Each of the players was given three balls and urged to have a go at it. The average handicap was about nine, and a few players boasted a two or three. Of the forty-eight shots, only three found the green, which, though broad and open across the front, is rather shallow. Some players felt that the Castle Course is simply too hard and that this incident on the seventeenth merely confirmed what they had sensed when they examined (but were unable to play) a number of its holes. They concluded that the course's demands on the swing of a solid, above-average player were excessive and that it should be softened in one way or another, perhaps by making the tee shot landing areas more generous or the putting more manageable. They feared that unless substantive changes were effected, the course might alienate much of its constituency (visitors and locals) and possibly even fail, to be left unused for many years—as was once the case with Robert Trent Jones Sr.'s excellent Cashen course at Ballybunion.
Not all observers subscribe to this bleak outlook. Alan Ferguson, captain of the New Golf Club St. Andrews, says, "I think the Castle is wonderful—a true championship course. Yes, it's a stern challenge, and it's obviously not a course for most ladies: There are a number of forced carries off the regular tees that measure about 170 yards. Still, there are five tees on every hole, so you can choose the set that most closely matches your ability. The Castle is quite subtle as well—it has you playing at many angles to the wind. It's like Muirfield in that sense, where the struggle with the winds off the Firth is a constantly shifting one. And the Castle actually replicates the Old Course in one way: Both of these layouts have a number of hidden landing areas for your drives, which means that visitors will be well advised to take a caddie if they're to have any chance of heading away on the optimal line."
The green fee at the Castle Course has been pegged at £120 ($245), just ten pounds less than at the Old Course. This is hardly a giveaway, but it's what one has to get used to paying for great golf these days. Will the Castle Course turn out to be David McLay Kidd at the top of his form, the form that he first displayed at Bandon Dunes?I believe it will be. Still, only time—and just a little time, at that—will tell.
At long last, a second course is joining the esteemed links on the Kintyre Peninsula
Perhaps even more so than the Castle Course, for David Kidd the project at Machrihanish Dunes represents a return to his roots. He knows the land intimately—his family vacationed there regularly when he was a boy—and he is positively effusive when it comes to its charms: "My earliest childhood memories," he says, "are of running on the broad sandy beach and hiding in the steep dunes at Machrihanish. As I grew older, I caddied for my father and grandfather [on the original Machrihanish, which dates to 1876] and fished for salmon in the river that runs across the course. I am thrilled to have embarked on a personal dream to create a second course in the dunes at Machrihanish, a dream I have mused over my entire career. But I won't be able to take credit for this course. You see, the holes were here, as many as twenty-three 'natural' holes lying in the dunes, looking as though they were just waiting to be put into play. I know writers hear this kind of thing all the time, but it's the truth. This project at Machrihanish," Kidd says, "is not like the Castle Course, where we had to construct and mold every hole. These were right at our feet—the teeing areas and fairways and green sites."
Being readied for a mid-September opening, Machrihanish Dunes occupies 205 acres of pristine linksland, a ten-minute drive from Kintyre's most populous place, Campbeltown. This is the first eighteen-hole links course (seaside, sea level, sand-based, set in the dunes) to be built on the west coast of Scotland in a hundred years. Out of the roughly 32,000 golf courses in the world, fewer than 250 are considered authentic links. Machrihanish Dunes will be one of them. At one point it abuts the Machrihanish Golf Club links. Bordering directly on the Atlantic for well over a mile, the Dunes will feature six greens and five tees at the ocean's edge. Par is seventy-two; the course can be set up between 5,389 and 7,222 yards. There are three one-shotters, three par fives and a dozen two-shotters. The views are heart-stopping—northwest over the Atlantic to the Paps of Jura and south a mere fifteen miles to Northern Ireland. (For many years, Paul McCartney has owned a farm in the area, and the setting and the exquisite coastal drive to reach it inspired two lovely songs: "The Long and Winding Road" and "Mull of Kintyre.")