The brief

The Machrie is an independently owned resort on the beautiful Isle of Islay in the Inner Hebrides.

It was purchased in 2011 by Sue Nye and Gavyn Davies, and they’ve converted the golf course into an outstanding, and exceptionally playable, layout.

After decades as an undiscovered island links, they commissioned DJ Russell to reconfigure the routing and create a must-visit golfing destination.

Situated right next to the island’s only airport, they’ve also built a four-star hotel with a spa alongside the redeveloped golf course.

Our relationship with The Machrie came about via a referral from one of our existing clients, and we’ve been working with Sue, Gavyn and their team since March 2020.

We initially had two days of creative planning with their senior leadership team to go through the marketing in detail – to hear what they thought the challenges and opportunities were.

We reviewed all that, and then went back to them with our ideas and solutions, which they really engaged with, and it has been a collaborative project ever since.

The problem

As well as not having overall control of the marketing, which was at that stage delivered by the hotel’s marketing team, Sue and Gavyn felt that the proposition wasn’t quite right.

They were looking to attract people to the hotel, and saying ‘by the way, we’ve got a golf course you can play if you want’, but what they wanted to do was attract golfers to the golf course in the first instance, who would then obviously also stay in the hotel.

So, we worked with them to work out what was the right strategic approach in terms of the golf course’s relationship with the hotel.

They knew they had fantastic product, but the marketing mix was the wrong way around and they acknowledged they weren’t golf experts and were looking for outside help.

As well as rebalancing the approach to how the hotel and golf were marketed, we also had to consider the course’s relationship with Islay Golf Club, which is the club that has playing rights on the links.

The objective

Whilst we had more detailed metrics that we were looking at, the overarching objective was to flip the approach of the marketing of The Machrie from a hotel that had a golf course that residents could play, to a world class golfing destination that offered the opportunity to book a complete golf break.

Also, one of the more informal targets that we enjoyed tackling was for golfers booking to stay in the hotel to outnumber the amount of whisky visitors!

The approach

Our proposition was to create a website that was purely about the golf, designed to market an outstanding golf course, with amazing views and classic links turf – making that experience the centre piece of the website.

Another big consideration is the location. It’s a challenging place to get to, in the middle of the Irish Sea and interesting transport options.

The journey itself is quite an undertaking – you can get a plane from Glasgow, or a ferry from Kennacraig – and so we wanted to tell the story of that journey as being a key part of the experience, rather than a stumbling block.

We genuinely saw it as a huge positive, especially last year during the pandemic, as you were able to feel like you’d escaped mainland Britain, without the requirement of a passport or onerous Covid protocols.

Therefore, a big part of our content strategy was to create a narrative around the journey itself being part of the whole experience.

Allied to that was telling the story of island life. There are nine distilleries on Islay, so it’s a big tourist destination for whisky lovers, as well as having amazing bird watching, and stunning beaches and walks.

It’s a properly unspoilt island, so marketing the island as being a fantastic destination, allied to fantastic golf, was a big part of the narrative.

As such, all our content was either about the golf course itself, island life, or the journey to get there.

The detail

First up, we built a brand new website that really sold the scale of the experience through some amazing photography, and also featured some improved functionality.

We then created the content around the quality of the course, the island and the journey, which was a suite of original videos.

Once that was in place, it was about how we then marketed that to golfers.

We were still in various pandemic restrictions, so we had to consider geography in terms of who we targeted as an audience. We focussed on the west coast of Scotland, then Scotland as a whole, and then Northern England – in that order – as our target market.

We utilised paid Facebook campaigns and plenty of organic social media activity.

We were aided by a seven-year-old getting a hole in one on their wee course in the middle of our campaign, which got something like 250,000 views in a week, which was a nice bonus!

We ran PPC advertising too, using Google AdWords to target people looking for top 100 golf courses, links golf breaks, or island golf holidays, which was really successful.

The deliverables

The original deliverables were:

  • Strategic planning sessions
  • Marketing and content strategy development
  • Brand new website
  • Creation of original content and marketing assets
  • Paid advertising strategy and management

As a result of the success of the original work, 18Players now provide the following services on an ongoing basis.

  • Ongoing social media management
  • Ongoing paid advertising management

The results

They’ve now got a brand new sales channel, and rather than being reliant on hotel guests who might book to play golf, they’ve now got golfers booking tee times first, and then their accommodation alongside that as part of the deal.

Golfers staying in the hotel now outnumber whisky tourists, which was one of our objectives.

Mission accomplished!