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Meet Golf Pro David Foley

The Machrie’s head golf professional

Amongst golf aficionados, The Machrie is regarded as one of Scotland’s great links courses. But it’s recently undergone a complete transformation to make it as appealing for new players and experienced golfers alike. The Machrie’s head golf professional, David Foley, is passionate about “watching new players get the bug for the first time”. He takes us on a virtual tour around its greens and dunes, from the ‘faces’ in the hills to explosions of heather, learning the foundations to opening up the conventions…

Golf professional David Foley at The Machrie

I was born in Ireland, which is where I’ve spent most of my golfing career. I’ve been a professional golfer for nearly 30 years, starting as an assistant professional in Shannon, then 20 years in Dromoland Castle as head professional and director of golf, and also a GUI County coach for Clare and Limerick.

Moving to Scotland was the last thing on my mind when I first came here in 2018. Life in Ireland was good. I was settled, and comfortable. I brought up my family there and had lots of friends, so I really had no desire to change anything. I was even starting to think about going back to compete on the circuit again, which I’d put on hold for the first 10 years or so while my kids were young.

Golf lessons on Islay at The Machrie

Out of the blue, in early 2018, I got a phone call from Rod Park, a golf consultant. He wanted to talk to me about this incredible place called The Machrie, on this island called Islay somewhere out on the west coast of Scotland. At that point, I’d never heard of it. But Rod was very persuasive, and he convinced me to come over and take a look. So I did. And the minute I arrived, I instantly knew I’d found somewhere very special – and a golf course that was just phenomenal.

“The minute I arrived, I instantly knew I’d found somewhere special.”

The Machrie Golf Course

The Machrie has a magic to it. It’s a lot to do with the setting, of course – you’re out on this wild island, surrounded by sea, exposed to everything that nature and the weather can throw at you. But it’s also to do with the history.

It’s one of Scotland’s great links courses. It was designed back in 1891 by the great Willie Campbell (whose wife, Georgina, was the world’s first female professional). Many of the golf greats have played here: giants of the game like Harry Vardon, James Braid and so many others. In 1901, the biggest money match of all time was played here for £100, which was an enormous sum back then. That sense of history is part of what makes The Machrie unique. I love talking to the guests about it.

Reopening in 2018, The Machrie has undergone the biggest transformation in the last 130 years. It’s the work of the brilliant course designer D.J. Russell. Up to that point, The Machrie was probably most famous for having 17 blind holes – a formidable challenge for experienced players, so not everybody’s cup of tea, obviously. Some people loved it for that quirkiness, but we wanted to make it appealing to a much wider group of players – to create a course that could test experienced golfers, but also be played by people who’d never tried the sport before. That was really important for everyone involved.

David Foley Pro Golfer

“We wanted to make it appealing to a much wider group of players – to create a course that could test experienced golfers, but also be played by people who’d never tried the sport before.”

It’s been so exciting to be involved in developing a new course from scratch. That’s a real treat for an old pro like me. We’re constantly evolving the course based on feedback from the guests, and our own ideas. At the end of every season we sit down and think about what we want to do next year, how we can improve the experience, things we can tweak and change and develop. That’s a big part of the fun of working here, with an amazing golf team led by our incredible course manager Dean Muir.

What D.J. Russell has created here is a masterpiece. I’ve been lucky enough to travel all around the world and play on lots of amazing courses, but this is absolutely one of the best. It’s a test for every skill level, but it’s playable for every level, too – whether you’re a complete beginner or a good golfer. That’s a rarity in golf design. The runoffs and fall-offs and contours around the greens are just fantastic fun, no matter what your ability.

Golf course at The Machrie

Even as a novice, you can learn the foundations in a day. Many of our guests have never played before, but they leave here with a passion for the sport that will hopefully stay with them for the rest of their lives. We’re lucky enough to have amazing facilities here, including our short game areas, a driving range and our Hebrides putting green. We also have a dedicated tuition room with a state-of-the-art Trackman simulator, which is a brilliant tool that helps us analyse your stroke and hone your technique.

One of my favourite parts is our ‘Wee Course’. It’s a must-play for everyone; a great way to start to learn the basics of the game, and practise the skills you need to move on to the links course. It’s been designed so you can create a new experience every time, by combining the holes and approaches in different ways. There are six holes, six greens, no bunkers and four possible routes that we can use. Sometimes, we can even close off the whole thing, so you can play from any green to any green. It’s a never-ending challenge.

For me, one of the huge pleasures of teaching golf is watching people improve. It’s great to coach experienced players and help their game get better, but for me it’s even more special to watch someone getting the golfing bug for the first time. Golf is a game for life, and I’ve always been passionate about expanding the appeal of the game, especially with juniors and ladies. There’s nothing better than watching someone learn the foundations and start hitting some shots on their own for the first time. That sense of excitement and discovery is really infectious.

I’ve never liked the exclusive side of golf. When I started out as a young player, I did feel excluded as a junior with certain rules and teams. But it has been a brilliant transformation over the years, seeing the growth of golf across all backgrounds. My career has been all about encouraging people to play, and the more people who take up golf, the better it is for everyone. Making people feel welcome is our mission; it’s something I’m really passionate about and The Machrie is a perfect spot for that.

“We wanted to make it appealing to a much wider group of players – to create a course that could test experienced golfers, but also be played by people who’d never tried the sport before.”

I can’t imagine being anywhere else. Islay is always changing: the weather’s different, the wind’s different, the wildlife’s different. Every time you go out there, it’s like a different place. Everything I need is here, right on my doorstep. The whole island is quite simply heaven in every way.

Summer is my favourite time on Islay. In July and August, the purple heather explodes with colour. Some of the greens feel a bit like amphitheatres, surrounded by the marram grass – and when the wind’s blowing, it’s almost like there are faces in the hills, watching you play. And the sea vistas and sunsets out here on the west coast are just spectacular. The light on Islay is like nowhere else I’ve ever been.

Golfing at The Machrie

Links course

The Machrie has an 18 hole world-class links course ranked #75 in the world by Golf World. Take a look at each hole in detail with their 18 hole fly-over. On route to the 1st tee there is a practice putting green and bunker. Green fees start at £65.

Putting green

‘Hebrides’ is their enormous 4,550m² putting green, inspired by the ‘Himalayas’ alongside the Old Course at St Andrews. It combines slopes and contours and is great for novices through to families.

The ‘Wee Course’

For a thorough short-game, head to the six-hole par three Wee Course, a great place to learn and for younger golfers.

Trackman 4

Visit the Golf Academy to practise on the Trackman 4 or play other courses with the golf  simulator. Using the Trackman tech, David Foley PGA combines science and experience to record the finest details of your swing and explain the most effective ways to transform your game. Helps all levels of golfers to improve.

David can transform absolute beginners into enthusiastic players, and will improve even the best players at The Machrie. A one-hour lesson with David starts at £60.

Driving range

A covered driving range includes a variety of target greens from 50-270 yards.

Stay on Islay

Come on a Scottish island adventure with us to The Machrie this August and discover the world-class golf links and take a lesson with David…