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  • Writer's pictureAlan Tait

Exploring the Stunning Golf Course and Luxury Accommodations at The Machrie, Isle of Islay

Updated: Apr 6






There’s not many places I haven’t been in my home country of beautiful Scotland, but the Isle of Islay was one I had not yet the pleasure of experiencing. I couldn’t help but notice The Machrie Hotel and Golf Links on the island had been getting some excellent reviews since a 3 year redevelopment from 2014 to 2017. My interest was nagging at me and decided it was time to do a Golfbreaks FAM Trip (otherwise known as a familiarisation trip), and go experience The Machrie to see what all the fuss was about. It’s a tough job as they say, but someone has to do it.



As the crow flies, Islay is only around 70 miles from Scotland’s largest city Glasgow. However getting there is a little challenging, as well as a fun wee adventure. You have two main options. First option is a 25-30 minute flight from Glasgow to Islay Airport which is then a short 4-5 minute drive from The Machrie. Leave Glasgow Airport and you could be on the 1st tee in less than an hour. Easy as that! Although be warned, air fares can be a mind numbing £350 return journey in the height of the season! For £350 I’d be looking more at a 7 night budget “no frills” holiday in Benidorm! If budget is no option however then it’s the way to go, and can enjoy some breathtaking Scottish scenery from the skies above on the short flight. Albeit you’ll hardly have time for an inflight libation!

Option two is to drive and then catch the ferry. Sounded much more adventurous and option two it was for this lone traveller, although give yourself plenty time for the journey. That 70 mile crow has a lot to answer for!! A two and a half hour drive to the ferry terminal of Kennacraig, followed by a two hour sailing to Port Askaig, and then another 25 minute journey by car to my destination at The Machrie. I was never great at maths but by my reckoning was almost 5 hours total travel time, but boy was it worth it. The overall journey was great with amazing scenery. Driving first of all around the beautiful bonnie banks of Loch Lomond before stopping off for a wee refreshment in the picturesque village of Inverary. Famous for its jail which opened in 1848 before closing in 1889 and housed men, women and children ( some as young as 7yrs old ). 100 years later in 1989 after the last prisoners departed, Inverary jail opened its doors to the public and now attracts visitors from all over the world and continues to be one of Scotland’s top tourist attractions.


A cup of tea and a jam scone later and I was back on the road arriving at Kennacraig Ferry Terminal about an hour later. I parked the car and paid my £7.25 foot passenger fare and boarded the ferry. To take your car on board is around £35 one way which is good value, especially if you are taking sets of clubs. However as I was getting picked up at the other side by a courtesy driven Machrie car, it made sense to give my old 4 wheeled vehicle a rest on this occasion.

The ferry crossing was really comfortable, enjoyable and fun. The 2 hours flew in. Couple of beers, a sandwich and lots of work done on the laptop and before I knew it we were docking at Port Askaig. Between emails, spreadsheets and a couple of zoom calls, I took time to walk around the ship and take in the surrounding views of the Scottish hills and glens which in simple terms, just stunning. Even the low cloud and grey skies on a damp February afternoon couldn’t hide my admiration for the sheer beauty of my homeland. Note – you can also get the ferry from Kennacraig to Port Ellon, which is slightly closer to The Machrie. Just gives you the flexibility of alternative sailing times.




Angela from The Machrie Hotel was there to meet me with a cheery smile and welcomed me to the Isle of Islay for my very first time. The 25 minute journey took us through the small village of Bowmore, famous for its distillery and is one of the oldest in Scotland originating in 1779. A must visit for those fond of the golden stuff. They also have a much recommended Bowmore Whisky Tasting Bar which is open Tue – Sat from 11.00am to 4.30pm. Shortly after passing through Bowmore Angela informed me we were about to join the straightest road on Islay and possibly Scotland. Oh my goodness, she wasn’t joking. The road stretches for miles without a single bend or curve. No traffic lights or roundabouts needed here! Having since had a look on google, it’s quite a famous wee road in its own right. 10 minutes later I arrived at my destination and Angela dropped me off at The Machrie.




The resort is remote as well as beautiful. Incredibly peaceful and only interrupted with hearing the waves of the Atlantic Ocean roaring on to the beach a 10 minute walk from the hotel through the golf course. Re-opened in late summer 2018 after a complex renovation and expansion, The Machrie Hotel features 47 beautifully designed rooms, suites and lodges including the seriously impressive “Restaurant 18” with panoramic views. I was shown to my superior room and was not disappointed. King size bed in a luxuriously furnished room with a stunning view overlooking the 18th green, a stone’s throw away. The room was absolutely spotless clean with shower and bath. Angela then gave me a tour of some other rooms which were all of the same first class standard. Some were shower only, so if you like a wee dook in the tub with your rubber duck be sure to request a room with bath and shower.




Other facilities in the hotel are a small spa with sauna and a small gym. It also boasts a fantastic and quaint 30 seater cinema which shows films on request and can also be tuned in to “live tv”. I imagined myself sitting there with my popcorn and cold beer surrounded by golfing buddies, watching The Masters, The Ryder Cup or a top premier football match.

As it was late afternoon and the temperature was dropping, I decided to go for a brief walk around the complex before dinner and I’d take in the 18 hole championship golf course in the morning. I stumbled across their 6 hole “Wee Course”. A super and truly fun looking par 3 course which can be played over a multiple of routings. For the time of year it was also in great condition and it’s ideal for beginners and kids, as well as the established golfer. The golf facilities also boast a “Hebrides” putting course, short game area with putting green, 5 bay covered range accompanied by an indoor golf studio which includes a Trackman Golf Simulator. Buggies, electric trollies and pull trollies are all available, but booking buggies well in advance is recommended.




After a soak in my sunken hot bath, it was time for dinner in Restaurant 18. Being February it was dark and I unfortunately couldn’t enjoy the amazing panoramic views across the golf course towards the ocean, but I’ll have breakfast a little later tomorrow morning to take in the stunning scenery then.

Dinner was superb. An old fashioned lentil soup with crusty bread to start was followed by a Maple Glazed Pork Belly, with an unusual accompaniment of Bowmore Whisky Apple, Black Pudding Bon Bon Apple & Whisky Jus, and Honey Braised Cabbage. It was a new mixture for me, but it soooooo worked. It was fabulous. I’m a bore when it comes to desserts I’m afraid. I’m a 2 scoop vanilla ice cream man, which capped off a sumptuous dinner for one! A little on the pricey side though with starters ranging from £7 - £14, and main courses varying from £26 - £40. I suppose given the quality of the property, the setting and the standard of food, you are getting prices in line with the product. My server Michelle was a superstar. Great personality, engaging and funny with it. For a young girl she has a huge career in hospitality, should she wish to pursue one.




It was a fairly early dinner. I love my football and retired to my lovely warm comfortable cosy room for the evening to watch Portugese side Porto, take on Arsenal in The Champions League. My ferry back to the mainland is at 3.05pm tomorrow, but have still to see the championship golf course and a visit to the beach before I set sail. Oh and of course that slightly later breakfast in the morning!

Wow, breakfast!! I regard myself as a bit of a brekky expert and very rarely give any breakfast 8 or a 9 rating from 10. This was an unequivocal and undisputed 10!! Cooked and presented perfectly and tasted delicious. 2 poached eggs, bacon, sausage, tomato, potato scone, beans and a flat mushroom, served with a mix of toast. This full cooked Scottish also comes with black pudding and haggis, but personally find those two more suitable for evening dining. I also got to enjoy the fabulous views and was a bonus waking up to clear blue skies ( for the time being ). For the slightly healthier eating breakfast diner, fresh fruit, yogurts and fresh pastries all also available.




Given my tight schedule playing 18 holes wasn’t going to be possible, I popped in to the golf shop to see what my options were. Had a bit of banter with 2 lovely young friendly guys in Freddy and Dale who run the golf operations. We decided I’d go and warm up on the range which might be an effort in itself as I hadn’t been on the course for nearly 5 months, after busting my hand in a fall in October. Although it was sunny, it was a fresh blustery wind and shorts were NOT required. The range is ideal and a good facility with quality mats and balls. I was pleasantly surprised at the 30 or so balls I hit. Almost pretty good. All were airborne and forward which is always a positive start! The boys gave me top quality Taylor Made hire clubs, and I headed out to see as much of the course as possible before heading back to Port Askaig to catch the ferry home.

I only had a couple of hours so made my way out to the 1st. A shortish par 4 left to right dog leg, slightly uphill with the tee shot. I cracked one away with the driver and cut it slightly more than I wanted to ( I prefer the term “power fade” ). However when I got up to the top of the hill, there was my ball bang in the middle of the fairway. Impressed? So was I! Or maybe just lucky. What was more impressive at the top of the hill on the fairway was the background in the distance to the beach and the Atlantic Ocean, which was throwing up some pretty awesome waves. Above the waves though, was an angry looking very dark sky and it was coming my way!




Freddy and Dale in the shop told me I would pretty much have the course to myself which was almost true. As I eyed up my 2nd shot at the par 5 2nd hole I had a couple of fairway bunkers between my ball and the green, as well as about 40-50 sheep all going about their business with not a care in the world. Reminded me of beautiful Brora Golf Club in the Scottish Highlands where sheep and cattle wander aimlessly around the links. I love the nature and innocence of this and whatever you think, they do understand golf etiquette. As I approached them they all set off in a gentle jog away from me towards the green, and then in mass all veered to the right of the putting surface before positioning themselves in the long grass behind where they continued to enjoy breakfast.


Through the heavy showers I managed to play most of the front 9 and Michelle in the restaurant told me that when I was out there it was almost “a legal requirement” to go and walk on the beach to the left of the 3rd tee. I abandoned my clubs on the tee and went for a wander on the sand and arguably has to be one of the most stunning stretches of coastline I have ever seen. Only thing that was missing was that big golden round thing that you sometimes occasionally see in the sky in Scotland! Although I didn’t play the full 18, I jumped across and played the last 3 holes from 16-18.




To be fair I had seen more than enough. The Machrie Golf Course is sensational. Ex European Tour player and course designer DJ Russell has done a fantastic job with the redesign. The layout is superb and is in keeping with the terrain and natural dunes. The course is a great test but also very fair with large inviting greens. Although it’s one of these courses that if they wanted to, could make it brutally difficult for a top professional or amateur championship. That’s not what they want though which is the good news. Their market is an enjoyable experience for both members and visitors, and for all standard of golfers. Again, and like the “Wee Course” the course condition for mid February was superb. The Machrie is “a must visit” in one of the most beautiful locations in Scotland. I can assure you folks, you won’t be disappointed.

The journey back was imminent with my ferry at 3.05pm, so just had time for a quick wee bowl of soup to heat me up before Dale took me by car to the terminal. No sooner had I ordered my soup and a cheery chef with less hair than me came out from his kitchen to say hello! Calum Davie who I hadn’t seen for probably 40 odd years from our time at school in Ayrshire. A character who clearly loves his job and loves island life. I can’t seem to escape anyone!!




5 and a bit hours later I was back at my flat in Leith in Edinburgh. A tired but contented boy, reflecting on a fabulous last 36 hours and happy I had experienced another corner of my beautiful country. I loved my short stay on the island at The Machrie. As we say here in Scotland, “Haste ye back”.



 

Loganair fly from Glasgow and other UK airports – Loganair.co.uk

Caledonian MacBrayne Ferries – calmac.co.uk

The Machrie Hotel and Golf Links – themachrie.com Preferred golf clothing brands:

Glenmuir - www.glenmuir.com | Sunderland of Scotland -www.glenmuir.com/Sunderland Preferred golf tour operator – Golfbreaks.com

Or let me help plan and organise your trip with Golfbreaks for you – ATait@golfbreaks.com

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2 Comments


paulj83
Feb 28

Good review Alan, I have an overdue voucher to play the course my partner bought me last year, having contacting them in Autumn they were more than accommodating & willing to extend when I suggested I pay whatever the increase in price myself rather than try to squeeze in a visit late 2023. The food looks lovely so whether I stay at the golf course or nearby I’ll make a point in trying out some of their delicious looking produce & maybe a pint or 2 🍻

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Ian Telford
Ian Telford
Feb 25

Hi Alan, great review. Islay has been a been a bucket list item of mine for many years and I managed to go for a milestone birthday last year. Unlike you I got the crossing and stay in sunny unscottish weather and the sunsets were sensational. For me Islay whisky is the best in the world, the Machrie hotel is the best hotel in the world and the new Machrie is the best Course I have ever played.

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