Beatles fans might remember that the real “long and winding road” is a motorway—the A83—that runs the length of the Kintyre Peninsula. Paul McCartney still has a house in these parts, and it was here that he holed up for a while after John Lennon was murdered. The remoteness makes the area perfectly suited for seclusion.
Today, Paul and John’s “winding” was replaced by “windy,” with a brisk and steady 35mph (our conservative estimate) wind making the round at the wonderful old Machrihanish Golf Club much more difficult, but also more thrilling.
Machrihanish is one of those magical places that well-traveled golfers talk about, not as well known as the likes of St. Andrews and Muirfield, nor the same caliber of test, but a wonderful walk through low, running dunes with the ocean always tickling the senses even if not always in view. The front side is especially memorable, beginning with one of the game’s great opening tee shots, over the beach and a piece of Machrihanish Bay (that’s the view from the first tee, above). It’s not a very long drive, even in the wind, but it’s not unusual to do what I did: land on the beach and hit back into play from the hard-packed sand. Countless thousands have had to do the same, as the course dates back to 1876, when it was designed by Old Tom Morris.
The combination of wind, long grass, rumpled ground, and low dunes makes for an unparalleled golf experience, a connoisseur’s delight virtually from start to finish. “Virtually” because the final two holes—wide open and nearly featureless (but very long in today’s wind)—are little more than the requisite path back to the modest clubhouse, which was doing a brisk business in knit caps and sweaters. But the round was dry, invigorating, and totally charming. Machrihanish is not to be missed, and with the recent opening of Machrihanish Dunes, which abuts its much older brother, this somewhat remote tip of land should land on more golfers’ itineraries.
Passage over from the mainland has been made easier and quicker with the launching a few years back of the Kintyre Express, a fast-ferry service from the western coast of Scotland near Turnberry. Otherwise, the drive has to be up and over, more than 5 hours, the “long and winding road” the Fab Four sang about. And it looks as if that’s how the Golf Road Warriors will be getting back across in a few days since the weather forecast is none too good, making a water crossing slightly perilous. But that’s a few days away.
Besides the two golf courses, the other principal attraction in the area is Campbeltown, a sweet but fraying village of a few thousand. Back nearly 200 years ago, Campbeltown was one of the country’s whisky distilling centers, its spirits famed for their slightly salty taste, which locals say is the result of the air. There were nearly 40 legal distilleries in the 1820s, and hundreds of illegal ones. Today there are just two, both part of the Springbank Distillery, which offers tastings of its many offerings. The comparison of different types and ages is fascinating—don’t miss the 15-year-old—especially when paired with the local Mull of Kintrye cheddar, oat cakes and smoked salmon, even chocolate (a surprisingly brilliant combination). Springbank also operates a shop in town where all its bottlings are for sale, including some extremely rare ones that go for thousands of pounds. The libation exploration is a most satisfying way to spend an hour or so, followed by some poking around town.
Tomorrow we play Machrihanish Dunes and attend the grand re-opening of Campbeltown’s Royal Hotel, which has been lovingly restored by the same people who built the course and the Village at Machrihanish Dunes, Southworth Development from Boston. The festivities are supposed to include fireworks over Campbeltown Harbor, but unless the wind dies down I’m worried about skyrockets landing in the village, and with all that whisky around, it could be a potentially explosive situation.
For more on the exploits of the Golf Road Warriors in Scotland, check out the rest of our website.