When Robert Adam, a young man from Leven in Fife, moved to Irvine, just north of Troon on the West Coast of Scotland in 1884, he found no golf course within comfortable travelling distance. His desire to rectify that situation, and the drive and leadership of one, James Stewart, led to a meeting of thirteen men at the King's Arms in 1887 to form a Club on land in Bogside, a tract of land belonging to the 14th Earl of Egilton.
Irvine Golf Club's current design owes much to the work of James Braid in 1926, and its status is confirmed by its regular hosting of national events including the Open Qualifying events held there prior to the Open Championship at Royal Troon and Turnberry.
Of medium length, it begins with one of five par fours over 400 yards, while successive shortish par fours, 4th and 5th call for accuracy on a course where gorse and heather define the fairways. A further long par four is again followed by a short par four, the 7th.
“Braid”, a 373-yard par four, opens the back nine, before we reach the longest hole on the course, 465-yard “Grandstand”, named because the remains of the old grandstand on the Bogside Racecourse lies to the west of this dogleg.
Views of Arran dominate the 12th tee, one of eight par fours on the back nine, which continue to test the golfer’s, resolve. The lone par three on the home nine is the 16th where a cross-bunker demands a solid carry to the green. The challenge on the 17th is more the green itself, while the 18th once again introduces sand as the main hazard.
Irvine Golf Club has produced three former Scottish Amateur Champions, a testimony to its quality and it provides yet another reason to travel to this wonderful golf country, the South West Coast of Scotland.
I played the course today after securing one of the last winter tee times available (with 50% off regular green fees) and I came away feeling well pleased to have renewed my acquaintance with an old personal favourite that deserves to be ranked FAR higher in the current Scottish listings.
Only 16 holes were in play due to extensive work taking place on the two short par fours at the 4th and 5th but my playing partner and I at no time felt we’d been short changed – in fact, the very friendly chap behind the counter in the pro shop told us to play “wherever we liked” if we felt inclined to make up the loss of these two holes!
Greens weren’t great to putt on, it has to be said, with some better than others in terms of pace and bumpiness.
Nonetheless, it felt grand to be out on such a beautiful sunny morning after the recent atrociously bad weather and we were prepared to overlook the odd conditioning lapse at this time of year.
The five bunkers that surround the green on the par three 8th have all been refaced over the winter and they now form formidable obstacles at this short hole.
The 13th (“Snodgrass”) is a terrific par four on the inward half, boasting, as it does, one of the most intimidating tee box driving positions in Scottish golf.
It’s a pity there doesn’t seem to be much land available to extend the layout beyond its current length of 6423 yards as it deserves to be played by the top pros when they play in final qualifying when the Open’s held at Troon or Turnberry.
Take time to read some of the correspondence on the wall outside the lounge in the clubhouse where you’ll find old letters from companies owned by the likes of Willie Park, Ben Sayers, Sandy Herd and Harry Vardon – fascinating stuff from some of the golfing greats of a bygone era..
And if there’s a more informal, reasonably priced bar menu in Scotland, I’ve yet to find it so fill your boots both on the course and in the clubhouse afterwards when you play at Irvine.
Irvine is the last of the great courses on the west flank of Scotland that I have played, on a stretch of coast from West Kilbride down to Turnberry. It's not quite up there at the heady heights of Turnberry, Troon or Western Gailes but it can more than hold its own against the likes of Gailes, Barassie and Dundonald.
And yet, compared to those half dozen links courses mentioned, Irvine has more the feel of a heathland course, with gorse and heather keeping fairways tight in many places.
Holes 4 and 5 are charming back-to-back short par fours, each measuring less than 290 yards then hole 6 drops in elevation down to the Garnock River (to the level that a “proper” links would be played).
The first of only two par threes is not played until the 8th and the hardest hole (by far) when I played today was number 12 – two huge bunkers on the left at the kink in the fairway pressure the drive before a long approach can be played to a still distant green.
The second par three on the card allows a wee breather before the biggest surprise of the round – two excellent par four holes to finish.
The 17th has the railway running all the way down the left to a wickedly sloping green before a blind tee shot is played over two enormous, sleepered bunkers up to the final fairway – a thrilling end to a round.
Greens, aprons and bunkers were maintained to the highest standard (which made the use of wee metal bins as tee markers seem quite out of place) but overall, Irvine is a very under rated course in my humble opinion.
Add the fact that the enormous clubhouse is run on a seemingly informal basis – with a very reasonable menu for hungry golfers – and you will understand why it is deserving of a five ball mark.