The elements orchestrated a symphony of hospitality. The afternoon sun cast sparkling shadows across the rumpled turf. The wind lowered to a gentle ocean breeze. The waves lapped the sandy shores of both bays below Dunaverty Golf Club. Miles across the water, a rainbow appeared over the mainland. Scotland seemed happy to have me.
Standing on the fourth tee, my happiness glowed ear to ear. A golfer can’t help but smile at the audacity holes such as this, built just steps from the namesake battle-born rocky point that has seen its share of bloodshed — literally, historically and, most likely, swingingly. A lone ocean-view house hovered above the par-3 green, 162 yards away. Or where one would assume the green must be. It’s all blind. Aim your shot over the crest and take your chances with the rub of the dell. A perfect land-and-bounce leaves you with a birdie putt. A little less luck results in a tricky sidehill pitch.
Walking the fairways of golfing nirvana looks a bit different the third time around. But unlike two previous journeys, this was my first time tackling Scotland by myself — exploring new regions, peninsulas, courses and accommodations armed with nothing but a suitcase, camera, rental car, iPhone maps and my threadbare MacKenzie Walker sack full of hickory sticks.
Not only was I alone in the country, I was alone out here on the bluffs of Dunaverty at the southern tip of Kintyre, surveying one of the United Kingdom’s wonderfully remote spots where most golfers would be surprised to find a friendly 4,799-yard course with seven 3-pars and just a single 5-par. And with nobody else around, I took the opportunity to play the fourth hole more than once. Five times, in fact — lugging my lightweight bag back and forth from tee to green until I found that perfect swing. Reaching the summit on the final approach, I spotted a 10-foot birdie putt awaiting my return in the bathtub green below.
On that September day, with the sun stalking the horizon, I became a lover of blind shots. And Dunaverty features plenty, each one delicious in its own right. In fact, much of the Kintyre Peninsula is dotted with obscured shots and sunken greens, dating back to Old Tom Morris’ Machrihanish and seen anew in the modern Machrihanish Dunes, designed by architect and native son David McLay Kidd, who grew up learning the game on these very links.
Months later, back in the U.S. while discussing his Gamble Sands layout in Eastern Washington, McLay Kidd told me about a piece he wrote for Golf Course Architecture. He explained the responsibility an architect should embrace when creating blind approach shots: “If you’re going to give me [as a player] something blind, and I use my faith to believe you, then you can’t do something terribly bad to me. It has to work out relatively well. It can’t be death over the hill.”
And that’s how Dunaverty — which I now fondly remember as golf’s equivalent of the movie “Bird Box” — taught me to appreciate golf holes built upon the foundation of delayed gratification. The thought process. The feel of a well-compressed ball strike. The climb. The anticipation of the reveal. The euphoria of success. Death never lurked beyond the rise. Missed greens rarely resulted in lost balls. Hitting driver into some holes and irons into others, each blind shot was merely an opportunity to solve a small sector within the grand puzzle of golf — in which different pieces confound us all.
So I hiked the humps and hollows of Dunaverty during that fitting introduction to Kintyre, snacking on homemade treats from the clubhouse (and an occasional Mars bar, of course), hitting extra shots here and there to see how golf ball and golf ground chose to interact with different club selections — a hickory jigger running shot one minute, a flopping wedge to an elevated green the next. Some holes play hard along the coast, others disappear into the terrain. The tee box for the par-4 No. 3 is wedged between beach and caravan park. Dramatic drop-shot drives and plateau approaches take turns magnifying the risk-reward. The only two bunkers on the golf course add a twist to the 180-yard No. 7 and 148-yard No. 16. And the penultimate hole — a 412-yarder simply called “The Burn” — might be the most fun-quirky of them all, requiring a shot over water (and dirt road) to find the back-to-front sloping green. (After laying up into the wind, I hit three different wedge shots into the 17th just to experiment with the backboard bounces.)
All told, I walked and played 25 holes of golf that day — in just over three hours. Fading sunlight prevented me from adding even more to that total. And a rumble in my belly would need to be satiated back at The Royal Hotel in Campbeltown with a Harbourview Grille dinner ending in (what else?) sticky toffee pudding and local Glen Scotia single-malt whisky.
Back upstairs in my second-floor room, I left the window open to feel the sea breeze and smell the salt air. As I drifted in and out, dreaming about the day, the pitter-patter of rain drummed a familiar Scottish tune on the streets below and water beyond. It was a gentle reminder that, today, I had beaten the golf-travel game, regardless of the scorecard.
Tomorrow might be a different story. Every day in Scotland is a new adventure. Up next was the 36-hole duo of Old Tom’s Machrihanish (with its world-famous opening tee shot) and Kidd’s Machrihanish Dunes (with its own share of sometimes subtle, sometimes spectacular surprises). The forecast showed rain, as it often does. Perhaps the country wouldn’t feel quite as hospitable during my second and third rounds. Days like Dunaverty are tough to beat. And in this enchanting land of links, you never quite know what is beyond the next rise.