West Scotland trip

Added on July 23rd, 2013 by
Posted in Greenkeeping, New courses reviewed

The south-west coast of Scotland has some of the finest links in GB&I, with no less than ten courses in the finest 200 which almost touch each other, running from West Kilbride to Prestwick St Nicholas, taking in the likes of Western Gailes, Royal Troon, Dundonald and Old Prestwick.

open golf championship, Prestwick golf club,I had been invited to Royal Troon and Prestwick, the two ‘joy to be alive’ five-star-ers on that coast, and CLICK HERE to read a review of the incredible Prestwick.

I stayed overnight at Golf View, a well run B&B sited just fifty yards from the Prestwick clubhouse and I shared the accommodation with a group of personable Swedes whom I had met earlier out on the links, while they were playing at Royal Troon.

I then drove up to Glasgow Airport past an enormous tangled graveyard of wind turbines whose operators were among those I understand, who received some £6m for turning them off during a windy May!

The little island hopper took me over to The Mull of Kintyre where Jimmy Kidd (for twenty years head greenkeeper at Gleneagles and now helping his son, David Mclay Kidd, run his world-wide golf architecture projects), picked me up from Campbeltown airport.

Jimmy introduced me to the high-quality, keen team that run The Village at Machrihanish Dunes which comprises two hotels (one in Campbeltown), self-catering apartments and a pub/restaurant beside the famous first tee of its famed neighbour, Machrihanish Old, founded in 1887 and brilliantly designed by Old Tom Morris.

The Kidd family have had a house here for generations so the area is in David’s blood and when he was offered the job of designing a new links running along the coast from the end of Machrihanish Old, it was a project that he threw everything into. CLICK HERE to read the review of Machrihanish Dunes.

Jimmy, a most generous host, fun companion and seriously knowledgeable greenkeeper, then took us by car ferry over to Islay and The Machrie course which everybody raves over, founded in 1891 and laid out by Willie Campbell, (who later designed Brookline in Massachusetts).

We were taken round by Simon Freeman, their most able head greenkeeper and category one golfer and we had a devil of a ‘in the chair’ match without a point being scored until the seventeenth.

Two new greens have just been seeded to add to the Donald Steel changes of some twenty years ago, giving a longer second hole round the burn and a new par three tenth hole from a high tee sited towards the sea and into the dunes, an area that was not available to Steel.

When considering the quality of the grass across these courses what must be remembered is the west coast receives more rain than the east coast of Scotland and so it is harder to grow fine grasses.

The last two summers have been particularly damp, which have not helped the fine young fescues and bents at Machrihanish Dunes and their greens, which are an amalgam of fine grasses with some annual meadow grass (Poa annua) invasion. Though somewhat inconsistent at present, the ‘running’ game experience for which golfers are looking, is the vision for this young course. The rough has now been allowed, by the overseeing environmentalists, to be cut and I didn’t lose a ball.

Machrihanish Old’s greens and aprons are consistent throughout but on the other hand unfortunately had a high proportion of annual meadow grass (Poa annua). It of course saddened me that such a wonderfully designed course had given up the fight against this invasive grass and gone down ‘the dark side’, providing weed-grass greens that needed cutting low for its members and visitors to enjoy anything close to a trueness of roll on the ball.

Whether they will suffer the same fate as at Swinley Forest (where the deep thatch of their Poa annua greens has caught up with them this spring) one doesn’t know. Hope, however, can be gleaned from Hunstanton where their Poa annua greens almost died but have been transformed into beautifully running bent/fescue grasses offering everybody enjoyment, led by Gordon Irvine (who has been called Jim Arthur’s heir) using modern management methods and traditional natural greenkeeping.

Tons of sand are being put on Royal Troon’s fairways and greens to firm them up prior to The Open Championship returning in 2016 and both theirs and Prestwick’s greens are dominated by fine, browntop bent grasses plus a component of annual meadow grass (Poa annua) which are cut below 4mm. There is some fescue at Prestwick but as Royal Troon’s greens lie lower in the water table, this makes fine fescues more difficult to grow, I am told.

At The Machrie, how lucky they are to have Simon Freeman who pursues an affordable Jim Arthur-like policy. When Simon arrived fifteen years ago there was an abundance of weed grass, Yorkshire fog and perennial rye grass but now, apart from the three naturally damp, low lying greens that inevitably have some annual meadow grass (Poa annua), most of the greens now provide a consistent putt across firm, bent/fescue turf cut at a sensible 5mm height in summer. It was the greens at The Machrie that instilled the greatest confidence in my putting stroke, as well as giving the best consistency of bounce and run for the ‘bump and run’ shot.

The Mull of Kintyre and Islay may not be the easiest of places to reach for most of us but it is a most friendly place and many famous golfers have visited over the years, including Raymond Oppenheimer, the famous son of Temple GC. With three classic links championship courses on this great Atlantic Ocean shore and some very fine accommodation at Machrihanish,

it is highly recommended you make a pilgrimage.

I also popped into the moorland Lanark GC on the way home and was most impressed with the quality of the bent/fescue greens and the challenge of this Old Tom Morris/James Braid course.


Reader Comments

On August 4th, 2013 Ian Hislop said:

Pity you missed out on the best course on Kintyre – Dunaverty. It is far superior to its close neighbours. Make sure you play it on your next visit to Kintyre.

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