“As one approaches Prestwick,” wrote Bernard Darwin, in his 1910 book, The Golf Courses of the British Isles, “the train seems to be voyaging through one endless and continuous golf course – Gailes, Barassie, Bogside – I write them down pell-mell as they come into my head – Prestwick, St Nicholas, St. Cuthbert, Troon, and several more beside.” Add Turnberry, to Darwin’s list, and you can see why this prodigious stretch of Ayrshire coastline is so special. Glasgow Gailes, and Western Gailes, its next-door neighbour, are the northernmost of these exceptional links.
Glasgow Gailes Links is home to the Glasgow Golf Club, founded in 1787 and the 9th oldest golf club in the world. In those days, golf was played some 30 miles away, in Glasgow City. It was surely an absolute joy for the members when the Gailes course opened for play in 1892 – at last, no more muddy, parkland golf. The opening of Gailes made Glasgow Golf Club unique, with two courses, 30 miles apart. Willie Fernie originally designed the course, but Willie Park Junior revised the layout in 1912.
Glasgow Gailes is a classic links. “The turf is something softer – at least in my imagination – than that of the East Coast courses,” wrote Darwin, “and the greens are wonderfully green and velvety.” There is no doubt that the turf ensures tireless play, and it’s just as well, because there are plenty of courses to play on the West Coast.
Notorious for its whin (gorse) and heather-lined fairways, Glasgow Gailes is a tough cookie. It’s a final qualifying course when the Open is at either Turnberry, or Troon. Needless to say, it tests the very best professionals.
Many of the holes are fraught with danger, with out-of-bounds lurking beyond the railway line and the perimeter of the course. Straight and solid driving is required to card a good score. Beware of the wind – it can be a serious hazard.
Glasgow Gailes is kept out of the limelight by the other legendary links courses situated along this stretch of coastline. But you will be hard-pressed to find a better unsung layout than Glasgow Gailes Links. It really should be included on any must-play list – it’s a genuine test and host to Open Championship Final Qualifying from 2014 to 2017.
Golfers can tell from the tee box on the opening hole that accurate driving will be a key factor in scoring well at Gailes by surveying a relatively tight fairway with wispy grass on either flank - heather and gorse will encroach close to the short cut grass on many of the holes during the round. The first green also bodes well for true links lovers when they see a wonderfully shaven front apron that allows a running shot to be played between a pair of protective greenside bunkers - many of the greens will allow this type of traditional links stroke.
The course is laid out on largely level terrain but - at my favourite hole on the front nine - brilliant use of a ridge and dip in the landscape is employed at the 5th to hide a wickedly contoured green beyond a narrow neck of fairway that kinks slightly right of the line of play.
I wasn’t overly fussed by the loop of four holes around the turn at the northernmost part of the property (I like to have holes revealed to me as I arrive at them, rather than see what lies ahead) but the elevated greens at the short par four 8th and 9th were really tough to score on if an over hit approach was played at the former and an under hit shot was executed on the latter - which is precisely the manner in which I underachieved at both holes, of course!
I loved the two par threes on the back nine; the target at the 12th is more visible now due to the removal of gorse to the left of the hole and the semi blind 15th shows no mercy to any tee shot played long or left of the narrow green as the fall offs from the green are quite severe. Three solid par fours conclude the round at Gailes, the best of these being the short 17th where a semi blind approach over a ridge just might yield a birdie before turning towards the clubhouse.
Willie Park Jnr’s redesign of Gailes marks its centenary next year and it’s only fitting that a course of this quality should be used to co-host the Amateur Championship (along with Royal Troon) as well as providing the venue for the Men’s Home Internationals in 2012. Those top amateurs will be playing from back tees that measure 6903 yards in total (with a standard scratch rating of three over par) but you take my word for it that the regular gents markers are more than capable of testing your golfing abilities to the full. Jim McCann
I would take slight issue that there are no outstanding holes on the course as the three par 3’s are as good as I have played. Not one over 180 yards (take note course designers par 3’s don’t have to be over 200 yards to be difficult) with their defence coming from the ubiquitous calluna heather and gorse. This is a theme throughout the course. The rule is simple stay out of the gorse or be prepared to say adios muchachos to your score and many golf balls. I also thought holes 3,5,7 (but ignore the marker post as the true line is 20 – 30 yards right of the post), 10, 14 and 17 were well above average. It is difficult to find fault with Glasgow Gailes. The golfing authorities would seem to agree as this distinguished track will again act as a final qualifying course for this year’s Open it will also host next years Scottish Amateur Strokeplay and 2012 Home Internationals. It is a very fair test of golf on a course which simply oozes style and class and one I would be honoured to play again. MPPJ