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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
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.
There are perhaps ten golf courses in the world that are 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 own 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.
Great review but have to challenge whether Pebble Beach is on any credible list of the top 10 in the world
I suspect there are hundreds of golf courses that people call 'the best in the world'. It all depends how privileged one is to have played many golf courses. I have been very fortunate and played most courses you mentioned. Sand Hills , for me, stands head and shoulders above any other golf experience on the planet. Different folks, different strokes :-)
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