Mrs. Freeman will justifiably tell you that I spend way too much time messing around on social media, but my endless bombardment of Instagram with photographs of Machrihanish Dunes does provide a handy archive of inspiring images. Just in case you have been doing something more worthwhile with your time this year and have therefore missed these, here is a selection of the best ones I took and uploaded in 2017.
As always, the weather on the west coast of Scotland came from every direction in January, which meant a mixture of conditions and a range of temperatures that people in other parts of the country might have difficulty believing. Southwesterly gales around the middle of the month raised the needle to 13C, which is the last thing we need when the days are short and sunlight hours are limited. This time of year can be a day-to-day battle to keep greens and tees turf healthy enough to survive until the longer days of spring arrive to relieve the pressure. The day this picture was taken was typical of January; it had been tipping down with rain and blowing a gale all day but just as the sun started to set, the whole sky cleared from the west to leave us with this phenomenal sunset. After being cooped up in the shed all day making tee markers, I was glad to get out for a run down the beach where I could admire this view in all its glory. #thewestisthebest
A lot of discussion had gone on during summer 2016 about the condition of the bunkers at Machrihanish Dunes. Some of the ones that had been fringed with marram when the course was built had become hopelessly overgrown and many had collapsed and lost a lot of sand. The course had been widened a lot since its inception which resulted in some of the bunkers that were full of marram being surrounded by cut grass. This obviously led to a lot of frustration among golfers who lost balls in the faces while their partners who had missed greens by wider margins found themselves left with perfect lies. We made the decision to revet the edges of the bunkers that were surrounded by cut grass and to leave wild the edges of the bunkers that were still connected to the rough. The greenside bunker at 14 is a classic example of this new genre, with one side smartly revetted and the other side left wild as the architect intended. #controversywillalwaysaccompanychange
The 5th green was hit hard during the period of southwesterly gales that we experienced in January. We learned that when greens get covered in a layer of windblown salt that is not subsequently flushed through the rootzone, a pan can form which is extremely toxic to the grass. It was frightening to watch how quickly the green tried to die on us, so we applied some penetrating wetting agent, connected up a hose, and hand-watered it until we had washed all the salt through. After that, we applied our favoured recovery mix of products and watched as the health returned just as quickly as it had disappeared. By the time I returned from two weeks’ holiday on the 7th March, the green looked this good. This experience has taught us that the really dangerous gales are the ones that are followed immediately by calm, sunny weather (the kind of scenario typified by my January picture). You might automatically assume (as I did) that a calm, sunny day would help a green to recover after a brutal day of being pounded by salt and windblown sand but in actual fact, the exact opposite is true. Now we know that if we suffer a gale of 50mph or more that is not followed by heavy rain, we need to whip out the hoses and flush the shoreside greens before the sun and salt combine to kill our precious grass. Hand-hosing greens in January may look strange, but the effects of not doing it can be catastrophic. #thinkingoutsidethebox #stripesdontcomeanystraighter
Another fantastic west coast sky, which the camera on my phone did absolutely no justice to! What a view it is from the shoreside holes at Machrihanish Dunes over towards Islay and Jura, where thoughts inevitably stray towards the two golf developments which are due to open there in 2018. I spent a long time at Machrie before moving to Kintyre in 2014 and obviously I have fond memories of playing the old course, but I have to admire the job Dean Muir and his greenkeeping team have done to get the new course looking as good as it does in such a short space of time. Is it as good, or is it maybe even better? Only you can decide that–you will need to come down this way and have a look for yourself! One thing I can tell you is that the new hotel is incredible. I was given a guided tour of it in October when it was still far from finished and what they have built undoubtedly retains the aura of the original hotel on the east side while masking a fabulous new west wing which contains a raised bar and a huge restaurant area from which the views are, in my opinion, unparalleled. I am sure I speak for everybody involved with Machrihanish Dunes when I wish the owners and Dean and his team every success when Machrie opens for commercial business early in 2018. The paps of Jura can be clearly seen on the right side of my picture, and these iconic hills form the backdrop for another new golf development at Ardfin. Designed by eminent Australian architect Bob Harrison, Ardfin is an uncompromising course developed simply to make the absolute best use of the land available. It is a massive site with huge changes in elevation, and many of the holes are breathtakingly stunning. The holes that hug the shoreline from 8 through to 14 are actually mind-blowing. Rumours of exclusivity are rife, so whether you or I will ever get the chance to play this course remains to be seen. Nobody has officially said “no” though, so there is definitely hope. I am working on the premise that if you don’t ask, you don’t get! What knock-on effect the development of these two brilliant sites will have for Machrihanish Dunes and our associated hotels remains to be seen, but I would imagine that having more excellent courses to play in the area will only serve to encourage even more people to make Kintyre and our adjacent islands their chosen holiday destination. #excitingtimesfortherealsouthwestofscotland
Right, that is enough talk about our neighbours…back to Machrihanish Dunes! April 2017 was a fine month with a lot of dry weather, and as we moved into May with its higher temperatures, the course burned right out. Although these conditions cause a few headaches for us greenkeepers, it does make the course so much more fun to play. Machrihanish Dunes was designed to be played as a running course, and having the opportunity to play that kind of golf on a hard, polished surface is an unusual treat. The course looks brilliant during extended periods of dry weather, and it is always nice to look back at these images during the bleak days of winter and to look forward to the time in the not-too-distant future when we will hopefully enjoy these conditions once again! #scorched #summeriscoming
Our main focus in June is always the Campbeltown Open, and this year’s event featured a dry weekend for once. This meant fabulous, but testing conditions for golf, with an ever-present westerly wind ensuring that only the most talented golfers in the field could hope to compete. The dry wind blew a lot of salt and sand onto the shoreside holes and once again, I was forced to haul out the hoses on Sunday evening to flush the greens and give them a bit of relief going into the week that followed. Of course, the long-term effects of salt burn are not as pronounced in June as they are during the short days of January, because as long as you bring the water to them early enough, recovery during periods of higher temperatures and high levels of sunlight is always swift. #canttakeyoureyeofftheball
The fabulous Machrihanish Dunes garden is always in full bloom during July. The slightly blinkered but understandable obsession with the rare orchids on our site actually takes too much of the focus away from the beauty of the rest of the flora, most of which seem to survive very well under a management regime admittedly tailored towards the needs of golf rather than the requirements of plants. There are about a dozen species of wildflower in this image alone, and when weather conditions are optimal, our machair semi-rough is stunningly beautiful. #donttakedivotsoutofmyflowerbed
Somebody once said that if you can find a job that you genuinely enjoy doing then you’ll never need to work a day in your life. While it might look from this image like Craig and Sebastian have found that nirvana at Machrihanish Dunes, the reality was that they had spent most of the previous four weeks hand-pulling thousands of ragwort plants that had colonised the deep rough. Under the terms of our management agreement with SNH, we are required to control the spread of this weed and it is a heinous job that turned out be even worse than usual this year as the mixed weather conditions in June and July ensured that a bumper crop grew up around us. This image was taken just after the last load had been collected from around the 13th tee, which might explain why the two of them are looking so pleased. #chilledout #bestbuds
September is historically a brilliant growing month on the west coast of Scotland, so it is an ideal time to do some work on the greens and tees in an attempt to improve the sward. Chris is creating a seedbed here by aerating the sanded greens to a shallow depth using a Toro Procore fitted with large 19mm tines, after which we broadcast some quality fescue seed onto the surface and then brushed the whole lot into the holes the aerator had left. A quick roll finished off the job which, thanks to the ideal conditions, was completed in record time. All we could do after that was sit back and hope that all that grass seed germinated. #ifyouplantitwillcome
These two pictures were actually taken only two weeks apart, but in this image taken on the 1st October, the new grass growing in the grid pattern left by Chris’ aerator can clearly be seen in the light of the early morning sun. I actually had to dumb the light down quite a lot on this one as it was a glorious day, but unfortunately, the rest of October turned out to be a bit of a letdown. Normally, we would expect to get a lot of fine weather through this month but Autumn descended depressingly quickly in 2017. #fescuetotherescue
There is a definite symmetry about this selection of photos, with the 2nd to last month of the year again featuring bunker construction. The 11th at Machrihanish Dunes is a great hole which is flanked by the beach and the Atlantic Ocean on the right and by an environmentally rich area of dune slack on the left. Originally, the tees hugged the sea wall, but these were moved inland to great effect a few years ago. It proved far easier to find the fairway from the new tees, and it has always been our desire to move the yellow tee even further left if the opportunity arose. Regular visitors to the course will be glad to hear that we have now constructed this tee and we have also done some re-contouring work in the fairway which will reduce the potential for a drive to kick left into the wetland. Add to this the big visual impact that is made by the rebuilt greenside bunker in this image, and the 11th promises to be a massively improved hole in 2018. #jobdone
Just to add to the symmetry I already mentioned, the year in pictures ends with another magnificent west coast sky scene! This one is a sunrise rather than a sunset, and it is a common view for me in winter as I set out to prepare the course for the members that understandably like to play as soon as it is light. It is always our desire to have the course set up as well as we possibly can for every golfer that tees it up, so to this end we will use headlights whenever we can to get ourselves ahead of play. There is no hardship in this, for although it is still pitch dark in this image and I was on my 4th hole of bunker raking, it was probably already after 8 AM (that is the middle of the day on the greenkeeper clock!). And look at the view I get to enjoy while most other people are still at home planning what to do with their Sunday! The watchtowers in the old airbase may be ugly, utilitarian buildings by day, but they do provide a really good focal point for images taken in the early morning light. What is it they say about red sky in the morning…? #itoldyouthewestisthebest
Well I don’t really know. I guess we will just have to wait and see, won’t we! Just putting this update together (on December 30th) has got me looking forward to 2018 already, and I hope you can muster similar levels of enthusiasm for the year ahead. We look forward to welcoming all of our friends back to Machrihanish Dunes at some point during the year ahead, and of course we are keen to welcome new visitors to the links for the first time. I am sure there will be plenty more photo opportunities for me to waste my spare time flooding Instagram with in the coming 12 months. Hopefully, I can bring another dozen images back to you at the end of this year to showcase just how great 2018 was for all of us. Bring it on!