ISLAY, Scotland — The Machrie Golf Links is not for golfers in a hurry.
Located on the Isle of Islay off the west coast of Scotland, The Machrie (from the Gaelic word machair, which means “low-lying fertile plain”) is one of the most beautiful, most captivating links in the world.
It also is one of the most remote. Thank goodness, there are dependable ferries for visitors and their vehicles. A visit to The Machrie is easily paired with a trip to Machrihanish on the mainland, with shuttle service available to and from the Kennacraig ferry port from Machrihanish Dunes. The ferry ride takes about two hours.
Life on Islay is leisurely and unhurried. The environment, including the authentic links of The Machrie, is meant for savoring.
If the layout weren’t extraordinary, it would be a waste of time to ask golfers to make the journey from the mainland. But that’s not a concern at The Machrie, which overlooks picturesque Laggan Bay.
There’s more. Islay is famous for its distilleries and the distinctive “peaty” single-malt whisky that is a product of the island. Take a swing, take a swig or simply take a long, satisfying look at the beauty found here.
It’s as if the wind has a voice, and that voice speaks wisely: “Slow down, embrace the natural splendor and relish the challenge of a golf course unlike any other.”
Touring The Machrie has a mystical feel. Playing the course several days in a row might be compared to an advance trip to heaven.
The par-71 layout, completed in 1891 by Willie Campbell, is set amid a landscape of sand dunes, with elevated, punchbowl greens that give The Machrie its special idiosyncratic identity.
Campbell’s routing travels up and down the rolling terrain, exposing golfers to wind at the highest ground and unpredictable bounces at the lowest.
Hidden greens are the hallmark of The Machrie, and, in some cases, fairways are hidden as well.
This is surely the way early shepherds would have played the game, turning golf into an adventure by the sea. There is no cookie-cutter design here. This is about as far from American-style golf as can be found.
It is imperative to surrender to nature to truly appreciate the linksland that inspired The Machrie. Nearly 90 years after Campbell designed the original course, architect Donald Steel so skillfully introduced subtle changes that it’s impossible to tell where Campbell’s touches end and Steel’s begin.
It costs £72 (approximately $112) to play The Machrie during the summer. An all-day pass costs £98 (approximately $152) and includes lunch.
For those who wish to stay on Islay, several small and friendly hotels are available. The food is surprisingly hearty, but Islay remains best known for golf and whisky. Tours of the distilleries – which include Ardbeg, Lagavulin and Laphroaig – are part of the unabridged Islay experience.
The Machrie links and adjacent hotel were purchased in 2011 by Baroness Sue Nye, former British director of government relations, and her husband, Gavyn Davies, past chair of the BBC.
Nye and Davies have focused their attention on the course. They are awaiting approval of a plan to upgrade the water system for the hotel, which is closed.
The links, however, is very much open and well worth the visit.