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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
The course is punctuated with several strategically placed, deep riveted bunkers on each hole, which, at all cost must be avoided to score well. You really do have to take your medicine and just get out whichever way you can, backwards being best option for me on a couple of occasions. The Ailsa is a far more undulating course than it appears on TV, offering some great views along the coast and pleasing elevated drives at the Par 4 fifth, seventh, eighth and tenth in particular. The ninth tee is rightly the moment to pause, soak up the view and get a photo. It is also the start of the run of three holes most exposed to the wind. Nine, although the only bunkerless hole on the course proved to be probably the most difficult for us with very fresh cross wind.
Throughout the round, none of the holes seemed the same and even the holes playing straight into the wind didn’t come across as a slog – always a good sign of well designed, quality layout. The very names of the holes - Tappie Toorie, Roon The Ben’ and Tickly Tap, evoke childhood memories of watching Pro Celebrity Golf or was it Around with Alliss? All adding to the allure of the place. Particular favourite holes of mine, being 5,10, 16 and 17.
The only criticism I would have of the Ailsa is that from the Trophy tees, which we were playing from, there is no Par 5 to get your teeth into until the 17th. Although, my playing partners and I all agreed it was an absolute belter!! The club has very much a feel of being a resort course rather than a private members club, which makes for a very welcoming atmosphere to the visitor. The complimentary bucket of range balls and the wee gift bag presented on the first tee are a lovely touch and any course looking to charge a three figure green fee should take note of this. Turnberry rightly enjoys a place at the very top of the course rankings. It has everything – top quality facilities, layout, conditioning, scenery and visitor experience. A must for any true golf enthusiast.