Islay, the southernmost island of the Inner Hebrides in the southwest corner of Scotland, is known as “The Queen of The Hebrides”. The fame of the fifth largest Scottish island is mainly based on its peat-smoked malt whisky. Islay with its capital Bowmore is home of 3.200 people, whom have nine active distilleries (Ardbeg, Ardnahoe, Bowmore, Bruichladdich, Bunnahabhain, Caol Ila, Kilchoman, Lagavulin, Laphroaig) . But this island in Argyll has also attracted golfers for more than hundred years.
The Machrie Links (the 18th hole and the hotel pictured above, photo by Phil Inglis) was long considered an insider tip. In 2012 new life was breathed into this classic golf destination. Gavyn Davis, a former chairman of BBC, a Goldman Sachs partner and founder of a £10 billion plus hedge fund, bought the course of the Islay Golf Club and brought his friend, Gordon Campbell Gray, into the project.
Gray who runs The Wee Hotel Company grabbed the opportunity to open his first hotel in his native Scotland. The old building was tastefully integrated into the new building. The Machrie now boasts 47 rooms and suites, some of them in newly built lodges with views over the traditional links course. In late summer of 2018 the new Machrie opened, a luxury hotel with a spa, sauna and a gym.
The 2020 “Scottish Hotel of the Year” and “Scottish Golf Hotel of the Year” is overlooking the 18th green of the course and the ocean beyond. The “18 Bar & Restaurant” is the place to enjoy a pre-dinner drink. Located on the first floor of the hotel, the restaurant has a vaulted glass ceiling and an outdoor terrace offering panoramic south westerly views over the golf course and down to Laggan Bay and the Atlantic Ocean. ”18” specializes in finest local ingredients from the land, the sea and the air; a real showcase of exquisite cuisine.
After dinner you can enjoy a dram of all different Islay whiskies. If guests would like to learn more about the local “water of life” whisky tastings can be booked. Even though Islay whisky is known as peaty, many distilleries now produce malts for all tastes. Gin connoisseurs can check out the two Islay gins, Nerabus and Botanist Island Dry Gin.
The core of the resort
The 18-hole championship course, a links which is located on a 7-mile stretch of beach in the southwest of the island, is the core of the resort. The original designer, Campbell, raved about this piece of land:
“This place is made for gowf.” Unlike most links courses the routing of the original layout led golfers over instead through dunes. Therefore the course was famous, some might say infamous, for the number of blind shots incorporated into the design. More than perhaps any other course in the world, The Machrie needed knowing. Although a quintessential 19th-century Scottish links, the Machrie was, by modern standards, unfair and sometimes confusing. There were also safety concerns to consider with no fewer than 17 blind shots on the layout.”
“It was also a very demanding test of golf. You were playing blind tee shots: so you were hitting tee shots over a marker pole and then, if you were lucky enough to find your ball when you got over there, your second shot was over another marker pole. There’s a place for that but probably not on every hole”, says David J. Russell.
DJ, as he is commonly known in the golf community, played 466 European Tour events from 1973 to 1996, winning the Lyons Open in 1992 and served as a vice captain to his Welsh friend Ian Woosnam at the winning European Ryder Cup Team in 2006.
Russel was brought in to tweak the course in 2013. DJ tells:
“It soon became clear that we could do something really special. We gradually pieced together how to put 18 quality golf holes along the original layout. Now it is an awesome links experience, with high dunes, dramatic elevation changes and wide fairways, fun and a challenge for golfers of all abilities and ages.”
Even for professionals the course from the championship tees (7024 yards, 6423 m) is a real test. Maybe the golf course’s best description is this one: A course everybody would love to play again, even after a bad round.