Wednesday, November 23, 2011

scotland If You Build It . . .

Several months ago, a historic track once described as “the remotest of the remote links courses” found new owners who intend to make it the centerpiece of “one of Scotland’s premier golf destinations.”

I’m talking about Machrie Golf Links, an 18-hole, 6,254-yard course that was designed by Willie Campbell and opened in 1891. The course -– it’s located on the Isle of Islay, west of the Scottish mainland –- is often rated among the nation’s top venues and has long been a bucket-list destination for golfers who seek to play unique, rugged links in out-of-the-way places.

In July, Machrie was purchased by a British power couple, Gavyn Davies and Sue Nye, reportedly for $2.14 million. The price includes an accompanying 16-room hotel and 15 stand-alone cabins.

Davies and Nye have announced that they aim to invest “several million pounds” into the waterfront property. They’ll spiff up the hotel and the cabins and add a spa, and it’s believed that they’ll eventually build a second 18-hole golf course. They haven’t made any statements about the existing course, but, as best I can determine, it was last overhauled by Donald Steel in the late 1970s.

The new owners have more than enough money to revitalize Machrie, which has struggled financially for years and was taken over by its lenders in late 2010. Davies, a former chairman of the BBC and a former managing director of Goldman Sachs, now runs a hedge fund that’s made him one of the U.K.’s richest people. His wife, a baroness, once served as a top aide to Gordon Brown, who succeeded Tony Blair as the U.K.’s prime minister. The couple has coveted Machrie for years. They reportedly tried to buy it the last time it came on the market, in the early 2000s.

To be sure, Davies and Nye need to market Machrie imaginatively if they expect to put it in the black. Islay, the southernmost island in the Inner Hebrides, is too hard to reach for casual vacationers, and its only attractions besides the golf course are its eight distilleries, which are said to produce fine single-malt whiskies. On top of that, according to, the island’s weather “can be horrible.”

Nonetheless, Davies and Nye believe a more upscale Machrie can lure golfers from North America, Scandinavia, and northern Europe, especially if it has two golf courses.