How I Lost $1M on a Scottish Golf Holiday

As some of you may remember, last summer was quite exciting over here on the dunes of Machrihanish.  We held the Mach Dunes Million – the chance for four unsuspecting golfers to win $1 million without breaking a sweat.  All they had to do was ace a 167-yard hole!

The first golfers to take a shot at the $1 million were taken a bit by surprise.  They were just enjoying their golf holiday when they found a mysterious – well, you can see for yourself!  Watch the video below (just remember this was last year’s promotion!), then enjoy a first-hand account from Douglas McLeod, one of the first golfers to take a swing at the Mach Dunes Million.  

“My Shot at The Mach Dunes Million” 
By Douglas McLeod

It began as an ordinary day of golf — except for the fact that it was an unusually beautiful and warm day by Scottish standards and we were playing a golf course the likes of which we’d never seen before.  Over the first three holes, Machrihanish Dunes more than lived up to its billing as “the world’s most natural golf course.”  I’d never played in such a beautiful, natural setting, and the design of each hole was an invigorating new challenge.

When we came to our fourth hole of the day, the course’s 13th, there was a bit of delay.  A course representative was on the tee with a walkie-talkie and he told us that because it was a drivable par-4, we needed to wait for the green to clear.  So we admired the view and the smell of the sea for a few moments before teeing off.  When we did, I did not drive the green, but hit a good second shot, which left me with a 20-footer for birdie.  When my playing partner removed the flagstick from the hole, though, a strange golf ball popped out.  It was a featherie ball – a 100-year-old relic of a bygone era.  “Where on earth did that come from?” we asked each other.

We got our answer a moment later when a man dressed in a heavy wool waistcoat and plaid jacket came over the top of the dune and asked if we’d found his ball.  He then introduced himself as Old Tom Morris!  Now, we’d expected to see some magical things during our round at Machrihanish Dunes, but we didn’t expect to meet a Scottish golf legend – particularly one that, as he related, had been dead for 105 years!

Old Tom clucked as I missed my birdie putt, then he escorted us to the next tee, where he proceeded to tell us that the course was offering a “purse” on that hole – a prize, in fact, of $1 million for a hole-in-one!  I’ve played in some tournaments before where you could win a car for a hole-in-one, but a million dollars is a whole different deal.  I tried not to think about what I’d do with such a sum as I chose my club and took my turn on the tee.  Old Tom told us that the hole was playing 167 yards.  There was good breeze coming from left to right and partially in our faces.  I thought my trusty 5-iron would be the right club.

As I stepped on the tee, I noticed a cameraman out of the corner of my eye.  They were filming this —  as if there wasn’t enough pressure on me as it was!  At that moment, I didn’t want to think about what my swing might look like.  I only wanted it to result in the perfect shot!

The first member of our group had missed the green.  I was determined to give my shot a chance.  I took a moment to gauge the wind again, eyeballed my target line, and stepped over the ball – a Titleist, not a featherie.  I’d been hitting the ball well and hoped that my next swing would be equally solid.  Slowly I drew the club back, made a full hip and shoulder turn, and launched into my shot.  It felt good coming off the clubface – I hadn’t thinned it or hit it fat.  (Which would have been very embarrassing!)  I followed the flight of the ball toward the green with great expectations.  And for a moment, the shot had promise.  It rose into the azure sky as if determined to find the bottom of the hole, but alas, halfway to the green, the breeze caught it and started taking it to the right.  I didn’t give up hope, though – as there’s a hill to the right of the green that could yet kick the ball back toward the hole.  As the ball landed, we all urged it to kick to the left and dive into the cup.  But sadly, the ball didn’t listen any better to our words of encouragement that morning than it had on any other, and finally it settled into the short rough.  I’d given it my best shot, but I’d missed.  No million dollars for me.  But as I walked to the green, I marveled at the experience our group had just had.  Meeting Old Tom Morris (albeit in the form of a great actor) and shooting for a million bucks made an already special day one that I’ll never forget.

On the next hole, another par 3, I hit a beautiful tee shot that came to rest ten feet from the hole.  I missed the birdie putt there, too.  But all through the rest of the day, we couldn’t stop talking about our amazing encounter with Old Tom and our shot at glory.

Machrihanish Dunes Golf Course Update – March, 2014

January and February produced record amounts of rainfall and the golf course has suffered. The relatively dry summer resulted in a lower than normal water table going into the winter, but this wasn’t to last. The heavy rainfall has produced numerous flooded areas throughout the course. This standing water can’t be pumped out as it’s caused by the high water table.
MDGC Improvements
MDGC Improvements
The course currently has 6 winter greens. Greens 16 and 18 are currently flooded and 6, 7, 14 and 15 have been altered and re-turfed. During the winter, we felt the need to protect some of the shore greens, so 6 and 15 have been moved, slightly altering the holes. DMK Golf Design was involved, and the new green sites are definitely going to enhance the golf course.

In response to the heavy rain/sand blow and strong winds we’ve experienced, the immature 7th and 14th greens have been re-turfed with a more resilient type of grass that should hold up better to the winter periods in years to come. A turf nursery will also be constructed for any turf needs in the future.


Other current works include:

  • Golf paths on 3, 6, 7, 8, 14, 15 and 16 have been smoothed and mats have been laid. These mats let grass grow through, and do not look out of place. They work well and improve the walk.
  • Bunkers have been worked on through the winter  – this includes some re-vetting and turfing. We hope that, if the mild weather continues, the new greens will be in play in April and up to full summer speed by May.
  • The course has also been measured and a new stroke-saver is in production.  The signage will be swapped over by April. Currently, we tee off from the 10th adjacent to the Golf House – this will become the 1st, as it was originally designed to be. The scorecard and strokesavers will be altered accordingly. The flooding should ease through March and traditionally, the course is clear of any water by mid-May. We hope to have the range open again by then, as well.

Natural Lawnmowers at the Most Natural Golf Resort in Scotland

“Here at Machrihanish Dunes, keeping the green is an incredibly difficult job, but we employ some local employees who keep the greens immaculately.  They only work for 6 months of the year, they love the work and they’re very well looked after.”   They even “get free haircuts every year.”  Yes, ewe herd him right – free haircuts for some of Scotland’s most popular greenkeepers. 

If you haven’t guessed yet, we’re talking about the black sheep here at Machrihanish Dunes, one of the most natural golf courses in Scotland.  The 40 hebridean sheep make their way around the course during the less-busy winter months, nibbling their way through the roughs one patch of grass at a time.  They tend to leave golfers alone, although you may hear them “baaing” out some criticism if they don’t approve of your golf swing.  And, for a bunch of sheep, they are quite hammish – posing for pictures whenever a golfer takes out their camera.

The sheep help us keep the course well-maintained without disrupting the beautiful and delicate flora that inhabits this Site of Scientific Interest.  David Southworth, President and CEO of Southworth Development, had this to say:

“By using these natural lawnmowers to thin out the rough on the course, we are able to help preserve several rare and protected specials of orchids that grow here on this site.  The added benefit is visitors can enjoy the company of these unique companions as they enjoy Scotland’s best golf holiday retreat.”

The sheep certainly bring a bit of personality the Machrihinsh Dunes experience – one that you just can’t explain until you see it for yourself.  Sure, you can imagine it, you can see the pictures, you can even watch the video – but there’s no real substitute for experiencing the natural beauty, charming quirks, and historical significance of playing an all-natural course here, where golf began.  

The New Centre of the Links Golf World

It wasn’t that long ago that Machrihanish was considered the end of road – if not the end of the world.  People made the trek to the town for the golf or the beaches, but it wasn’t a quick journey and when you were done enjoying the area you pretty much had to turn around and go home.

Not anymore.  Thanks to The Kintyre Express, CalMac Ferry, Flybe air service, and government takover of the A83 road down to this rugged corner of Scotland, Machrihanish is now at the heart of some of the best links golf on the planet.  The Kintyre Express offers fast-RIB service that can whisk 12 passengers at a time from nearby Campbeltown over to Ayrshire or Northern Ireland faster than you can play nine holes.  And the new summer CalMac ferry service from Ardrossan means that the trip over from Glasgow is even easier, and you can even take your car across!

Heart of Links-IrelandandScotland

So now you can fly into Glasgow and do a loop that easily includes the robust pairing of Machrihanish GC and Machrihanish Dunes plus Ayrshire courses like:

  • Turnberry’s Ailsa and Kintyre courses
  • Prestwick
  • Royal Troon
  • Dundonald Links
  • Western Gailes
  • Glasgow Gailes

Going the other direction, you can fly into Dublin or Belfast, play the great courses of Ireland and Northern Ireland, and then hop over to Machrihanish.  Some of the courses that could on that itinerary include:

  • Royal Portrush
  • Portstewart
  • Royal County Down
  • Castlerock
  • Ballyliffin

Whichever route you take, you’ll be able to have a go at some great championship courses and add to your trip the gems of the Kintyre peninsula in beautiful Machrihanish.  Anyone who’s ever done such a trip will undoubtedly tell you what a good idea that is.

Golf Au Naturale

In 1879, Old Tom Morris traveled all the way across Scotland from St. Andrews, down the Mull of Kintyre, to the quiet village of Machrihanish.  He’d come to aid in the design of a golf course that’s known today as Machrihanish Golf Club.  Morris loved the site of the course, telling the world that God clearly had created it just for golf.

One hundred and thirty years later, a second course opened in Machrihanish – right next door to its older neighbor.  But giving birth to Machrihanish Dunes Golf Club was by no means easy.  That’s because Machrihanish Dunes sits on what the U.K. government calls a “site of special scientific interest” or SSSI.  The presence of several rare species of orchids and moths meant that building anything on the site would be all but impossible.  But the course’s developers weren’t daunted.  They worked with the government agencies to find a way – and brought in Scots golf course architect David McLay Kidd to explain how a course could be built in such a place and be a boon to its ecosystem.  Kidd, he of Bandon Dunes fame, had frolicked among these same dunes as a child while on holiday in the area with his family.  He explained how a great course could be built with minimal disruption of the land – not with heavy equipment, but the old fashioned way.

The land didn’t need much; when I visited the site prior to the beginning of construction, it was easy to see where the holes would go.  Kidd ended up identifying 23 natural holes on the course’s 250 acres, chose the 18 best ones, and created a routing and construction plan that in the end met with the approval of the land’s protectors.

Machrihansh Dunes Golf Club Hole 14

Machrihanish Dunes’ incomparable 13th green

When all was said and done, Kidd and his crew (which included noted designer “Tall” Paul Kimber) only touched seven of the 250 acres.  That’s right, just seven.  They identified tees and greens and shaped those to some degree, but the rest of the course you play today is by and large just the way Nature created it.  It’s golf the way it used to be – with blind shots, humps and hollows, dips and swales and greens the likes of which you won’t encounter in too many other places.  Machrihanish Dunes reminds me of courses like Lahinch, The Machrie and Ashkernish, courses where it’s the land that dictates what kind of shot you’ll play, not your GPS or yardage book.

Here you’ll find reachable par 4s and all-but-unreachable ones, along with a group of par 3s that are as scenic and challenging as any you’ll find anywhere.  There are six greens and five tees right at the ocean’s edge, so the sound of the pounding surf is your constant companion.

 Mach Dunes #9 at sunset_Snapseed

Sunset over the 9th green at Machrihanish Dunes

For Course Superintendent Kevin Smith and the rest of the Mach Dunes crew, course maintenance is a challenge.  Because of the ecological sensitivity of the site, chemical fertilizers and herbicides are not an option.  Instead, they pick the daisies by hand, and have a herd of Hebridean black sheep to assist with the trimming of the rough.

This is golf the way it began, and from beginning to end, it’s absolutely marvelous.

Cottage Life, Machrihanish Style

When it comes to pampering visiting golfers, the people at The Village at Machrihanish Dunes certainly know what they’re doing.  And their Ugadale Cottages are a good example.  These four-star rated two-bedroom, two-bathroom cottages sit right next to the grand Ugadale Hotel.  And in some ways, they may be even grander.

The Ugadale Cottages were named  “Small Hotel of the Year” by Golf Tourism Scotland in 2010 – and it’s easy to see why.  Each roomy cottage includes a living room area that’s the perfect place to kick off your shoes and relax after a day on the links.  Just flick on the gas fireplace and all memory of double-bogeys will melt away as you warm your feet by the fire.  There’s a kitchen, too, with refrigerator and microwave – plus a dining table.

You’ll find three flat-screen TVs in each cottage for watching sports or movies, one in the living room and one in each of the two bedrooms.  Each bedroom has its own private bath, replete with a shower that can only be described as sinful and oversized towels that you will definitely want to steal.

Ugadale Cottage KitchenYou’ll want to steal the beds, too.  If the first tee of the famed Machrihanish Golf Club wasn’t directly across the street, you might not even get out of bed.  Within crawling distance of these eight luxurious cottages is the Old Clubhouse Pub, where they’ve elevated pub food to a whole different level (haggis nachos anyone?).  If you visit the area with a foursome, see if you can reserve a cottage (or two) here.

Or better yet – buy one, and return to Machrihanish every year the way the local oystercatchers do.  A limited number of these splendid cottages are being offered to the public on a freehold shared-ownership basis.  Unlike timeshare, freehold shared ownership gives you a valid, heritable title that’s registered in the Land Register of Scotland.  The title to your cottage ownership fraction is freehold and yours forever, which means that you can sell it, or pass it on to an heir, at any time you wish.

Ownership is offered in two forms:

Floating Single-Week Seasonal Ownership entitles the owner to one week in the selected season (high, mid or low), subject to reservation which is handled on a first-reserved basis based on the number of weeks owned.  Pricing varies according to season.

Machrihanish Dunes GC Hole #14Four-Week Fixed Ownership entitles the owner to four weeks (one specified week in each season). Pricing varies depending on the size and location of the cottage chosen and the particular weeks selected.  Owners, together with invited family and friends, have full use of the cottage for their purchased week or weeks.  You can choose to let your cottage week(s) to another party on your own – or direct the resort’s management company to offer any given week for let on your behalf with the goal of obtaining a return on your cottage from visiting golfers or holiday makers.

As a final enticement, I’ll mention that cottage owners receive free golf for life on the incredible Machrihanish Dunes golf course.   Gotta love that.

Learn more about ownership by calling Project Manager, Marc Wexler at +44 (0)1586 810 015 or e-mail or enjoy our 2-Night Discovery Package.