David: I mentioned earlier that you are down in lovely Machrihanish now, and I know that your family has been visiting and living down there in a part of that area for a long time. Tell us a bit about your family’s history with Machrihanish, and that part of Mull of Kintyre.
Jimmy: My wife and I met when June was 13 and I was 15. We were both at school and we lived in the same village, and we lived on the same street 150 yards apart. June’s mum and dad would come to Campbeltown on the steamer, on the boat from Gourock to Campbeltown every single year on holiday.
When June and I met up I joined the family, and basically dated June for seven years between her village of Bridge of Weir and their holiday period here in Campbeltown. We then got married when I was 22 and June was 19 or nearly 20.
Our children ‑ David, my son, David McLay Kidd ‑ and my daughter were brought up in the beaches of Machrihanish right under the first tee of the Machrihanish Golf Club, and June would sit on the beach with the kids while I would go and play the old Machrihanish course, which is about 130 years old. One of the finest links golf courses in the whole world, with the most famous tee in the world where you play across the beach of the Atlantic Ocean.
We’ve been coming back and forward here now for over 50 years, and we’ve set up a home here where we spend about six months in a little bay called Bellochantuy. It’s called the fairy pass, or the fairy glen, and it’s a large bay, very similar to Machrihanish Bay. It looks right across the western islands of Scotland where the sunsets are spectacular, and beyond that to the east coast of America.
It’s a very special place, and the one thing that impresses me about Machrihanish is that if you go around some of the old graveyards here, nobody dies any younger than 81, David. People live longer down here.
David: Well, it’s not surprising. It is such a gorgeous, natural place. It’s really, in a sense, the land that time has forgot. Very little modern development has happened there, and I think even recent developments like the restoration of the hotels at the Machrihanish Dunes Resort have been done with a real eye toward preservation and maintaining the beautiful natural qualities of that area.
Jimmy: The modernization of the two hotels, the Ugadale and the Royal, have been so sensitively done that they just look as though they’ve been here hundreds of years, and the history is in a sense reinstated.
We’re into the second stage or third stage of a really historic period with two beautiful buildings in incredible spots, the Ugadale looking right across the Atlantic Ocean, and the Royal Hotel looking onto this old historic natural harbor of Campbeltown, which in itself has a wonderful history of trading with the rest of the world.
It’s just wonderful to see it all come to life again or come back to life, and coupled with that a beautiful new golf course, which in itself has created a destination, David.
You well know in the sales and marketing of golf I’ve never in my entire life sold a game of golf, and yet I was director of golf operations in the estates of Gleneagles for 22 years, a member of the board there, and the same at Sandy Lane, but never sold a game of gold.
People say, “What do you mean?” I say, “Well, I’ve always sold a golfing experience.” It’s much more than a game as David, my son, knows. What we tried to do is create an adventure through the landscape we’re given, and the landscapes here are just quite incredible. You get a lift from them.
David: Yes, that’s true, the bracing air, the fescues waving in the breezes, and seeing the flora and fauna out there, the rare orchids that they have on the site. It really is a nature expedition as much as a round of golf when you’re playing on that Machrihanish Students’ course, isn’t it?
Jimmy: It is. You just have to stop at times and take it in, and a lot of people do. People who see it for the first time are just enthralled by it. They’re mesmerized, and they’re in awe of it.
We had some people here last week. I had a PGA professional here. He said, “Why has it taken me so long? I’ve been reading about this place for four or five years, and I kept putting it off, and now I’m kicking myself. I think I missed out four years.”
Jimmy: He’s quite right, and I think a lot of people are feeling that. I can come to terms with it because I know the area, but it’s just amazing the comments that come through from the first timers, and they all say the same thing, “Why have I taken so long to get here?”
David: Yes, yes. You must have been very excited when you heard about the project to build this second course, and your son David’s involvement in that. Can you tell us a little bit about how that all came to pass and a bit about the creation, if you will, of the golf course there?
Jimmy: My son and I from a very early age, and I’m talking 30, 40 years ago when David would fish the river that sails past or through Machrihanish and down through Machrihanish Golf Club. He used to fish the river. I’d play golf or he’d walk the golf course with me.
As he grew older, and I would look over the fence lovingly on these beautiful natural dunes that are now part of Machrihanish Dunes, and I would say to my son, “I wish I was a golf architect or a designer. Boy, would I love that piece of land to build a golf course on.”
David, eventually, went to college in London, had a degree in landscape architecture. During that period of time, I found a position for him with the [inaudible] organization. At that point, he says “Landscape architecture is fine, but Dad, I’m seriously going to be a golf course designer.”
One thing led to another. He became extremely successful following, as I would call it, a very good brick, was Michael Kaiser at Bandon Dunes in Oregon, where we created the first course there.
David’s reputation grew for sensitivity, his reputation for creating golf courses which fitted so well into the natural environment and looked as though they’ve been there for many, many years. We gained the reputation for that.
When Brian Keating and Southworth Development decided to do something down here, we were very, very honored to be given the opportunity. It’s very difficult to describe what we felt when that opportunity came around, considering what I’ve just said, David, about looking at it lovingly 40 years previously and saying “Would we like to do something with that land”!
I don’t know what more you can say, like that is an incredible honor, privilege. It almost feels a little bit surreal.
David: I’m sure there was a lot of pressure that you felt just on yourself, not to mention the expectations of others, but just wanting to get it right. Of course, because that was environmentally protected land, SSSI land, if you will, that added a whole another level to the burden that you guys had to work with the land, as you said, and create such a great championship course.
Jimmy: There were many occasions. We have to admit. During the construction period, when we were working in harmony or in conjunction with the botanists on site and with Scottish Natural Heritage, when we felt that just maybe many of the restrictions that were being placed upon us, the golf course may suffer from it, if I could say it like that.
At the end of the day, it actually enhanced it. It continues to enhance it. The trust has been built up between the authorities and ourselves over the years. It’s something to behold. We’ve set a precedent for golf design and construction in Europe, whereby the authorities would not be averse to another golf being built on SSSI sites if they’re kind of sensitively as this one was.
To the desires of Southworth, the owners themselves particularly wanted to do something very, very different and for it to be something very special environmentally, something to show the public and the players that we have protected a very valuable piece of land. You’d have to agree with most of that, David.
David: Absolutely. In fact, in talking one evening with Malcolm Campbell, the great Scottish golf writer about Machrihanish Dunes, he made a very good point, I thought, which you’ve just touched on.
That Machrihanish Dunes is not only a bit of a throwback to the way golf courses were designed 100 and more years ago by people like old Tom Morris, but also a great model for the way courses, perhaps, should be built in the future. With less moving of earth and less digging up and replanting and shaping and all of those things, really working with the land that is there.
I remember, years and years ago, coming out to that site, after the project had been announced, with Bryan Keating and with Colin Dalgleish from PerryGolf and standing up around, where the current golf house is there and just looking out at those dunes. Sure enough, you could see where some of the fairways were going to go.
They were going to run between those dunes there. That looks like a great place for a green site. The land certainly was well suited for the creation of that kind of course.
On the other hand, as a model for the future, building something like that with a very light touch and not having to spend tens of millions of dollars to create a golf course. Not putting in all the expensive irrigation and drainage that drives up the cost of building courses. It does seem like a good model for the future, doesn’t it?
Jimmy: It does indeed. You said it so well yourself. You don’t really need me, David. [laughs] That’s everything I should have said.
Jimmy: All I can say is one of the people that I really admire in golf was James Braid. It was one of the first Triumvirate of Taylor, Braid, and Vardon.
James Braid, from my point of view, is one of the finest designer and architect ever in golf. He said about the King’s Course at Gleneagles, and many others did the same, that “God created the golf holes. It was my job to find them within the landscape.”
That could be more than just a little true about what happened here at Machrihanish Dunes. The golf holes were there. The golf holes were created by nature and climatic conditions and God over the years, if we believe in the holy whatever. It was the designer’s task to find those golf holes in the landscape. Then convince SNH that this was a lovely place for golf.
During the period of construction and commercial play and commercial operation, we could continue to protect that landscape in perpetuity.
David: That’s exactly what’s happened, hasn’t it?
Jimmy: Exactly, yes. That’s exactly what most people admire about the project. The other thing I really enjoy was the comments from Ian Hose, the PGA Professional, the other day. He described it something similar to what you said and what I’ve said that the golf holes were there within the landscape. “You guys have done a great job in finding them. They all look as if they were placed there by God’s hand or by nature itself.” He also said “Each golf hole just follows on one after the other naturally and it’s an absolute joy to play golf.”
David: It sure is.
Jimmy: Nice to hear it.