The Best Opening Hole in Golf

Words by: Alex Ames
Photography by:Graeme McCubbin

It started with a map, it always does. It would take us to the hiding place of a would-be king, an island where the first whiskies were brewed and the sheep outnumber people. A place so unfussy that even Paul McCartney is known simply as “Paul”. Shiskine, Machrihanish, Dunaverty and The Machrie - the frontier courses of The Frontier Collection.

Episode 2: The Mull of Kintyre

Much like King Robert The Bruce (See Episode 1), Paul McCartney found refuge in Western Scotland at a time of dire need. After breaking up with The Beatles, McCartney retreated to his quiet farm on the Mull of Kintyre. One afternoon he and Denny Lane, of The Wings, wrote a love letter to Scotland whilst nursing a bottle of whiskey and inhaling the beauty of their surroundings.

It’s a simple song. One McCartney never intended to be a hit until the local bagpipers of Campbeltown, who performed the backing track, insisted ‘the exiled Scots all over the world. It’ll be a big single for them.’ They were right. The Mull of Kintyre was the first single ever to sell over 2 million copies and, to this day, is one of the best-selling UK singles of all time.

Paul McCartney and Denny Lane with the bagpipers of Campbeltown.

Mull of Kintyre

Oh mist rolling in from the sea,

My desire is always to be here

Oh Mull of Kintyre

The lyrics rang true as we stepped onto the best opening hole in golf. The tee box on the first at The Machrihanish Golf Club is so far out in the Atlantic you must carry anywhere between 50 to 300 yards (depending on your line) back over Machrihanish Bay to reach the fairway.

Having played a friendly round at Shiskine (See episode 1), it was time our “models” upped the ante. Two better-than-scratch handicappers, Josh Park and James Wilson, paired with two handsome blokes, Kareem Smith and Harry Clements. A classic Pro-Am format.

Harry, one of the Ams in the fourball, set himself up to make the shortest carry possible. Alas, the pressure of a once in a lifetime tee box forced his drive right, taking his ball over beach, fence and road to find a front garden. Our host Greg politely waited for Harry to leave before revealing that in 10 years, he’d never seen or heard of anyone hitting that shot.

Harry and Kareem received 1 shot per hole in the match, which was generally used to escape the thick rough that lined Old Tom’s exquisite fairways. The game twisted and turned along the beautiful coastline, but by 18, it was all square. A play-off hole meant Harry would have another crack at the first.

This time, Harry found the fairway, but it was Josh Park of California who drew first blood, hitting a 3 iron to 3 feet (this guy can play). James could only muster a par. All eyes turned to Harry who needed an up and down from 65 yards to send the match to a second playoff hole. James, the ever composed Scot, made a strong recommendation for a links savvy bump and run. Naturally, Harry pulled a 60 degree wedge and James’ heart sank. 10 duffed yards later, the game was all but finished. Despondent, Harry drew his putter, took a deep breath and sank one from 55 yards. Pandemonium.

Kareem and Josh didn’t flinch. They walked to the 18th tee, where Kareem reached deep to scrape the barrel of his abilities. Refusing to be beaten, Kareem hit four iron, wedge, chip, putt. Net birdie. Game. Set. Match.

Over a homemade dinner that night, at the wonderful Hall Bed & Breakfast, Kareem and Harry took turns describing their big moments. Josh and James, who had both shot under par, watched like proud Dads as the Ams soaked up the limelight. It was a perfect reminder that no matter the state of your scorecard, or the day you’ve had, redemption can be found in any shot.

Episode 3: To Make a House a Home, Dunaverty