When I visited the site in August, Kidd's associate Paul Kimber served as my guide. The pair of us walked a number of "holes." You had to have your imagination in high gear. We tramped from where a teeing ground (as at the Castle Course, five per hole) would be located, then along the path of the planned fairway (generous, most of the time) to the spot that would accommodate the green. Nothing was there, understand, but if you looked closely enough, everything was there. Nature—the intertwined movements of sea, sand and wind over countless centuries—had actually produced golf holes in the raw, if you had but the insight to divine them. With their vision and sensitivity, Kidd and Kimber could do it, and this ability was essential, because constructing fairways with an armada of bulldozers and backhoes was forbidden by Scottish Natural Heritage, the government's environmental agency. (Earth-moving equipment was, however, allowed for the building of greens, tees and bunkers.)
These "fairways," the general outlines of which were easily discerned, were particularly fascinating. Kimber and I were not fighting our way through scrub and weeds fit only for extermination. No, indeed. The "fairways" generally consisted of a seaside fescue that seemed made to order as a launching pad for golf balls. In fact, if you took half a dozen balls and simply dropped them on the ground, five of the six would provide an eminently playable lie, whether the shot called for a three-metal or a wedge. The Machrihanish dunes are natural carpets.
Day in and Day Out, The three key figures on the site here are Kimber, Euan Grant and Conor Walsh. Tall, rangy, in his mid-thirties and a very good player in his own right (a four handicap), the English-born Kimber had taken the same leading role at the Castle Course. He has worked under Kidd for eight years and is not reluctant to make decisions. He believes that Machrihanish Dunes has an excellent chance of equaling the original Machrihanish links, which, starting with its famed opening tee shot across a corner of the Atlantic, is terrific.
Grant, thirty-seven years old, serious-minded and dedicated, is the construction foreman. Until recently he had served for more than three years as head greenkeeper of the Old Course itself. He had been charged with overall maintenance of the fabled links, including the preparation of it for the 2005 Open Championship. Machrihanish Dunes will be ready for play in the fall, but it may not be opened to the public until the spring of 2009. When it does open, Grant will take over as head greenkeeper. He has found a house down here on the Mull of Kintyre for himself and his family.
Walsh, all of twenty-seven years old, is the technician, a shaper extraordinaire. The understudy to Mick McShane at the Castle Course, he has taken the lead role at Machrihanish Dunes, and he's bent on bringing out the best from the land. I asked him how long it took him to shape a green. He gave the question some thought—I got the impression that he may not have been asked this before—and then gave a remarkable answer: "A day and a half."
Kimber then led me over to the nearby seventeenth green (the hole is a 479-yard two-shotter), which is the result of Walsh's creative ministrations. It is an audacious amalgam of knobs and slopes and contours, of humps and hollows and hillocks, the terrain everlastingly in motion, the likelihood of three-putting—or four-putting—brazenly confrontational. It reminded me of nothing so much as a crumpled sheet of paper.