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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
Remembered fondly for Watson and Nicklaus’ duel in the sun and less so in recent times for Stuart Cink or its polarising owner, I’ll attempt to keep my review more to the experience of playing at Turnberry rather than the history or baggage that comes with playing it.
Both my first and lasting impression of Turnberry is the hugeness in scale. It’s vast, it’s grand and it’s impressive. This extends from the colossal hotel that sits on top of the hill to just the sheer size of the property and the views on show, everything at Turnberry is big and dramatic. The land here is extreme, and as you’d expect from Donald Trump, the dial has well and truly been turned up to eleven. I didn’t enter the hotel, so other than the crudeness of the fountain that sits in front of the clubhouse and the overly manicured surround at the 16th green, most of the changes have been carried out tastefully. This makes the Ailsa course the most amazing visual treat and unquestionably the most spectacular course I’ve played.
All is maintained to the highest of standards, from the roll on the greens to the revetting of the bunkers, which I must add was just impeccable. I think most people know the Ailsa course pretty well, so I’ll avoid the hole-by-hole analysis, but I do have to reinforce the fact that the coastal stretch from holes 4 to 11 justifiably receive the plaudits. Holes 9 to 11 in particularly are spectacular, my playing partner named these the “pornstar holes”, a fitting description – maybe Stormy Daniels was the inspiration?
9 and 10 are the most photographed holes on the course, but the newly constructed par three at 11, where the green is perched on the cliff-side, is a masterful conclusion to this incredible sequence. What I must add however, for it’s something that gets overlooked, is that there are some excellent holes on the way in too. 12 is a sneaky-good hole with the green perched below the hilltop war memorial, the par five 14th with its newly elevated green that returns you to the lighthouse could be the signature hole on most courses, whilst the wonderful “Lang Whang” that plays through a valley at 17 is a beautiful yet robust crescendo to the round.
Despite this, do I think Turnberry is perfect? No, not completely. The vastness of the course means that it doesn’t have the intimacy that I prefer when seeking out a golfing destination, and I feel that it misses some of the intricate natural detailing that other Open venues typically have. But there’s an impressiveness to the Ailsa that means if I gave anything less than full marks to the course, then I feel that it would be for other reasons than the quality of what must be one of the best golfing landscapes in the world.
TP Dean - Fully with your intimacy comment. I was mightily impressed and enjoyed the course very much (particularly the stretch from 4-11) but it left my soul unstirred like a Latte Macchiato.
With regard to the history/baggage of Turnberry, for me it’s not even a contest: Stewart Cink is the ultimate villain
Great review TP Dean, I agree that it’s undoubtedly one of the best and I’ve just booked to go back but for some reason it lacks something which is hard to put your finger on.
Andrew, both you and BB reflect my own thoughts in your responses above. It’s easy to be in awe with The Ailsa but difficult to truly fall in love with it. I tried to expand upon that in the last paragraph of my review. Turnberry’s the golfing equivalent of a New Year’s Eve night out on the razzle dazzle rather than a dinner party at home with friends. Maybe I’m getting old, but I know which I prefer. Those big nights out from a couple of decades ago stay long in the memory though.
Played September 2020 with it being ranked #8 in the world I felt it could only ever fail to live up to expectations it actually exceeded them.
The hotel is luxury the practice facilities and 5 star club house is full of great memorabilia from past open championships however the ailsa course is the reason to visit there isn’t a weak hole 3 great par 4s to start getting closer to the sea then you reach hole 4 right at the edge of the course sea on your left stunning par 3 the stretch between 4-11 is just perfection then a couple of normal par 4s before a great close hole 16&17 are world class then 18 is an iconic finishing hole hope im wrong but I may never play a better golf course
I’ve played all Open venues except Troon and Muirfield so I can’t compare Turnberry to those, but I will say that I think The Ailsa is a notch above every other course on the Open rota. It fully deserves it’s place in the World Top 10 and I don’t think I’ll play a better golf course in my lifetime.
There’s almost a desire to rush through the opening 3 holes knowing that you’re so close to experiencing something special. But these holes are great in their own right and well worth taking the time to appreciate them. Particularly the 3rd.
It’s hard to describe how good the stretch of holes along the coast are (4-11). What I found especially impressive was the number of different tee boxes, some holes with 7-8 options in terms of length and line of sight which gives so many different ways to set up the course. In fact, that’s true for most holes.
The famous 3 around the lighthouse (9,10,11) are breathtaking and it’s worth paying the green fee just for those. Holes 12&13 feel somewhat ordinary in comparison, but are still solid tests of golf with some clever bunkering. Holes 14 to 17 are a brilliant stretch of closing holes that will punish you if you even slightly miss a shot.
The new tee boxes on 18 are epic, giving one last view of the coast and Ailsa Craig before heading home. There’s so much history to this closing hole that it’s hard not to get distracted as you’re walking down the fairway: The Watson 7 iron to 2 feet, the Niklaus birdie, the Westwood bunker shot that almost won him a major.
Throw in a world class hotel, spa and practice facility and you have an unforgettable golf experience. A must play for any golf enthusiast.
If you could make a golf course any better , I dont know how? Having played most other British open courses this one takes it to a new level in my opinion.(St Andrews old course excluded)
A fantastic mix of spectacular views and an unbelievably good course with at least half of the holes taking your breath away when you arrive on the tee. Having heard rave reviews previously I was worried I would be disappointed with over expectation , but I wasn't !! Bucket list stuff , do not miss this off your list if you are an enthusiast of top courses.
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.