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Turnberry was the last venue to be added to the Open Championship rotation. It may have hosted only four Opens but it has become a firm favourite.
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
Amazing golf course, second only to the Trump course in Aberdeen in my all time top 5. Opening holes are good, but not picturesque. The run from 4 to 11 is golfing heaven. Course finishes nicely in the run to home.
Oh my, where do you start to review a golf course like the Ailsa? A friend who had played the course a couple of years ago always waxed lyrical about it and said that he could put 10 to 12 holes in his ultimate 18 so I had high expectations but thought it best to go in with an open mind and let the course show me what it is all about. And it just blew me away.
Holes 1 to 3 are a strong start, 3 very, very good holes however, without meaning to sound harsh, they are a warm up to the main act.
The stretch from 4 to 11 is just all world, knockout hole after knockout hole.
The par 3 4th is the first hole played next to the coast, the green guarded by a deep pot bunker left and a giant mound covered in incredibly thick rough short right. 5, the first par 5 on the course, plays downhill from the tee to a fairway which slopes back uphill to a green protected again by massive, deep pot bunkers. The walk from 5 to 6 is simply sublime and when you arrive on the tee you’re greeted with a green that looks like it is perched on top of Mount Everest, the drop off right is so severe it would need even the best Mickleson flop to have a chance to finding the green, let alone holding it if you found yourself down there. 7 is another par 5, similar in layout to 5 but one where the fairway bunkers pose more of a hazard and intimidation off the tee compared to the pot bunkers making you think on the approach to 5. 8 is an uphill par 4 played to a green perched next to the water.
Next comes the piece de resistance. Cresting the ridge at the back of the 8th green has to be one of the greatest reveals in golf. The par 3 9th played over a rocky inlet to a green set next to the Turnberry lighthouse. A must for anyone who plays is to walk to the back tee, set on a small peninsula, from which the hole stretches out to a massive 248 yards. I’ll admit I’m not a fan of long par 3s but I will happily make an exception for this absolute gem. The lighthouse must be the best halfway house in the world too.
Next comes 10. A long par 5 that sweeps around another rocky inlet. From the back tee the hole measures 575 yards with a 280 yard carry over the inlet. A huge fairway bunker intimidates the approach to an infinity like green. The par 3 11th, which is similar to 9 but without the area to land an approach short, is the last of this incredible stretch of holes.
12 and 13 are a step down from these unbelievable holes but are still good enough to grace any golf course. Proper links holes, along rippled fairways to greens with pot bunkers, swales and hollows for defence.
14-16 step back up to a level close to the run of 4-11 but less dramatic I’d say. 14 is an uphill par 5 played back towards the coast and gives a last look at the lighthouse. 15 then turns back inland and starts the run home to the clubhouse. 15 is a par 3 with another severe drop off right however not visible from the tee is a massive bunker left of the green so it’s not safe to bail left. 16 is a par 4 with a burn running in front of the green. Short grass will run any short approach, poor chip or putt off into the burn.
17 and 18 are similar to 1-3 in being really really good holes round off a truly fantastic golf course.
The same friend who built the Ailsa up for me described it as the links version of Augusta National and its a view I can wholeheartedly agree with. Fantastic golf holes in truly superb condition, there is not a thing out place. The myriad of tee boxes and grass walkways were immaculate, fairways and greens firm and fast, plenty of thick punishing rough and gorse which are happy to gather up errant shots and I just loved the contrast of the shaggy, rugged edged fairway bunkers with the pot bunkers found around the greens.
What Mackenzie & Ebert have created here is nothing short of a masterpiece and I have no hesitation in saying it’s my number 1, quite possibly the best course I will ever play.
It was already a unique and uforgettable course when I played it 8 years ago and it is significantly better when I played it recently. I do not like Donald Trump but must admit that if we talk about golf courses he knows what he does (love his Aberdeen course as well, which I consider the best "new link course"). Turnberry is definitely in my top 5 links golf in the world together with Dornoch, Portrush, Carnoustie and Birkdale.
Played the course in the mid 90's, just about a month or two before the Open was held here. Turnberry (Ailsa) goes down as my all time favorite golf course, just ahead of Royal Dornoch. I cannot list anything negative about this place. It is just the absolute best a golf course can be.
Everyone knows about the Ailsa so I’ll keep this as a short as the iron I toed off the 14th tee. What surprised me about Turnberry was the quality and variety and greens, they have various humps and slopes but they look as natural as can be.
A couple of holes on the back nine are less than excellent but still very good. This nine mostly plays into the wind so sorts the wheat from the chaff (I am firmly in the latter group). There are plenty of elevated greens so your aerial and recovery games are more important than a good ground game.
This was my final Open course, past and present, and I’d rate this just behind Portrush as the objective best. Carnoustie is joint second or third, depending on what day you ask me.
I'd be interested in how you rank the 14 courses?
It's hard not to be biased but in order of what think is 'best' having played the non-Kent ones just once each (so please go easy on me)...
RSG - my favourite as I have the most memories here
St Andrews - played twice actually but you hear it rewards more visits
Musselburgh – easily the best value though!
It was a question of third time lucky for me. The first time I played the Ailsa at Turnberry over 25 years ago it was wet and windy, the second time on New Year’s Day in 2018 it was wet, cold and windy, this time last Saturday the sun shone, it was warm and there was no more than a very gentle breeze. And the course was simply magnificent in the spring sunshine.
The recent renovations carried out by Martin Ebert in 2015 have in my view elevated the course to an optimum level. The terrible irony is that the Ailsa is now probably the best course on the Open rota and because of its Trump ownership it seems that the R & A will not grant Turnberry an Open Championship. I fully understand their reasons for this stance, but it is a crying shame.
The holes blend seamlessly into the perfect links landscape, which has majestic coastal views and of course the iconic lighthouse. The course condition is superb with masterful winding fairways and a mass of splendid-looking bunkers, some of which are horribly penal, but it is the exemplary state of the greens which sets the course apart. Turnberry has a wow factor from the moment you step on the first tee full of hope for your round until you return to the modern luxurious clubhouse four hours later having had a rollercoaster ride around some of the best linksland you are ever likely to experience.
The opening 3 holes set the tune, from the white tees they are each about 400 yards so a par score is excellent for the average golfer, while bogey is quite attainable. I found all 3 par threes on the front nine incredibly difficult, and my scoring was only reasonable because the par fives are not overly long. They challenge the good player to go for the green in two, whereas getting there in three good blows is possible.
The most memorable holes are the stretch from 7 to 12, with the beautiful 10th hitting away from the lighthouse a sublime par five and 11 an outrageously good short hole. And then comes the famous finish with three long par fours from 16, all very different, and all playing into the prevailing wind which can be quite brutal. We played on a good day, so the holes although tough were just about manageable.
I find it difficult to be critical about the set up at the Ailsa. The golf holes are all very good, but few are world-class, and the stylish half-way house in the lighthouse seems to close far too early, but these are petty gripes. Even the new coastal path running on the top of the dunes during the early holes is manicured into green carpet-like perfection. This course rightly sits on the top of the Scotland rankings on this site and, despite the above, deserves the highest 6 balls ranking.
This is premium living. Immaculate golf course, routing is perfect. The inland holes are great. The walk ways are Wimbledon tennis grass and always perfect. We saw greenkeepers out with scissors once cutting away!!
Whatever they charge it’s worth it. If you can play it twice or more then lucky you.
What a place. From start to finish it’s just a sensory overload. From the massive Scotland flag to the red tiled roofs of the hotel on the hill and clubhouse it just oozes class.
The run from 4-12 is just quality, the only issue was the lack of 2 shot holes. Felt like it was par 3, par 5, par 3, par 5!!! Obviously there’s par 4s in there but it just felt that way with 4 par 3s and 3 par 5s in a 9 hole stretch from the 4th.
The finishing 3 holes are a very strong stretch and really demand some quality ball striking. All in all it’s a great day out. Hopeful for some better weather the next time!
Jack Nicklaus was once asked, if he had just one course to play, what would he chose? He thought Pebble Beach.
Turnberry may not be the "best" golf course I've ever played.
But over the 5 times I've now been fortunate enough to play it, come rain or shine, it's always been the most enjoyable experience I've had on golf course, regardless of how I've scored. Which is quite a compliment if I also concede that playing golf badly on all other courses hasn't usually been enjoyable!
To caveat this, I'm not assessing Turnberry on any technical analysis of the golf course itself. Simply that as a place, I'm happiest just "being" at Turnberry.
The only place that comes close from the courses I've played is North Berwick (see my 6-ball review). It's how golf should be. It's a game after-all.
Turnberry just has a great flow. Even the "ordinary" holes at Turnberry are sited beautifully and usually present plenty of challenges around the greens.
Since the changes, the par 3 4th (longer than it used to be, I think the green's been moved back) and 6th (shorter than it used to be), 9th (now a long Par 3 over the rocks rather than the hogs back short par-4) and 10th and 11th have all used the terrain and siting to maximum advantage to really provide a thrill (see review of Jack's point that failed in this regard) and the 18th has move from a shorter dogleg right-to-left to a straighter, longer very strong finishing hole reminiscent of 18th at Royal Lytham or Muirfield.
It was my favourite place before these changes.
Now, it's better.
The coast, the cliffs, the lighthouse, Even the hotel.
Stand-outs for me:
approach to 3rd, 4th, 5th (great 2-shot par 5), 9th, 10th, 11th, 16th, 17th, 18th. But to single these out is unfair. The course, the place, the setting, in my humble opinion and experience, there's nowhere better.
For perfect framing of a golf green, look at 5th and 10th - unbeatable.
Just one course to play? Turnberry.
Played the number one course in Scotland today 7-2-22 and I must be honest, the course was very nice with some gorgeous views but it just feels inferior to trump international in my opinion. I am playing it right in winter and it’s maybe not at its best but it was a dry day and it is links so it should hold up well even in winter. Some of the greens did look a little ruff in places as did a few fairways. Don’t get me wrong it’s a great course and I had a really good day but I was just expecting more as it’s rated number 1.