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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
Mackenzie Ross did a magnificent rebuild in the years immediately following the Second World War. The Walker Cup was held there in 1963 but the final seal of approval was the 1977 Open when the now famous duel took place between Tom Watson and Jack Nicklaus.
There are many memorable holes on the Ailsa but the par four 9th is probably the stand out. The tee is on a little rocky outcrop from where you hit blind and slightly uphill to a hog back fairway. To your left is the lighthouse and the craggy outline of Robert the Bruce in the rocks. As long as you hit a straight drive then this hole is not as hard as it looks.
The Ailsa is a most enjoyable golfing experience with a wonderful variety of holes. On a still day, it can be at the mercy of the professionals, especially with its well watered fairways helping with ball control. However, in a strong wind and with thick rough then it can really show its teeth.
This review is an edited extract from Another Journey through the Links, which has been reproduced with David Worley’s kind permission. The author has exclusively rated for us every Scottish course featured in his book. Another Journey through the Links is available for Australian buyers via www.golfbooks.com.au and through Amazon for buyers from other countries.
The first (Ailsa Craig) is a relatively short par 4 that does not require length but the green is protected by four well placed bunkers. The second and third were nice solid par 4s. The par 3 fourth (Woe-Be-Tide) has an elevated green that has a severe slope short of the green so hitting enough club is essential. This is where can see the first views of the famous lighthouse. The remaining holes on the front were all par 4s except for the long par 3 6th which is protected by a large bunker in front and three bunkers left of the green. Basically the holes on the front 9 are all great golf holes that reward well struck shots and penalize those not hit properly. The view from the championship tee on the par 4 ninth (Bruce's Castle) was my favorite on the links.
The back nine starts out with a long par 4 with 2 well placed bunkers in the middle of the fairway that must be avoided as well as the island bunker short of the green. The par 4 twelfth (Monument) has views of the monument honoring lost airman stationed at Turnberry during the world wars and of course another solid hole. The par 3 15th (Ca' Canny) is another nice challenging par 3 which is guarded on the left by 3 bunkers and a steep slope right of the green with difficult rough. The par 4 16th (Wee Burn) was one of the best on the links as it requires an accurate tee shot with the Wee Burn short of the green ready to grab a shot short of the green on the second shot. The par 5 17th is the only par 5 on the course and is a good birdie possibility. Turnberry finishes with the par 4 18th (Duel in the Sun) and is a nice way to finish the day with memories of Jack and Tom battling it out in 1977 and again with Tom almost making history in 2009.
Overall a great golfing experience that comes highly recommend to anyone visiting the Ayrshire Coast. Click here to see a You Tube slideshow of some pictures I took during my visit. Jim Brady
Playing the Ailsa is always a pleasure but playing it with a couple of Canadian golf nuts that I meet up with every year when they visit GB&I was a real treat, even with rain lashing down around the lighthouse holes during our round the other day.
The opening three holes are easily overlooked on this great links but I think they’re more than just a terrific “warm up” for the world class stretch of holes that toss and tumble along the coastline between the 4th and 10th – actually, I’d forgotten how much the land heaves around this part of the property, with playing corridors at holes 5, 7 and 8 flanked on either side by towering dunes.
At the risk of repeating what I’ve alluded to before, “Maidens,” is a weak par three hole at the 11th (could the green not be moved further left, closer to the water’s edge?) and it instigates (for me, at least) a lull in proceedings that prevails through the next three par four holes.
After that relative “breather,” golfers need to buckle up for the rough ride back to the clubhouse as a thrilling run for home begins on the 15th tee at “Ca’ Canny,” extends across the winding Wilson’s Burn at the brilliant 16th, continues along the switchback fairway of the par five 17th before ending – breathlessly – on the 18th green, scene of much heart stopping 72nd hole action in recent Open competitions.
Turnberry is rightly regarded as one of the world’s finest resorts; just don’t expect to play any resort golf here as they only do golf of the championship variety.