Historic Machrie adds to economic carnage

Machrie Hotel and Golf Links in Islay, Scotland, is in danger of permanently closing.

Machrie Hotel and Golf Links in Islay, Scotland, is in danger of permanently closing.

Playing traditional links in the British Isles affords many pleasures, not the least of which is testing yourself on quirky, old-fashioned golf courses and getting to walk in the footsteps of legends.

Sad news from the island of Islay off the west coast of the Scottish mainland means there might be less chance of doing that in future.

The Machrie Hotel and Golf Links has fallen victim to the worldwide credit crunch and has gone into administration and is currently closed, pending its future in the hands of the banks. Administrators at KPMG recently laid off 15 of the resort’s staff, while three remain to maintain the course, according to the Scotsman newspaper.

If you haven’t played the Machrie, then you haven’t experienced arguably the most traditional of British links. Designed by Willie Campbell and opened in 1891, Machrie offers every aspect of true links golf – fast-running fairways, deep marram grass off of the fairways, pot bunkers, bowl greens, landscape that ripples and rolls like waves on the ocean and blind shots. In fact, every second shot at The Machrie seems to be blind. Marker posts through this layout serve as guides. Sometimes, all you can do is aim at the sky and hit and hope.

The Machrie has an important place in golf history. It was the setting for the first-ever £100 golf competition. Back in 1901, the club hosted what came to be known as the Islay £100 Tournament. That wasn’t the total purse, but the prize that went to the winner. That sum was four times more than first prize in that year’s Open Championship at Muirfield. Incredibly, it would be 45 years before the Open offered a £100 first-place prize.

Immediately after the Open Championship, the day’s top golfers turned up on Islay to try to win the £100. The Great Triumvirate of Harry Vardon, James Braid and J.H. Taylor took part, as did other legendary names such as Sandy Herd, Willie Fernie, Andrew Kirkaldy and Ben Sayers. Taylor made history by becoming the first golfer to win £100 by beating Braid in the final. That put the Machrie on the map.

The Machrie consists of the golf course, a 16-bedroom hotel, 15 self-catering lodges and a restaurant. Part of its charm is its remoteness: accessible either by boat from the Scottish mainland or a short flight from Glasgow.

Once on the island, there isn’t much to do except play golf or visit one of eight malt-whisky distilleries on the island, of which Laphroig is the most famous.

Sadly, in these austere times, it seems a trip to this remote, often bleak but beautiful island has proved a trip too far for many golfers. Hopefully, a buyer can be found before the golf season starts and someone can put some money into the place to lure golfers back.

Losing a classic links such as the Machrie would be a depressing day for British and Scottish golf.

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