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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.
At this time, a 9-hole ladies course and an improved 18-hole course was laid out by A. N. Weir (former head professional at Cruden Bay) for the Glasgow & South Western Railway Company, 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 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 par three 9th begins a genuinely world-class sequence of three holes laid out along the water’s edge where the tee shot at #9 plays across the bay at Turnberry Point to a green beside the lighthouse which serves as a fabulous halfway house grill.
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 remodelled par four that replaces the former long, narrow par five hole. 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.
Architect Martin Ebert returned to Turnberry in 2015 to conduct a major update
to the Ailsa course: The Ailsa course undergoes a major facelift. Every
single hole was upgraded to some degree, primarily involving greens and bunkers.
The result of this work has since been met with universal approval, elevating the Ailsa’s already
high profile to an entirely different level.
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 Arran and later renamed 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
The best course I have played. Stunning. The stretch of holes from 4 through to 12 must be the best stretch of holes anywhere in the world. The rest are brilliant with no weaknesses.
I played Turnberry 2 years ago on a golf trip with American friends. I had very mixed feelings about it because of my distaste for the current owner. But setting those feelings aside and focusing on the golf course it was enjoyable and a real test. That said I think that the setting ( lighthouse, sea views, Ailsa Craig ) perhaps influences more positive views of the course than are warranted. I though the opening holes a little pedestrian and the finish too (particularly the last) - although I have nothing against straightforward 18th holes because they tend to work rather well for places like Troon and Lytham ( birdies opportunities!). The stretch of holes along the coast line are terrific though. I was surprised by the changes of elevation on the back nine but they didn’t inspire me. I played Troon and Western Gailes on the same trip and enjoyed both more and that was despite round being played in pouring rain (played Turnberry in blazing sunshine and played my best golf of trip). I can also remember the holes on those courses far better. Of the links courses I have played I can’t see how it can be ranked above Birkdale or RSG.
First and foremost i’m here to critique the course but I do need to state that the hotel, grounds and facilities truly are 5 star. From the welcome at reception, to the decadent suite, to the service in the clubhouse Trump Turnberry is a complete, breathtaking opulent experience.
Right to the course. Holes 1 to 3 were steady opening holes. A little similar possibly but nothing to write home about. Hole 4 is where the magic starts a mid range par 3 with a large mound to the right and wasteland, bunkers, beach and thick rough to the left. With an excellent view from the tee you get a sense that only a great shot will leave a putt which makes this a truly exhilarating and demanding golf hole.
Hole 5 was an excellent short par 5 with the wind behind and only required two irons to get to the green such was the 10mph tailwind and the firm fairways. A scoring hole
Hole 6 seemed like Turnberrys version of the postage stamp. A very short par 3 where you teed off from a raised plinth. A simple shot but on days where the elements are against you could lead to disaster.
Hole 7 was another gettable par 5 in two, with the line over the left bunker. Although fraught with danger the rewards were a short iron in for an eagle putt. Take out the driver and rip one down there. A great risk reward hole accompanied by sink hole green side bunkers that seem to hoover up even decent approaches (i’m still bitter)
Hole 8 an outstanding par 4. The green being one of the most spectacular views on the course. Watching my partner putt he had the Irish Sea behind whilst he negated a very fast downhill long putt. Postcard worthy
Hole 9 is the standout hole. The lighthouse the rocks, the thought of playing this hole from the competition tees make this one of the greatest holes in golf. When they next get an open (hopefully) this hole will be the talk of all the players and media. It has got to be one of the best golf holes in the world. In comparison i’ve played the Vale de Lobo 16th and it’s not even in the same league. The only negative for me is that the yellow and white tees don’t quite have the same risk and difficulty as the black ‘Open championship’ tees. With wind behind it wasn’t that tricky a shot from the yellows/whites and i think they should of made them more alike. Granted i know this would have been difficult.
Hole 10 was another short par 5 with a very wide fairway. A wonderful tee box view again hitting slightly down onto a fairway with a few pot bunkers to negate. The second shot is where the difficulty lies and if you can safely clear the large fairway bunker then a mid/short iron running up the green is the best play. The green seems to turn towards the sea and again leaves you with a vista of extreme beauty.
Hole 11 is a par 3 again hugging the rocks. Another world class hole that will test a players nerve and skill. The wind was slightly pushing towards the water and so we were thankful of the pin placement on the very right hand side of the green. Majestic.
At hole 12 we turned and were going back into the wind. The holes there on in were longer and more testing and lacked a little bit of character compared to the holes along the coast. Some were a little flat and not that memorable. Stand outs were hole 16 with a hidden burn and hole 17 where you had to drive through the mounds either side of the fairway. Two very good inland holes.
Hole 18 is an average hole but do take time to go to the right hand side of the fairway to see Tom Watson’s plaque from his famous ‘duel in the sun’ with Jack Nicklaus.
The Ailsa course certainly didn’t disappoint but i don’t think it exceeded expectations. On one hand i’d played a stretch of holes that were utterly breathtaking and were some of my all time favourites but on the other I knew of its rating as the 8th best in the world and I couldn’t comprehend that it could be rated better than pebble beach, augusta and portrush to name but a few. I didn’t get the feeling especially in the disparity between the great holes and average ones that it was top 10 in the world. I think maybe that rating is a slightly off the mark.
I came expecting to be giving my first ever 6 ball review but it just fell short. But that’s not to take away from its brilliance. I look at 6 balls for perfection and it just fell short. It was the best course i’ve ever played and i’d advise everybody to go play it and see for yourself because it is truly a great golf course.
confused.com... Ailsa is the best course you've played and you're questioning its top ten ranking? If and when you get to play Pebble you'll soon know which course is better. There's little to choose between the Dunluce and the Ailsa. I've only walked Augista but I'm not convinced it's better than Turnberry but it's certainly different.
Niall, I think Andrew is correct to underrate rather than the usual overrate. Makes a refreshing change.
Hi Niall, I get your point, but as OP says this would be his first ever 6 ball review for perfection (he's only done 2 though, so imagine more to come - Welcome Timothy !) and I don't think that Ailsa is perfect with the holes around the monument being a bit plain.
I happily give it 6 balls, but then I do that for other exceptional courses.
I'm not expecting perfection though, and my golf game wouldn't deserve it if I found it !
Fantastic. If you can forget about the owner for 5 hours then this is truly a great place to play golf. I find the start a little bit slow then 4-11 is as good a stretch as you find anywhere. I find 12-14 a little bit uninspiring, but the last 4 lift it back up. An absolute must play
Incredible course and feel (post renovation). Played twice over a weekend and was a great test of golf. Its worth a weekend (the Robert the Bruce course can also be played there but the greens were extremely slow when i was there). The weather in that region is unpredictable but for a little extra risk you can play quite reasonably in shoulder seasons. Excellent hospitality on the grounds as you would expect from Trump.
This place is magical. I didn’t see the course before the recent renovation so can’t comment on what it was like before, but now, it is hard to imagine a better golf course.
As has been noted, the first 3 holes are good solid holes but a part of you is just itching to get down to the coastline so these holes still have a slight ‘amuse bouche’ feel to them - before the main course starts.
4 is a great par 3 played right along the beach to a green with a sand dune on the right hand side. This is the start of an unbelievable stretch.
5 is a good par 5 that is well protected by bunkers.
6 is a great par 3 with an elevated tee in the dunes down to an undulating green that falls off massively on all sides if you miss it (from experience, missing right is not fun!).
7 is another par 5 played up the hill with well-placed bunkers along the fairway and around the green.
8 is a very difficult long par 4 that doglegs slightly left to a raised green in the dunes. Take a minute to look back to the fairway as you leave the green - the view is sublime.
9 is a breathtaking par 3 across the cliffs before reaching the great halfway house (inside the lighthouse). This is a great place to stop but we were rushed out to the 10th tee by the Marshall which was a shame (why have such a great halfway hut if you can’t spent more than 2 minutes in there!?).
10 is a stunning par 5 played along the coast to a green nestled by the sea. My biggest regret here is how badly I played this hole. I cannot wait to go back and do it justice. This is followed by the final hole along the coast - a beautiful par 3 played from a tee on the rocks to another green nestled by the sea.
12 is the start of the inland holes. Despite not having the excitement of the previous 8 holes, these are all very good holes that are testing and beautiful in their own right. It is only the quality of the previous holes that make these feel slightly underwhelming in comparison.
The holes have their qualities though. 12 is a good par 4 which has a crumpled fairway and bunkers on both sides. The approach is made difficult as there are two bunkers short of the green and the green runs away quickly, any low running shot needs to be precise here. 13 is a shorter par 4 with a lot of fairway bunkers calling for an iron or fairway wood off the tee. The green is slightly raised with a few run offs which protect without the need for bunkers. I actually really like this hole.
14 is a tough par 5 that winds its way up the hill with a tricky green that slopes quite severely. 15 is a good par 3 but the it’s the final 3 holes which really stand out.
16 is a brilliant par 4 with a tough approach played from an elevated fairway to a green surrounded by a deep burn. 17 is a tough par 4! A fun drive played between the dunes followed by a long uphill approach (again, played between the dunes) to an elevated green. This is then followed by the final hole - all you see from the tee are bunkers! Negotiate the drive and the approach is fairly straightforward with just the one bunker guarding the green.
Overall, this place is stunning and the course itself has real substance so it’s hard to argue with its current top 10 In the world ranking.
As a local, I have had the pleasure of playing the Ailsa course many times over the years. In my opinion, Turnberry used to be a 6/10 course on a 10/10 piece of land but now I believe it has been brought up to a 9/10 course.
The Trump organisation bought Turnberry and in typical Trump fashion, they cut no corners when it came to giving their marquee property a much needed facelift. The hotel is practically new and all the golf courses all had serious money spent on them. As a local, I am very thankful for what they did to revitalise Turnberry and bring much needed work to the area.
Martin Ebert was brought in to carry out the work and designed 3 new holes and tweaked all the others. My favourite change was the use of blowout natural looking bunkers rather than having dull pot bunkering everywhere.
Holes 1 - 3 are good holes on any other course but at Turnberry, they don't stand out, albeit the perfect way to lead you into an unforgettable stretch of holes to come. Holes 4 - 11 are the best run of holes in Britain. This run of holes makes good use of the seaside dunes with regular vistas of the lighthouse and islands. My only gripe here is the severely sloping fairway on the 8th. With the prevailing SW wind down and off the left, its a 50/50 chance for your ball to bounce right and finds the fairway bunkers off the tee. I feel like this fairway should have been widened to the right a few yards or some of the bunkers filled in. Although the par 3 9th hole, beside the lighthouse is the famous hole, I think its a little bland in architecture. I'd loved to have seen a drivable par 4 here and the course really needs a short hole. The new 11th on the other hand is my favourite hole on the course, with is natural green setting down on the beach.
It's always a bit of a let down to stand on the 12th knowing the best holes are behind you and you'll have the prevailing wind in your face face for the majority of the run in. You also won't see the sea again until the 18th tee. Holes 12 - 14 are built on the least interesting piece of land, hence the holes are less memorable. I believe this is a key point in a round and ideally this is where I'd like to see the best holes, but it does pick up again with lovely holes built through the dunes from the 15th to 17th. Bringing the 18th tee back onto the beach was a great move to give the golfer one last view of Arran and the Ailsa Craig before you turn toward the hotel and if you time a nice evening round, you may be greeted by the piper playing you in on the last green.
The Ailsa Course is not my favourite course in Britain but I think it could very well be the best. It is a must play when you're in Scotland. I can't wait to see The Open back there and I think it could now be tougher than Carnoustie from the back tees.
With spectacular views sweeping across the Irish Sea to the Ailsa Craig, and beyond, the picturesque lighthouse on the horizon, and the sheer elegance of the Turnberry hotel overseeing the whole landscape, the Ailsa course continues to provide a magnificent setting for championship golf, reinforcing Turnberry's reputation as one of the great Open Championship venues.
Donald Trump purchased Turnberry Resort in 2014 and immediately employed ‘The Open Doctor’ Martin Ebert to make major renovations to the course in an effort to again hold The Open Championship at the venue.
Whatever your thoughts on Trump, the work undertaken by Ebert at Turnberry is nothing short of sensational.
The original objective was to improve the playability of the course, to lengthen and improve key holes, and to take better advantage of the spectacular Turnberry coastline and lighthouse. Tick.
Turnberry was already one of my favourite course in the UK, and with these changes I now rate it as a world top ten course. It is that good!
Summary of Renovations: Hole one was always an awkward opening hole- and Ebert has moved the green back and lengthened the hole eliminating a potential mid iron tee shot on a par 4 hole.
While holes 2 & 3 are largely unchanged the par 3 fourth hole is a new hole. It is a great location, and now it is entirely exposed to the beach, rather than being protected by dunes. It’s an improvement.
Hole 5 now has a back tee on the frontal dune improving the look and playability of the hole.
Hole 6 is a completely new short par 3 enabling the back tees for hole 18 to come all the way back to the frontal dunes, and significantly strengthening and lengthening that hole. And the tiny postage stamp like green on six makes for an exciting hole.
Holes 7 & 8 are largely unchanged, however the rocks forming a backdrop to the eighth hole have been carved out to give a view of the Ailsa Craig and a dramatic reveal of the ninth tee.
Hole 9 was the weakest hole on the course previously, but is now a hole that will feature in magazines around the world. The tee is still out on the rocky protrusion but the par 3 carries over sea to a green sited near the lighthouse. Perfect!
The lighthouse itself has now been renovated and a classy half way hut is the perfect place to stop for a snack or light meal…
Previously the tenth hole was a difficult par 4 with an iconic donut bunker in front of the green. Ebert has brought a series of dramatic tee boxes back near the lighthouse bringing the new cape style par 5 closer to the briney, with some testing carries- and he has kept the donut bunker as a feature. Believe it or not the back tee currently requires a carry to the fairway of 274 yards, and Trump has plans to bring in a further back tee with a carry of 294 yards- it is all about future proofing the course!
The new 10th green has been pushed to the old eleventh tee, again in close proximity to the beach. It is a stunning hole.
The brand new eleventh hits from one rocky promontory to another, again along the sea. It is possibly the prettiest hole on the course, and completes a remarkable run of ocean side holes from 4 to 11 that must be unparalleled in championship golf.
The other changes of significance are the lengthening of the fourteenth hole to a par 5, and the shortening of seventeen to a par 4.
The maintenance levels at the course are excellent, and with multiple tees Turnberry caters well for golfers of different abilities.
Because there are so many tee options the grass paths connecting tees, fairways, and greens head off through the long rough in every direction. That is something I find endearing about the wonderful links courses in the UK. But at Turnberry the grass paths are highly manicured rye grass walking highways- they are wide and remind me of American Links courses rather than UK links… It is a minor point, I know...
Another interesting point is that Ebert has deliberately designed the fairway bunkers with a wilder, more natural feel, and the green side traps with traditional revetted bunkers…
Playing Turnberry can be a surreal experience. Staying at the luxury hotel, and with the golf course in such a magnificent setting, one can feel quite good about themselves as they proceed down the first few fairways. If the golfing gods are with you, and the weather is kind you may well get off to a good start through the first 2 or 3 holes...
But buckle down - this is a championship course - and it can be a brute.
The ocean holes stretch from 4 to 11, and if the wind is up (or even if it isn't) you will need to play quality golf or you will be punished.
There is tremendous variation in the types of holes at Turnberry. It is a pleasure to play. Elevated greens, strategic bunkering, towering dunes, and a nasty burn in front of the 16th hole all make for an intriguing game of golf.
We had a great golfing day, and even a drenching squall couldn't dampen our enthusiasm - we simply piled into to the halfway house at the lighthouse on the 9th hole for a cuppa and a bite to eat.Pound for pound, there are not many better golfing experiences than staying and playing at Turnberry.
The course is a real championship course- spectacular, but punishing if you err.. I loved it. If I could figure out how to miss the fairway traps I would love it even more!!
The new Turnberry should now be on every golfers bucket list.
Peter Wood is the founder of The Travelling Golfer – click the link to read his full review.
For context, I first played the Ailsa around ten years ago and it remained the best course I'd played for some time. A couple challenged it, but it was the one I always ended up turning to when asked the question. This is important as the below is relative to how I felt about it before the changes and before Trump bought the property.
It is still an excellent golf course, still the most dramatic of the open venues and the one that is visually the most impressive and awe-inspiring. It still has some excellent holes, and the changes they've made has made the golf course better I think. It has always been a newer resort type course when compared alongside the other classic links venues, so it always needs to be reviewed with this in mind. What it has lacked (relatively) in history (the first Open they had was 1977) it has made up for in wow factor.
The start is still gentle before you hit the par 3 fourth, and you then start a great stretch of holes leading along the coastline to the lighthouse and beyond. It's a brilliant stretch of 9 or 10 holes, before you head back inland for the finishing stretch. There are some great holes within that too, and its a tough finish. It's also a thrill to play 18 with the hotel in the background and thinking of the finale in the Duel in the Sun.
That said, Trump has done his very best to stain everything around it. Loud tartan everywhere, the Trump crest on every tee box, every bin. Shiny marker posts telling you where the ten different tees can be found. I felt a similar feeling to how I did at Trump International, though Turnberry is clearly a far better layout. It feels a little like you're playing a Scottish Links at a theme park in California...its all turned a bit naff. It's a shame as the golf course can carry itself no problem and doesn't need all that now accompanies it.
Regardless of this, it is a great golf course that deserves to be played, of that there is no question. I just cant help but feel it was a better experience a decade ago, despite the improvements to the course itself.
I discovered Turnberry for the first ime in April 2008 and since that day came back once a year until 2013 and the begining of Mr Trump reign.
It took years for me to come back as i did not think the fantastic Ailsa Course can get any better than it used to be....
I was wrong.
Played it in June 2019, i have been mesmerized by all the aspects of the site. Of course the set up was great and the location is still one of the most scenic one you can find... The work made on each Par 3 is fantastic and generally i think that all the changes made to the course are absolutely fantastic. I just did not like the new 17th but... who cares !
I have played nearly all the greatest courses in Scotland except Dornoch. To me Turnberry is still the best.