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 CLIVE AGRAN
 At the 19th

The true romance of the Highlands

This is a tale of romance, golf, love and more golf. Not that I ever would but, take out the references to golf, and this month’s column wouldn’t look out of place in one of those chick lit, short story magazines you see on the newsagent’s shelf several yards to the left of this one. Once upon a time (about 32 years ago in fact) when playing off a handicap of 12, I met the lovely Rose. Although she didn’t, and still doesn’t, play golf, she’s always been willing to listen sympathetically to my sad tales of topped drives, fluffed chips and missed putts. And that’s just one of the things I love about her. We bought a house together in deepest East Sussex and although there are no good schools in the area or shops worth mentioning, there is the lovely links course at Rye and several decent parkland courses within range. Since Rye required ten members to support an application and the waiting list was longer than Bubba Watson’s drives, I joined delightful Dale Hill.

Twenty-one years ago we were blessed with the birth of a beautiful daughter and I celebrated soon afterwards by capturing the August Midweek Stableford with an impressive 38 points.

My handicap tumbled to nine and although I was too busy playing in monthly medals, club knock-out competitions and society days to consider marriage, we were blissfully happy. Then last September, after an exceptionally solid round at Doonbeg, I walked with Rose along the magnificent sandy beach that borders the course on one side just as the sun was setting. As we drew alongside the 7th, which I had parred only three hours previously with the help of a solid drive and sweetly struck seven iron to 14 feet, I suddenly felt the time was right to do the decent thing. And so when we reached the end of the beach and were immediately adjacent to the par-three 9th, I went down on one knee and proposed without making the Craig Stadler mistake of spreading a towel on the ground thereby ‘building a stance’ and incurring a penalty.

Since there was no stag ‘do’ in St Andrews, Turnberry or Carnoustie, I shall skip the details of our recent wedding and move swiftly on to the honeymoon. Ever alert to my hidden agendas, Rose was initially a little suspicious when I suggested Machrihanish. Like me, she’s a big Beatles’ fan and the close proximity to the Mull of Kintyre finally clinched it.

To be honest, the holiday didn’t get off to the greatest of starts when our flight from Glasgow to Campbeltown was cancelled. Horribly prone to travel sickness, Rose didn’t especially fancy the three-and-a-half hour coach journey but since there are no trains to the Kintyre peninsula and the next flight wasn’t until the following Monday, there was no alternative. As it happens, the scenery was so spectacularly beautiful that by the time we reached our destination, we were rather pleased we hadn’t flown. Apart from the link with Paul McCartney, my other trump card when selling the deal to Rose had been the Ugadale Hotel. And it didn’t disappoint. Extraordinarily elegant, it oozes class and comfort. And it’s got a spa, which I’m given to understand is where wives go when their husbands are playing golf.

Speaking of which, did I mention that the hotel is bang next door to the famous old Machrihanish Golf Club and so as well as the sparkling sea, imposing mountains, sandy beaches and all that other stuff you get in Scotland, we could see the first tee from our room? (We could also see Sir Paul McCartney’s home in the distance which, incidentally, looks like a huge clubhouse). An incurable romantic, I waited a couple of days before taking on Old Tom Morris’s superb creation.

But Machrihanish is not just about one golf course. Certainly not… well, not since they opened Machrihanish Dunes right next door to it. As it is owned by the same nice people who restored the fabulous Ugadale Hotel, I thought it polite to play that one first. Like its neighbour, it’s a true links and about as natural as porridge. Quirky and enormous fun, it apparently has been ‘softened’ since it opened a little while back but was still plenty tough enough for this newlywed. In case you’re worrying, while I checked it out, my wife was, you guessed it, being pampered in the spa.

Surprisingly, there are lot of things to do in Machrihanish besides golf. Although with only two flights a day the plane spotting opportunities are somewhat limited, Campbeltown Airport is worth a visit if only to admire what is allegedly the second longest runway in Europe. And the absence of duty free shopping doesn’t diminish the appeal of the terminal hut. If the locals are to be believed, there’s also the original ‘Long and Winding Road’ made famous by the Beatles’ hit, simply spectacular walks and quite magnificent beaches.

It just so happens that the best beach runs alongside the famous first hole at Machrihanish – thought by many to be the greatest opening hole in golf – and so I suggested to Rose that it would be interesting to view the beach from a slightly different angle. And so for the second time in as many weeks she said ‘yes’ and for the first time in her life accompanied me around a golf course. I’d love to return to Machrihanish one day. Although you’ll think me just too soft and sentimental, I’m thinking of taking Rose back there on our first anniversary to show her what I gather is the very best view of the Mull of Kintyre, which curiously is from the lovely links course at nearby Dunaverty.

July 2012

Reproduced with kind permission of Golf International Magazine

 

 
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