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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.
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 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
There are perhaps ten golf courses in the world that in the discussion of the best golf course in the world:
Royal County Down
Royal Melbourne West
St Andrews Old
Sure, there are a few others that some might add, perhaps Royal Birkdale, Ballybunion Old, Sand Hills, National Golf Links....but among the people with whom I have played or architects it is those ten that generate the most discussion.
I played Turnberry Ailsa several times before it became Trump Turnberry. It was terrific before and now it is fabulous. The recent re-design substantially strengthened the holes along the water although perhaps one hole was made weaker. The hole made weaker was perhaps my favorite hole before.
The first hole with the added length (50-90 yards) and new location as well as the new green on the first is substantially improved. This used to be a pretty easy hole and now it can be difficult if you do not find the fairway or are not a long hitter.
The second hole is essentially unchanged as it still requires a demanding tee shot.
The third hole remains a long par four with 100 yards separating the pro tee and the member tee. The green has been strengthened by adding a bunker to the left.
The fourth hole remains a very good par 4 playing relatively close to the Firth of Clyde. This begins eight holes along the coast. It is a substantially more difficult hole with trouble in front of the green.
The fifth hole used to be my favorite, a long par 4 of 479 from the back tees sweeping slightly to the left while going uphill. Now it is a relatively simple par five of 500 yards from the member tee. It is well bunkered getting to the green which is one of the better greens on the golf course with a fair amount of slope.
The sixth hole, a par three heading back at the Firth is a short par three that has been substantially shortened and two of the bunkers on the left side has been removed. It used to play 222-231 yards and now plays 138-171 yards. Overall it is easier.
The 7th hole, a par five at the top of the dune has been lengthened with one bunker being removed that was unnecessary. It feels like the hole is more of a dogleg than before but that might be my imagination. This hole is incredibly fun to play.
The 8th is the same hole, a long par 4 playing either 430 or 476 yards at the top of the dunes. The green is devilish as it is two tiered and balls landing short will likely fall back. Another incredible golf hole.
The biggest changes to the golf course come now. The 9th used to be a difficult tee shot on this longer par 4 with a semi-blind tee shot and no bunkers. It has been replaced with an incredible par 3 of 190-250 yards over the rocks to a green that tilts right to left and has bunkers to either side. The view here is arguably the best in golf of the rocks, the Firth and the lighthouse. As good as the 9th previously was, this is a significant improvement to the golf course.
The tenth hole was also one of the better holes on the golf course, set along the Firth and a par 4 of 447-457 yards which required a precise tee shot to avoid the two bunkers in the fairway and one bunker right. There was a large bunker in front of the green. Now the hole has an awesome view from any of the seven tee boxes playing as a par five of 496 to 565 yards. It is stunningly beautiful. If I had one criticism of the new hole, it is that without wind it is far too easy for even medium long hitters, who easily reach the green in two with a mid iron as the fairway is very downhill. Long hitters can easily reach the bunkers that cross the fairway as their tee shots can go 400 yards or more due to the speed of the fairway. It does have a smallish green as its defense that you can only miss short as there is gorse right and out of bounds back and left. Overall it is a more visually perfect hole but not as difficult as before.
I actually owe an oil painting of the previous 11th hole, a par 3 of 160-175 yards set against the base of a hill, fronted by two bunkers. The par 3 has been replaced with a new par 3 of 178-215 yards and is much more difficult. Both holes are at the mercy of the wind. I have hit driver here before and never made it to the green such was the wind.
From here on in, the changes are more subtle although there are two big ones left. The 12th remains a straight away par 4 offering a tricky green with bunkers to the right front as well as a dune. I either make par or double on this hole.
The 13th is a dogleg right with a two tiered elevated green that has a fall off to the front left. The green is larger than it looks.
The 14th was a longer par 4 and was merely above average. It is now a very strong par five of 500-570 yards playing uphill. You must avoid the large bunkers either side of the fairway on your drive as you play uphill to the putting surface. This hole has one of the trickiest greens on the course. In fact, playing in from the previous hole begins the stretch of the more difficult greens.
The 15th, a medium length par 3 was basically unchanged with all of the trouble to the left with three bunkers.
The 16th is also the same hole, the famous burn hole where the burn lies far below the green and cuts both in front and around the right side. You cannot miss the green short or right or you will be in the burn. A tee shot down the right makes the approach shot easier, but the safer line from the tee is down the left. It is a clever hole.
The last major change was changing the 17th from a very good par 5 of 500-560 yards where you felt like you were hitting down into a canyon with the second shot threading through the canyon to a green set well above you. It still has the same canyon feeling as a par 4 of 450-510 yards but only on the tee shot. I find the green to be easier to hit as there used to be four bunkers and now there are only two. The green is tilted more than it looks so a putt can quickly get away from you.
The 18th is essentially the same hole but with an additional 20 yards to both sets of tees. It still requires you to miss the large bunker on the left side of the fairway although the renovation also added a large bunker on the right but it is not in play for most players. It is a marvelous green with mounds and subtle breaks.
Trump Turnberry is an amazing golf course. The views from the clubhouse are excellent. The views from the hotel are even better. It has great food and a comfortable place to eat. It has a very large pro shop and fabulous locker room.
The golf course, however, is the star of the property no matter how excellent the hotel, spa, and clubhouse are (I have stayed there many times). It deserves to be in the discussion of the finest golf course in the world, it is that good. It is arguably the best test of golf for an Open Championship with perhaps only Carnoustie as a worthy discussion. Every time I play here I wish I could play more golf here the next day.
One of my life’s biggest regrets is not having a go at the Tom Watson up & down attempt from the back of the 18th hole during the final round at the 2009 Open Championship. It gave me a restless night. Where was my focus when I needed it most? My feeling is that we’d all surely be able to make that par to win the Claret Jug. I did at least semi-emulate the feat with a bogey, albeit in a different manner. I will have to go back.
And returning won’t be too much of a hardship for this is a great place to play golf. We skillfully escaped the couple we’d been partnered with (“sorry no comprendo Engels”) and set out as a 2-ball. We found the first 2-3 holes to be a bit ho-hum, yet it cannot be denied that at they same time they subtlety informed you that you were not at an average golf course. But it did not feel like a world beater.
That all changed from holes 4-11. A sublime run of holes which proved to be a golfing version of hot buttered Crumpets. I can’t describe them at all well because I was experiencing some kind of sensory overload where most of my critical faculties were disabled. Maintaining only a foolish grin and sense of euphoria was all I could manage.
The remainder of the course fell a little short by comparison. Either that or I was still distractedly reminiscing about holes 4-11, a stretch as good as anything I’ve enjoyed and experienced. You may struggle to get your expectations exceeded at Turnberry, because you likely know it’s supposed to be great. It doesn’t need me to blow it’s own hot buttered Trumpet (note to catering staff), so purely having them matched is impressive enough. The course is part of a well-rounded top drawer venue - design, setting, routing, variety of holes, and conditioning are all very good. As are the catering and facilities. It does lack a bit of soul, being the resort that it is, but that’s not the course’s fault.
If you have sufficient moral fortitude to stay away (Trump & Chump do, after all is said and done, rhyme), then I commend you. There are plenty of other golf course fishes near the sea for you can enjoy. But if like me you have no moral compass & a weakness for naughty pleasures - Turnberry Ailsa is a must play. Just don’t forget to try that Tom Watson shot on the 18th green
Having played Ailsa a number of times before, and having walked it whilst under reconstruction, we were of course very excited to play here on a very reasonable shoulder season deal in the Spring.
Much is made of the fact that every hole has been changed, but I didnt really notice much change in many of the holes other than they are a bit "more so" than before, but fundamentally recognisable. Those that aren't are the new tees on the 6th (which I actually preferred previously !), and then round the turn with the new 9th which, a great, tough par 3 and the best halfway house in golf, 10th with its fantastic new green site and eradicated stupid doughnut bunker and the exciting new 11th over the rocks. All in all, they've made it even better, but a couple of the less exciting holes early in the back 9 seem plainer than before by contrast. A superb course and facility, and along with Portrush the most exciting, fun Open venue on the rota..
Having never played the course before the renovation, I wasn't sure what to expect from Trump Turnberry. However, from the moment I arrived to when I drove out of the car park I was blown away with its quality. The facilities to warm up were excellent and the staff excellent. The golf course was another step up. The opening hole is a lovely left to right dogleg which requires a accurate tee shot. The course really starts from the 4th tee, a lovely par 3 by the see at 190 yards. In my opinion holes 4 through 11 are the best run of holes I have played anywhere. Highly recommend this course. Having played all the courses on the open rota, I have to say Trump Turnberry leaves all the others behind by some way.
Fantastic renovation! It had been many years since I played Ailsa, despite annual golf trips to the UK. Fond memories of the course but right off the bat, the first green now is well to the right of the original. Too many changes to discuss but Martin Ebert did a spectacular job! You can fault the owner for many things - the greens fee is by far the highest of any highly rated UK course - but he let Ebert do what he does so well. Deserves to get The Open again. M
Beautiful X 10.... Without witnessing the "Origional Route" I can only say that all the changes are a "Testament" to the upmost effort to keep the "Integrity" of this Historical Golf Course. Tom Watson told Me.."Turnberry was My Favorite Open site"... This Facility has flourished with the influx, infusion, of Capital by Mr Trump.... Can't fault Turnberry.... It's as shiny as freshly polished silver!
Thanks for your review President Trump.
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