I gaze across to the right, to the ocean and magnificent views. It works and reminds me of just how special a course this is. It also helps me on the tee I think as I hit a solid 5 iron onto the green – a location studiously avoided by my team mates. This is a very good par 3. Reminiscent of the 16th at Muirfield. 2 putts for the first par since time immemorial.
No 16 – Rorkes Drift 232. Amazing name. Piece of history. This nine would have been laid out at exactly the time of that battle (Jan 1879). We are slightly less douty than the defenders of the mission and fail to match up to the challenge. I top a three wood but it scuttles 180 yds. Straight. Can’t get down in two though so another bogey.
No 17 – The Burn 369. Slightly disappointing and straight down hole. OB on the left which David W selects. David B goes for the topped 50 yds mishit and Tony selects the second fairway as his approach angle. I am in splendid isolation on the 17th fairway but when I point this out to my teammates I don’t get the fully positive response I was expecting. I hit what I think is the perfect approach. Drawn six iron. But I don’t draw it enough and it kicks off into the right bunker. I choose to leave it in on my first attempt but then explode out to six feet and actually hole the putt!
No 18 – Lossit 314. Back home. But feels a bit like an afterthought. Lesser version of the last at Prestwick but that has the attraction of being drivable. This isn’t into the wind but I hit a solid ball and then a great 8 iron to 10 ft. David W follows me in with a wedge to 6 feet. We are going to finish in style, make a show for the cameras. Should have known better!! I knock it through the break. So does David. No birdie finish. Shame, would have set the seal on a great course.
Perfect condition for playing . Sunny with a light breeze .
Par 70 from the whites -6235 yds My score 84
greens in regulation -6/18 33% poor
fairways -11/14 77% very good
putts 35 too many
no birdies pars 6 bogies 10 d bogies 2