KINGDOM MAGAZINE | Where Old Tom Trod: Golf in Machrihanish December 2017Sunday, December 17, 2017
Five miles to the west of Campbeltown, straight across Scotland’s Kintyre peninsula, Machrihanish Golf Club hugs the beaches of the Atlantic. One of the great old links preserved from the 19th century, the course dates back to 1876 and it is no co-incidence that it was formed during the golden era of Campbeltown whisky, with plenty of wealthy, resident businessmen requiring a game.
You would need to be a serious whisky devotee to make the long journey to Campbeltown for its whisky heritage alone, but for whisky swiggers who golf, welcome to Mecca (but with alcohol freely available).
Machrihanish GC brought in Charles Hunter from Prestwick to mastermind its original 12 holes. Hunter had learned his trade under Old Tom Morris when Morris was the founding professional at Prestwick, and in 1879 Morris himself was recruited by Machrihanish to extend the course to the 18 holes that remain today. One of the changes Morris made was to move the first hole to beside the beach, demanding that golfers open their round with a tee shot not dissimilar to that on the 18th at Pebble Beach. The dare is how much of the crescent of beach to take on because a well-measured drive opens up a birdie chance.
The first at Machrihanish has become one of the most famous opening challenges in British golf, defying convention of modern design by presenting golfers with a real test of nerve with the very first swing. It is ruthless by nature but it also stands as testimony to the bold and uncompromising personality of Morris.
By contemporary standards of design, Morris would be considered a maverick. Across the Firth of Clyde at Prestwick, for example, lies the first course Morris designed and built in 1851 and it features a rare treasure—a blind par-3 with a towering sand dune between tee and green
“Tom’s approach to golf course design was to first find a good place for a green,” explains Ken Goodwin, secretary at Prestwick. “Once he had identified that, he would find another good place for a green, and so it went on. If there happened to be a sand dune or a depression on the road to the green then it was up to the golfer to negotiate it, one way or another.”
Morris set the standard for the design of links courses for generations to come.