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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
I’ve made mention before that top tracks like Turnberry should be promoting reduced green fee packages for early bird/twilight golf so when just such a late afternoon offer (42% of normal price) came my way by email recently, I just had to snap it up.
Ailsa is all and more than you see on the television, even when the rain is teeming down, as it did for most of the front nine when I played. If I’m being churlish, the four holes from the short par three 11th to the 14th are not great but what has gone before and what comes after more than makes up for that relative lull in the round.
The changes to holes 16 and 18, introducing offset fairways to the tee boxes, make for a better finish than before and, as if on cue, the sun popped out from behind the clouds for the first time as I clinched my matchplay game 1 UP with a four in front of the (still to be dismantled) grandstands on either side of the home hole – if only the golfing gods had been so kind to a certain Thomas Sturges Watson 23 days before when he played his 72nd hole at the 2009 Open…
A wonderful golfing experience staying at one of the "lodges" which are in fact large detached houses with 7 other golfing pals-Each of us having our own en-suite rooms and a wonderful communial dining/kitchen area-with stunning breakfast in the hotel -great service-liked the nice touch of champers for Bucks fizz and vodka for Bloody Marys-We played both Kintyre and Ailsa courses on consecutive days both are incredible but took a heavy tole on the scorecards!-makes you realise just how good the pros are-sub 70 rounds on either of these two tracks is mind boggling to a mid handicapper like me-having said that it was playable-just best to enjoy it and forget the score for one day-Experience was only marred on day two by an idiotic course marshall in a noddy buggy repeatadly coming to tell us to hurry up even though our 4 ball were up to the 3 ball in front and had short waits on some tees-What was he on about?-None the less 5 star all the way
Played the Ailsa yesterday in glorious conditions - blue sky with fresh breeze. Was looking forward to playing the Ailsa for a long time - and was not let down as I have been when playing other courses with a big reputation. Quite simply, I fail to see how you can find a better course than this - the scenery, the quality of the holes, the challenge - it just cannot be bettered. Probably the best golfing day of my life, I will be back for sure. Oh, and the Kintyre was very good too - a few poor holes, but some very good ones too.
I have played both the Kintyre and Ailsa twice, and thoroughly enjoyed both on both occasions - often the "junior" course is a let down, but not in this case. In terms of value you can get excellent stay and play deals to stay in one of the on site houses and play both courses and glory in the Turnberry Breakfast... Anyway, to the golf - Ailsa is an intriguing course with a couple of quiet holes to start, then things get interesting. Very witty starter, and once you hit the seaside it is fantastic. A couple of holes in the middle of the back nine are a little bland, but a great finish. And a great dormie house too. Can't wait to go back.