Machrihanish Golf Club
Brad Faxon once described Machrihanish as the “linksiest” course he’d ever seen, and it’s hard to imagine that anyone who has made the pilgrimage would disagree. This unspoiled stretch of coastline is defined by heaving dunes, encountered in the heart of the fairways as well as in the woolly rough. Drives don’t so much roll as bound off the steep and irregular slopes. The opening tee shot over a corner of the ocean speaks for itself, but it isn’t until the uphill approach on number two that the roller-coaster ride begins. The rest of the front nine romps through a succession of sand hills that lie above and at a slight remove from the water, exposing golfers to buffeting winds and yielding some mesmerizing views. At the par-four seventh, all but the longest drives leave blind approach shots that must be played over a series of ridges shaped like sea swells; the massive green, meanwhile, pitches from front to back. Although the course loses speed after turning inland at nine, it presents enough clever features—notably the green on the par-five twelfth, which is tucked around a dune—to hold a player’s attention.
Campbeltown, Argyll. Architects: Charles Hunter, 1876; Old Tom Morris, 1879. Yardage: 6,225. Par: 70. Green Fees: $50–$175. Contact: 011-44/1586-810-213, machgolf.com.
Western Gailes Golf Club
Ever since Gene Sarazen teed it up here in a 1923 exhibition, word of this invigorating links has spread among Americans in the know. Western Gailes was founded a generation earlier by a group of Glaswegian golfers who were attracted to the milder winters and unpolluted air that could be found an easy train ride away. The course they built extends along a narrow slice of dunes between the railway and the beach. It’s so brutally exposed to the elements that early on the club had to plant marram grass and ultimately erect a concrete barrier to stabilize the property’s seaward flank. Knobs and hollows abound here, including at the punchbowl second green. The course’s two finest holes come back to back: the par-five sixth, which crests a ridge between a pair of dunes and hurtles down to a green banked into a slope; and the minimalist one-shot seventh, simply an elevated tee and a well-bunkered green separated by more than one hundred and fifty yards of unmown ground.
Gailes, Irvine, Ayrshire. Architects: F. Morris, 1897; Fred Hawtree, 1978. Yardage: 6,899. Par: 71. Green Fees: $225–$245. Contact: 011-44/1294-311-649, westerngailes.com.
By most standards of links golf, Dundonald readily passes muster. The course, which is owned by Loch Lomond Golf Club and has been open to the public since early 2007, presents all the classic challenges: wind off the sea, hard-running fairways and heavily contoured greens whose aprons are closely shaved, sending noncommittal approaches trickling into the depths of burns and revetted bunkers. What’s lacking is the sense that the corridors were shaped by nature (instead of by man and machine, which in fact they were). The 170-yard par-three sixth, for example, is an excellent hole enclosed in amphitheater of dunes. If only it didn’t seem so perfect.
Ayr Road, Gailes, Ayrshire. Architect: Kyle Phillips, 2003. Yardage: 7,100. Par: 72. Green Fees: $97–$185. Contact: 011-44/1294-314-000, dundonaldlinks.com.
Playing a supporting role to Turnberry’s Ailsa is no easy task, but by and large the Kintyre performs it with aplomb. Donald Steel’s refashioning of the former Arran layout (after the acquisition of additional land) has heady scenes that prove it belongs in the Ailsa’s company, yet not so many as to upstage the star. After a string of solid if unremarkable inland holes, the Kintyre begins to climb Bains Hill, a former cattle farm that stitches the rest of the course to the breathtaking coast. Its greatest moment arrives at the short par-four eighth, where, after a sensible layup off the tee, the second shot is played to a green hidden in a cove below. It looks and feels as if you’re hitting straight out to sea.
Turnberry, Ayrshire. Architects: Willie Fernie, 1910; James Alexander, 1954; Donald Steel, 2000. Yardage: 6,861. Par: 72. Green Fees: $136–$253. Contact: 011-44/1655-334-032, turnberry.co.uk.
Best of the Rest
Prestwick St. Nicholas Golf Club (prestwickstnicholas.com) occupies a splendid if hemmed-in stretch of linksland a half mile south of its illustrious neighbor. The opening and closing holes steer through gorse-studded dunes and give one the pleasant feeling of playing through town. The James Braid–designed Irvine Golf Club Bogside (theirvinegolfclub.co.uk) is full of quirk, including back-to-back par fours under three hundred yards followed by a hefty two-shotter that ascends a ridge and then plunges to a river flat. Braid also brought his artistry to Belleisle Golf Course (golfsouthayrshire.com) in Ayr, a gentle parkland layout on a verdant country estate. The downhill par-four twelfth, its green shaded by a majestic beech, is itself worth the trip. Glasgow Gailes (glasgowgailes-golf.com), near Western Gailes and Dundonald, is a straightforward links on plainer terrain, with few blind shots and more heather than gorse. Just north of Troon, Kilmarnock (Barassie) Golf Club (kbgc.co.uk) has no shortage of defenses: fields of heather, deep bunkers and large wavy greens. Its “standard scratch score” (or course rating) of seventy-four makes it a formidable site for final Open qualifying.