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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
One of my favourites and got to play it again recently. The whole experience was first class from the arrival at the club, starter introduction and then onto the magnificent course. I don't think I could.ever tire of this place, I love the new changes the first time I have played them, great venue, worth a visit as a treat
When I played Turnberry a couple of times 10-15 years ago I felt it was a very good course but did not reach the heights of the best Open courses, such as Muirfield and Carnoustie. There were not that many memorable holes and it lacked a wow factor. However the changes made in 2015 have addressed this in some style.
The two par 3s around the turn (9 and 11) are up there with the best par 3s in GB&I. More generally improvements in bunkering, green elevation and routing mean that the whole course is much stronger. If I had to be critical then the first 3 holes are a little weak but then the course kicks into life with the great par 3 4th by the beach and remains strong through the rest of the round. The course was also in excellent condition.
Clearly Turnberrry is now a fantastic course but we are blessed in this country to have a number of fantastic courses. Any view of where a course ranks relative to another is clearly very subjective but for my money I think that the likes of Portrush, Carnoustie, Muirfield, Dornoch and Trump International are as good as it gets when thinking about strategic challenge and the number of great golf holes. Additionally the likes of Castle Stuart, North Berwick, Kingsbarns and Dumbarnie are hard to beat when it comes to enjoyment and stunning views. And this is only referencing the Scottish and Northern Irish links courses! Hence Turnberry would not be in my personal GB&I top 10 but is a must-play and hugely enjoyable.
It’s world class golf. That’s all you really need to know. If you don’t walk away with a massive smile and going over every hole, do you even like golf for what it is? From the moment you arrive, through to the opening tee shot and sitting in the clubhouse after dreaming about how you could do another 18, it is nothing short of epic. We had just played RCD the day before and turnberry was just another level. I played turnberry before trump and before the changes were made, and it was world class then, now it’s just world beating. Do not turn down a game to play there. The staff also deserve a mention, our forecaddie was excellent.
Course was unbelievable, service was also top class. Started very well going -2 through 3 holes. It was all downhill from then sadly.
Some of the views were out of this world. Condition of the course was fantastic for this time of year, greens were pure and ran smoothly. Some really tough holes as the wind got up.
Would really recommend coming to play this course and we got a decent price online of £120 per person.
Clubhouse was amazing, we also had food, it was nice enough but it is over priced but this has nothing to do with the golf course.
My experience playing here has prompted me to join this website. Not to specifically review this course, but it made it clear to me that I need to get out and play as many of the top ranked golf courses as possible. Pure unbridled joy is the only way to describe the feeling from the moment we pulled into the car park until we left the following day. Obviously as a golfer, you will have heard plenty about Turnberry, but nothing anyone writes on here will be enough to do it justice - you truly have to make the journey here to appreciate just how good this place is. The conditions of the course are immaculate from tee to green. The setting is otherworldly and the views along the coast holes are surely unmatched. A few things on the day went in my favour. One being the weather which was perfect (think no clouds and a wind of no more than 5mph), which in turn helped my golf game and I was overjoyed with how I played. Beforehand I was worried about being overwhelmed by playing a bucket list course and it negatively affecting how I performed, but fortunately that wasn't the case. These things are just a bonus however, as I'm in no doubt that even high winds, rain and playing some poor golf wouldn't be enough to dampen your spirits. I never played the course before the redesign but in its current from it cannot be improved in my mind. Every hole is memorable. I could spend a long time describing every hole in detail, but it wouldn't come close to experiencing it for yourself, so trust me when I say just come and play. You won't be disappointed regardless of how far you have to travel or how much you pay for the privilege. I will just say the highlight holes are definitely the stretch from 4-11 and as you go through these holes you are just in disbelief that it continues to improve. That is not to detract from 1-3 and 12 onwards either as every one of these holes will stay in your mind long after you've finished the round, 16 in particular is just a brilliant golf hole. I did finish triple bogey, double bogey which prevented me from breaking 80 on the day. No bother though as it gives me a good enough excuse to come back and tackle it again. As I mentioned, this is my first review, but in search of trying to replicate the wonderful experience elsewhere I'm sure it won't be my last. The only problem is I may have set the bar too high because the Ailsa course is definitely one of the very best in the world.
It’s like a drug (or an illness) when you start on the path of playing the top courses Jake. Good luck with the journey, you’ll have a blast.
Turnberry Ailsa is sublime. I have only played it since the renovations. It is a very special place. The views with the lighthouse and the Craig add to a superb course. Very welcoming and everything is done to perfection. An absolute joy to play.
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.