The transformation of the links
Golf manager Dean Muir joined The Machrie in 2014 after working at Muirfield for 17 years. His hands have shaped the golf course we play today.
Golf Manager Dean Muir, whose handicap has been as low as +2, joined the Machrie in 2014 after 17 years at Muirfield, where he set up the Open Championship course in 2013 when Phil Mickelson won his fifth Major. Here, he offers a fascinating insight into his craft and the way he presents The Machrie.
Take us back to your arrival on Islay
DJ Russell started making his changes in late 2014. It took nearly three years to complete so it was 2017 before the course looked as it does now.
The remarkable thing was during all the renovations and the changes there always was golf open and available for the local members. As part of the plan we always wanted to keep the locals playing golf. Even one winter we were down to six holes for a spell, they still had somewhere where they could get out and play
What was the course like before the redesign?
I think it’s very different but also very similar. The routing is very similar to what it was, there’s a lot of blindness on the new course that DJ has done but not to the extreme of before.
Previously there were 17 blind shots – you were very much playing up and over dunes. With the new design you can play around the blindness if you have the ability to do so, not necessarily having to hit over the top of dunes most of the time.
How would you describe the course now?
Spectacular. Very much like an Irish links. It’s got substantial dunes. The holes play through the valleys more than over the dunes.
Traditional Scottish Links tends to be flatter and more out in front of you, whereas here it’s a spectacular bit of land. We’ve got seven miles of pristine beach which the course runs alongside on the edge of the Atlantic which is absolutely stunning.
It’s very much a fairer course. It’s very playable for all levels of golfer. You have four separate tees so you can play a multitude of yardages depending on your skill levels.
We find we’ve got a lot of new members – juniors and beginners who are out playing the Wee course as a starting point but the design of the new course is very playable for them so they can enjoy themselves on the golf course without losing lots of golf balls and getting themselves beat up.
What are the design principles?
There’s a lot of width off the tee. There’s a lot of strategy involved in the approach angles into the greens which can constantly change depending on pin positions, depending on wind direction. The wind tends to vary, Westerly is the prevailing wind but it changes constantly. You could be here for a trip for three or four days and play the course in three different winds.
There’s a lot of short grass, there’s a lot of opportunity to play the ball along the ground. You can play bump and runs: sometimes it’s not your only option but it’s your best option to get to certain pins.
The best line to certain pins is not always directly to it, you’ve got to be able to play up and around the slopes and use the contours to your advantage. Imagination is a great asset.
How do you like to present the links?
The weather can be very changeable, we tend to get really dry Springs where the course is very firm and fast and a real, proper links test. The wind constantly changes direction. You can be here for a few days and play in all different directions of winds. In terms of direction and strength, you can start flat calm and by the time you get to the 6th hole it’s a steady breeze.
Ultimately, we like the course to play firm and fast. That’s the goal. We try to present a golf course that’s playing in good old-fashioned links conditions, with firm and fast surfaces with lots of short grass surrounding the greens.
The contours of the greens can change the way the holes are meant to be played. The course is very minimalist and subtle.
What type of golfer thrives at The Machrie?
It’s a golf course for golfers with imagination and can see different options for shots. You tend to find if you give golfers options and make them think it becomes more difficult for them because you’re giving them a choice.
It’s playable for all but those who can control their ball flight and have a really good sense of course strategy and where they want to hit it.
Yes, you can stand up and hit every fairway, the fairways are wide, but a lot of the time you need to be on the right side of the fairway to have the angle in for the next shot.
A lot of the time when you look at the holes and the Strokesaver, I think you’re better looking at the hole backwards to see where you want to hit your approach from to the green. Of course, you have to have a bit of ability to do that.
What part of their game they golfers work on before playing The Machrie?
I would say the most vital part of the game to work on is their iron play for their scoring and more importantly for their enjoyment. If you can control your distance and your ball flight into the greens, that’s probably the most vital aspect of it.
What are your favourite holes?
It changes all the time. I think we’re very fortunate here that we have so many strong, pretty, very strategic holes. More often than not the 5th is my favourite hole.
It’s a par-4 that tends to play into the prevailing wind but it’s a three tier fairway that plays into a green sunken below the Maiden dune. It’s probably my favourite spot on the golf course looking back at the hotel, especially in the morning when the low sun pops out all the contours and it’s definitely my favourite spot on the course.
The short 9th – a hole that lives long in the memory
What’s the best view on the course?
The best view on the course is probably from the 8th green and 9th tees. You look out over Loch Indaal, which is the sea loch, and over to the Rhinns of Islay which is on the other side of the island, and right round towards the airport and the moor and Jura. It’s a panoramic view and it’s pretty special.