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Taking a page from James W. Finegan’s BLASTED HEATHS AND BLESSED GREENS, I spent the last two weeks in August with 4 couples on probably the most enjoyable Scotland golf tour to date. The weather was perfect, sunny, temperatures in the mid to high sixties everyday, and winds varying from 12 to 35 mph. Good weather helps; however, the lasting impression of this trip was one of avoiding the typical golf tour venues and having experienced, as the locals point out, real Scottish golf. Except for the time spent at a few of the well-known courses, we encountered only one golf group of 3 American couples and no others from Europe or any other part of the world. The locals we met were delightful, enthusiastic that we had gone out of our way to enjoy their region of Scotland, and extremely hospitable.
We started the tour in Machrie on the Isle of Islay, which meant connecting from our trans-Atlantic flight in London to Glasgow and on to Islay. All the luggage made it, except our clubs, which did not surprise me. The Machrie Hotel & Golf Club van met us for the 10 minute trip to the hotel. Although not necessary, we had reserved afternoon tee times. The hotel could use some sprucing up in their rooms and cottages. The accommodations were fine and the food good. We realized that we had made the right decision traveling this distance, when at check-in, we were informed by the manager that rental clubs were already organized until ours arrived, which they did on the afternoon flight. Although I did not notice, the van driver had called the hotel to advise that our clubs were missing.
We spent 2 nights at Machrie and found the course very enjoyable but a few too many blind shots. When not playing, we were able to take advantage or touring many of Islay’s world renowned single malt distilleries. Not a bad diversion from golf!
From Islay we took the 2 hour ferry to Kennecraig on the Kintyre Peninsula, where we were met by a driver of a small coach, who was with us for the rest of the tour. The ferry crossing was spectacular with wonderful views of promontories and the islands. The drive to Machrihanish gave us another opportunity to absorb this beautiful part of Scotland.
Machrihanish was a real treat and certainly deserves its ranking as one of the best 100 courses in the British Isles. We also played Dunaverty, about 30 minutes down the road from Machrihanish, one of the most interesting short courses (4500 yards par 64) I have experienced. Our caddies were members, and my wife had the reigning club champion on her bag. The seaside views from some of the tees and fairways were very impressive, as were the very strong par 3 holes (more than 2 a side).
After 2 nights we had a lengthy ride up and around Loch Lomond to Prestwick, where we found our selves back in the thick of touring golfers and an entirely different pace. One round at Prestwick and another at Royal Troon, and we retreated from the madding crowd south to the Dumfries & Galloway section of Scotland, which is extremely beautiful, remote and minimally populated. The 2 nights spent at the Corsemalzie House Hotel were an unexpected pleasure. It is an old hunting lodge with well-appointed rooms, a neat little pub and excellent food. As an example of the hospitality we were afforded throughout our tour, we happened to sample a wonderful single malt in the pub and commented our satisfaction to the manager. We were advised that the distillery was no longer in service and the remaining bottles were the last of the reserve. When we checked-out 2 nights later, there were 3 bottles made available to us as a remembrance.
The courses we played, Southerness and Portpatrick (Dunskey), were very good and enjoyable with great local flavor. They were certainly worth the drive and all of us wished we had allotted time for more than one round at each.
We ended our tour with 2 nights at Turnberry. The Ailsa course is one of the best in Scotland and deserves to be played as much as possible. This is not news to those aware of and have read about the top courses in Scotland. The other course, Arran, has been redone over the past few years and is fine for one round.
The biggest disappointment, which was a discouraging way to end a great trip, was the hotel itself. Perhaps part of the problem was our conditioning over the past 10 days to the most idyllic of conditions, as compared to the absolute frantic atmosphere surrounding the hotel and both courses. There is no doubt this place has become somewhat of a factory with the recent addition of Colin Montgomery’s golf academy. Added to this was the barely acceptable service and food. Unless there are changes made, I doubt Turnberry will maintain its 5 star ranking. Having said this, the only way one can play the Ailsa Course is to stay at the hotel, and it is worth tolerating just to experience the course.