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Willie Fernie, A.N. Weir, Major Cecil Hutchison, Philip Mackenzie Ross, Martin Ebert
The Ailsa course at the Turnberry Resort is probably the most scenic Open Championship golf course. Situated on a craggy headland overlooking the small granite island of Ailsa Craig in the Firth of Clyde, with superb views across to the Mull of Kintyre and the Isle of Arran, the course is located in an ideal spot for playing golf.
Turnberry Golf Club was established in 1902 and Willie Fernie of Troon was commissioned by the third Marquess of Ailsa to lay out a championship length course on part of the former Culzean Estate. In 1906, the Turnberry Hotel opened and, in those days, there was even an impressive covered link-way which connected the hotel to the railway station. Wealthy Edwardian guests would not arrive at this hotel wet and bedraggled.
A 9-hole ladies course and improved 18-hole course was laid out by A.N. Weir for the Glasgow & South Western Railway Company at this time but three years later, in 1909, the ladies course had disappeared, replaced with holes 1 to 4 of Mr Weir’s new No.1 course. This layout changed its name to the Ailsa in 1926 and a redesign by Major Cecil Hutchison was completed in 1938, when he combined the old 6th and 7th and introduced the famous par three 15th hole.
Turnberry twice came close to extinction; it was requisitioned during both World Wars and used as an airbase. During the Second World War, a number of holes were flattened and turned into expansive concrete runways. It was the tenacity of the then owners that saved the course. Philip Mackenzie Ross was given the task of returning the flattened land back to its former glory. It was a huge task, but in 1951, after two years of intensive work, the links reopened.
Mackenzie Ross did a great job; the highest compliment being paid when, in 1977, the Ailsa course hosted its first Open. The 1977 Open was a classic, notorious for the famous battle between Jack Nicklaus and Tom Watson. Watson hit an amazing 65 in the last two rounds to beat Nicklaus by one shot. To commemorate this incredible head-to-head tussle, the 18th hole has been renamed the Duel in the Sun.
In the 1986 Open, Greg Norman had an amazing second round in windy conditions. He went out in 32, despite two bogies and had a putt on the 18th for a back nine score of 29. Unfortunately he three-putted, but his round of 63 is still considered to be one of the very best in Open Championship history. He went on to win by five clear shots. The Open returned to Turnberry in 1994 and the Claret Jug was claimed by Nick Price.
The Ailsa course underwent a number of changes under the watchful eyes of design team Mackenzie & Ebert ahead of the 2009 Open Championship. Extensive alterations were made to the 10th, 16th and 17th holes with tweaks made to several other holes. Click here for more.
The 2009 Open Championship was perhaps one of the most exciting events in modern-day history. The whole world focused on 59-year-old Tom Watson who led going into the final round. Watson required a par four on the 72nd hole to win the Open but sadly he couldn’t get up and down from just off the green and made bogey. Watson went on to lose the 4-hole play-off with fellow American Stewart Cink who gladly claimed his first and very much unexpected Major title.
Essentially, the Ailsa’s an out and back layout with the prevailing wind usually at your back for the outward nine. The stretch of holes from the 4th to the 11th is thrilling and the scenery breathtaking. The tee shot on the par four 9th fills you with trepidation as you drive over the rugged shoreline to a blind fairway. This signature hole, called “Bruce’s Castle” takes you past the famous lighthouse and Robert the Bruce’s ruined castle.
The last four holes are as demanding as you will find anywhere, beginning at the short 15th, which falls away sharply to the right of the green. Wilson’s Burn winds round the front of the next hole, catching anything short of the putting surface, and it's followed by a long, narrow par five that rollercoasters wildly from tee to green. The hotel then forms an imposing backdrop to the 18th hole—renamed "Duel in the Sun"—where many a dramatic moment has unfolded in Open championships.
It’s never an easy proposition to play second fiddle to a layout ranked near the summit of the World Top 100, but the new King Robert the Bruce course (formerly known as the Kintyre) re-opened for play in June 2017 after a multi-million pound renovation and it does very well in supporting the illustrious Ailsa at Trump Turnberry.
Trump Turnberry Resort is one of our Top 100 Golf Resorts of the World
Four Englishmen tried their luck with the Scottish weather and took advantage of an offer to play the new Ailsa course in March. I had played the old version a few times and considered, along with many others, the stretch from holes 4 to 11 as one of the very best I have ever played. Would the new version live up to the old?
Fortune smiled on us and, despite snow drifts that day in parts of England we were treated to blue skies and crystal-clear views and temperatures above freezing for the first time in days.
We were given mats to play off which felt a little disappointing at first having paid so much money, but several factors prevented this detracting from our enjoyment. Some of the time we simply moved our balls to the semi-rough (better than most club's fairways) and played from there – no problem. Also, the mats were of high quality and enabled perfectly decent golf shots to be played (not like the thin pieces of carpet I'd be given at other places. This all meant that the fairways looked spectacular and divot-free (unlike the soggy courses we'd left behind in Yorkshire).
I should also point out that we played off the proper tees – we were offered the choice of white or yellow - and played on all proper greens so definitely received the full Turnberry experience.
On to the course itself, were the changes a good idea? The simple answer is a resounding 'yes'. The best really can be made better. Although there are changes to most of the holes, it is probably most apparent on the famous 4-11 stretch. Once down by the sea on the 4th tee, with Ailsa Craig overlooking your tee shot, you really get a sense you're in golfing heaven. The par 3 tee shot is all carry (as indeed are all the par 3s). The green has been relocated closer to the sea and any degree of wind (we had around 10mph from the East) will cast doubts on the golfer's strategy and only a well-executed shot will hit the green.
The next par 3 (6th) has been shortened but the new green is no less easy to hit being on top of a dune ridge. Again, anything other than finding the green and bogeys or worse will likely ensue. Holes 7 and 8 maintain the high standard, threading their way through dune valleys.
It used to be that one strolled from the back of the 8th to the Open championship tee of the then Par 4 9th and marvelled at the carry the professionals must make over the rocky inlet with the sea crashing below. The amateur golfer then walked to a slightly inland teeing area to play a fairly straightforward par 4 without too much danger. Even for the Pros in modern times, this hole has been relatively easy unless there was a rare strong off-shore wind and so even for the Open the drama of the hole had diminished.
Not so anymore. With the re-siting of the green close to the lighthouse, the Open tee is once again daunting as a 248-yard par 3 over the sea. However, unlike the previous version, us mere mortals also have a chasm to cross. Our group resorted to fairway woods into the breeze to carry the ocean below and our good shots were rewarded with a great sense of achievement. This seems to me the closest I will get to playing the 16th at Cypress Point.
The 10th hole was previously one of my favourite holes in all golf, hugging the sweeping coastline as a very tough par 4, littered with bunkers and slopes. It still retains its place as one of the greats. The breath-taking views remain, possibly enhanced by the use of numerous (I think there are 7!) elevated tees all framed by the famous lighthouse behind. The green has been pushed further into the corner of the coastline allowing the hole to become a par 5 which at least gives the amateur golfer a better chance of better of a par if they are not distracted by the glorious scenery.
Finally, we say goodbye to the sea along the 11th but this also has been redesigned to be more of an all-or-nothing par 3 where nothing but the green will do. Another stunning improvement.
The remaining holes are still of a high standard (the 14th green is now almost back at the lighthouse) but it remains the coastline holes which will capture the imagination of every golfer that visits Turnberry.
Needless to say the hospitality, facilities and attention are all of the high standard expected at a top tier golfing resort but it is the course itself that will live long in the memory. RdD
I played Turnberry last summer just after it reopened and whilst I can't comment on what the course was like before, it is without doubt the most visually stunning course I have ever played. It was blowing about 25mph straight off the left on the range, so I headed to the first tee slightly nervy about where the ball might end up! The first three holes are challenging and pleasing on the eye, but it's the 4th where things really take off as you hit the ocean front. Great hole succeeds great hole and the greens are just incredibly located, with the tee shots on 9, 10 and 11 some of my best golfing experiences. It was a bit of a shame when we turned away from the coast and I did find 12 through 16 a bit of a let down, but probably only compared to what had come before. The finish is excellent though and I had the delight of landing my drive just next to the Tom Watson plaque, before going over the green to the exact spot he had in 2009, only to actually make the up and down - it really does send shivers down your spine and it's an amazing end to the round.
It's also worth mentioning the facilities, which are second-to-none. I pretty much had the chipping and pitching greens to myself and I would recommend you give yourself a good 2 hours to soak it all in. The whole experience is just special and whilst I don't think it's consistently the best 18 holes in the area (Western Gailes is, for my money), the high points are the best on any course, anywhere.
Not all golf courses are created equal and that can certainly be said about Trump Turnberry. For here you will find the most spectacular stretch of coastline on any golfing land that I have ever seen.
The natural setting and scenic beauty of the iconic Ailsa course, an Open Championship venue four times over, is simply sublime.
Add to this firm turf, sandy dunes and a stiff breeze blowing off the Ayrshire coast and you are in pure golfing heaven. Turnberry is a place truly made for golf.
From the instant that you leave the third green and head towards the fourth teeing ground you are within a lob-wedge of the shoreline and this persists right up until the moment you depart the 12th tee and head inland to play the excellent closing stretch. During this run of eight glorious holes the water cannot always be seen, and it is not always in play, but you know it is there and this inspiring connection with the sea creates the feeling of spine-tingling golf.
I first played here in September 2015, just before the course closed for major renovation work, and then again after it's re-opening the following year. And whilst minor scar tissue is still there from the changes the transformation of the 'reborn' Ailsa course is staggering and has taken something that was already exceptionally good to an entirely different level. The alterations have created an even closer relationship with the coastline on this stunning run of holes where the ninth, 10th and 11th are as breathtaking and thrilling as anything you will find.
In summary the entire complex at the Turnberry resort is superb. From the delightful 18-hole links pitch & putt course, that greets you on arrival, to the imposing red-roofed hotel that overlooks the clubhouse, golf courses and driving range, everything is just about perfect.
Turnberry is indeed golfing heaven. It’s a special place that has shaped some of the most remarkable moments in the history of tournament golf and provided joy to thousands of golfers. I don't see that changing anytime soon.
Ed is the founder of Golf Empire – click the link to read his full review.
Turnberry is Scotland’s Pebble Beach: scenic beauty combined a beautiful golf course on a headland that hugs the coastline. Turnberry is not all that difficult if the wind is down, the course’s defense is the wind. The opposite is true if the wind is up. The inevitable question that arises, "Is it better than Pebble Beach?" is a tough call. It depends on the importance you give to different factors. Pebble Beach probably has better holes from an architectural standpoint in all (except holes 13, 14 and 15), but I think Turnberry beats it on the scenic beauty front. Turnberry also wins on the speed of play and the caddie experience. As golf writer and architect Donald Steel says describing Turnberry on a beautiful day, "There is nowhere lovelier!" The back tee on the ninth hole is arguably the best tee box in the world (Pebble Beach 18th being the 2nd best). You are hanging on the edge of a cliff with the white lighthouse nearby, the craggy rocks below and one of the most scenic views in golf with the course all around you and the majestic hotel on the top of the hill. To quote the dean of English golf writers, Henry Longhurst, "You find yourself lingering on the tee, gazing down on the waves as they break on the rocks and reflecting how good it is to be alive."
John Sabino is the author of How to Play the World’s Most Exclusive Golf Clubs
Having played Turnberry last year before the renovation I have to say I was less than enthusiastic about the course. Sure there was wonderful history and some great holes or perhaps famous is a better word but I just didn’t love the routing and flow nor did I enjoy all the holes.
In July I was fortunate enough to have another go at a completely renovated Turnberry and the best word to describe the new course is “Wow!”
I will admit to being skeptical given that Trump had purchased the property and taken it over. I kind of expected to find gold plated self-portrait fountains coming out of manmade ponds but that was anything but what’s been done.
Credit certainly goes out to Martin Ebert as he has clearly managed to hold Trump at bay with his crazy ideas and thoughtfully make the very most of Turnberry’s wonderful coastline. Nearly every single hole has been changed and most have received significant alterations or completely new holes. Not only are the new holes a huge improvement in every sense of the word, they also make use of every possible available ounce of eye candy! Amazing holes architecturally and beautiful coastline, what more could you ask for? Whether you have been or you have yet to go, look past the brand name and go enjoy this fantastically renovated course.
This is a brilliant golf course with highly professional and friendly staff. Fantastic attention to detail everywhere you look. The grass paths between holes are beautiful. Though I am still warming to the 'new' old-style bunkers; I would still prefer the revetted type throughout.
The course is hard but very fair. The much hyped new coastal stretch of holes are fantastic; even better than you can imagine. For me the best of the new holes were the Par 5 10th and Par 3 11th.
It's Inconceivable that the R&A will not use the Ailsa for future Opens.
First time playing the course since the changes and although heard good things was a little concerned that they would change the character of the course.
No such worries materialised it is suberb the changes are magnificent 11 particulary now a great hole and trumps attention to detail is evident everywhere and it blends perfectly into the terrain granted we had great weather and i played well (sometimes affects your judgement) would now rank turnberry above Muirfield maybe not RCD but is now my second favorite course and no doubt will rise up the rankings
Improved. Updated. Refurbished. Restored. All words could match but there is no better word than "Reborn" to describe what has happened with this course, they used the exact word to tell us what has been going between Septembre 2015 and June 1st 2016.
When Trump bought the Resort many were afraid that he could do something not accepted by golfers but his commitment was to improve the Resort, better the course and keep the spot in the Open Rota which I feel he will.
First step was to refurbish and give a face change to the Hotel which he did satisfactory, the experience has improved and it looks even better than it used to.
Then they changed that very nice 12 holes par 3 course they had in front of the hotel to a 18 holes pitch and putt course. I have to be honest, I found the previous one more entertaining and nicer, but the job was done very good and the function of this course is a nice place to gamble with friends in the afternoons after golf.
And finally I get to Ailsa Course, which in my previous trips to Scotland I had played but was not my favourite as I liked better Old Course, Dornoch, Aberdeen and Carnoustie but know with the changes the course has gone up to fight for the 1st place with all the above. If you have played the course before the restoration you need to watch and read the document the Design Company prepared before they did the job to understand what has happened. In previous reviews you have read about them, I just will give my opinion on the Major changes.
Holes 1-2-3 have not been changed too much being 4 the first big one having been lenghtened and now you can see the green, it is for sure a better hole now. Then 5 turned to a nice par 5, where you can get home in 2. 6th hole is in my opinion the best minor change, having been shortened to a short iron par 3 with a tougher green from where the view has improved.
Now 7th can be played as a par 5 as it has new tees, previously only during the Open they used the par 5 tees. 8th hasn't had changes and it is maybe the only mistake as fairway is still too tough even for the pros.
Now we face the 3 big changes in 9-10-11 being 9th maybe the best par 3 in Scotland now with a tee shot of 247yds from the Open tees across the ocean, a hole that can compete against 16th at Cypress Point as the best par 3 in the world. The DeBruce Castle has been transformed into a Luxury Suite and the best Half Way House in the world, you can be sure of that. Although 10th has changed from a par 4 to a par 5, tee shot is similar to what it used to be but the second facing the water on the back of the green is really great. 11th used to have the tee by the ocean and still has it but now the shot goes over water to a very challenging green making it a great golf hole. 12-13 remain more or less the same while 14th has become a great par 5 usually into the wind. 15-16 played similar in my memory as they used to be while 17th was transformed into a very tough par 4 and it is my only regret as now we lost the chance of having an eagle hole near the end of the Championship. 18th tees have been changed now put facing the Hotel which is great.
I had a great round of golf despite some strong rain on 14-15 and fell in love with the course, it for sure has reborn and improved to make a spot in the World Top 15 very soon. If you have played it before, go and see the changes. If you have not, it is now a double must. And after the round go to the Half Way House, buy a beer and enjoy the breathtaking views!
The Ailsa as we know it has undergone several significant alterations since Willie Fernie laid out the first course at Turnberry in 1901. AN Weir (1906), Major Cecil Hutchison (1938) and Philip Mackenzie Ross (1951) have all helped to shape the course that’s in play today.
When Donald Trump acquired Turnberry in 2014, he set out to invest heavily in its golf facilities, a move destined to a) cement its place as one of the most desired golfing destinations in the world and b) retain its place on the rota of Open venues used by the R&A.
Having appointed a safe pair of architectural hands to oversee the renovation of the course in Martin Ebert, it was almost a given that the result of an intensive eight-month renovation would be what I forecast when I visited the course during its reconstruction last October – “absolutely sensational”.
It always helps to have a nice, sunny, virtually windless day when visiting any links course but to have that sort of brilliant weather yesterday, when golf writers were invited to preview the “reborn” layout, was just a God-send for the resort and everybody connected with Trump Turnberry who wanted to show the place off at its very best.
In no shape or form did the renovated course let me down. Indeed, if anything, it surpassed my already very high expectation levels. The grass paths were fantastic – the walk up and along to the tees on the 6th reminiscent of the 11th at Carne – and the newly created sandy waste areas, as at the front of the par three 4th and to the right of the fairway on the par four 13th, were totally unexpected.
To think that every single green had been re-laid (and half of them totally re-built from scratch) was nothing short of astonishing. The stimp speed was way off what it will no doubt become but that wasn’t an issue on the day. What mattered was seeing the general roll that could be accomplished on what are brand new putting surfaces.
The sequence of holes from 4 to 6 that runs along the strand is really special, with terrific par threes bookending a fabulous par five that’s had its green moved back and slightly up into the dunes. That marvellous 3-hole streak is repeated at holes 9 to 11, hard on the coastline, where the same par three/par five/par three combination is repeated.
These second two short holes are very good (and a vast improvement on the previous holes) but, if anything, I think the 10th hole in the middle will become one of THE par fives to be talked about in the future. The daft “donut bunker” of the old hole has been replaced with a more formidable sand trap and the green has been moved back onto a little ledge overlooking the rocky shoreline to form a simply stunning golf hole.
The new halfway house in the lighthouse was still being fitted out yesterday, so I only managed a quick look around as workmen were still fitting out the interior of the building. With a balcony off the snug little lounge overlooking the Firth of Clyde, it’s easily the best place I’ve seen in all my golf travels for a pit stop half way round a course.
The new par five 14th is a lot more uphill than I’d imagined it would be but its new routing towards the lighthouse leads to a lofty green position that offers yet more fantastic views of the course and the coastline. One downside to the Ailsa upgrade is the demotion of the par three 15th to weakest of the short holes, though that says more about the strength of the other holes, actually.
I thought I might not like the new stone bridge to the side of the 16th green but it’s tastefully constructed and a worthy replacement for the iconic old wooden bridge that used to span Wilson’s Burn. The chance to have a final view across the landscape from the new 18th tees on top of the dune ridge is just a touch of genius, allowing one last look around before heading towards the home green.
I’ve only a couple of concerns overall, concerning holes 7 and 8 on the front nine. The slope of the back to front tilted green on the 7th has been softened but some might still regard it as too severely contoured whilst the fairway on the 8th is probably still too heavily canted from left to right for many.
The cost of playing here is not inconsiderable for the ordinary golfer paying a casual green fee but I know the Trump course at Aberdeen has discounted rates for those who stay locally or within Scotland. I’d really love to see Trump Turnberry offer similar deals for Ayrshire and national residents as Scottish golfers deserve to be able to play (and take great pride in) what is undoubtedly one of the world’s top golf facilities.
Nice review. Looking forward to a future Open here.
Would rather see a county card scheme at top courses like this than resident rates
Mackenzie Ross did a magnificent rebuild in the years immediately following the Second World War. The Walker Cup was held there in 1963 but the final seal of approval was the 1977 Open when the now famous duel took place between Tom Watson and Jack Nicklaus.
There are many memorable holes on the Ailsa but the par four 9th is probably the stand out. The tee is on a little rocky outcrop from where you hit blind and slightly uphill to a hog back fairway. To your left is the lighthouse and the craggy outline of Robert the Bruce in the rocks. As long as you hit a straight drive then this hole is not as hard as it looks.
The Ailsa is a most enjoyable golfing experience with a wonderful variety of holes. On a still day, it can be at the mercy of the professionals, especially with its well watered fairways helping with ball control. However, in a strong wind and with thick rough then it can really show its teeth.
This review is an edited extract from Another Journey through the Links, which has been reproduced with David Worley’s kind permission. The author has exclusively rated for us every Scottish course featured in his book. Another Journey through the Links is available for Australian buyers via www.golfbooks.com.au and through Amazon for buyers from other countries.