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There are many fine links courses along the thirty-mile stretch of Ayrshire coast between Turnberry and Irvine, notably the Ailsa, Kintyre, Prestwick, St Nicholas, Troon, Barassie, Glasgow Gailes, Western Gailes, Dundonald and Bogside. But just ten miles north of here lies the fine championship course of West Kilbride Golf Club, which is often overlooked due to its comparative separation from the others named.
Located at Seamill on the north Ayrshire coast with spectacular views across the Firth of Clyde to the Isle of Arran and beyond to the Mull of Kintyre, West Kilbride Golf Club is a private members club – formed in 1893 – with the good fortune of owning a challenging, 6,452 yard, 18-hole links.
James Braid, five times Open Champion and one of Scotland’s greatest golf course architects, has twice had a hand in the design of the West Kilbride layout. He made changes to the original Old Tom Morris 9-hole course in 1914 then, after competing in the Open at nearby Troon in 1923, suggested further alterations which were brought into being two years later.
The early holes on the course are played on higher ground, away from the coastline and they have an upland feel, despite the presence of gorse and heather at the margins of the fairways. The course really gets the pulse racing around the turn with a nice loop of holes between “Goatfell”, the par three 9th and “Whinhurst”, the par three 12th.
From then on in it just gets better and the back nine is a real joy to play, with most holes hugging the rugged coastline. The last six holes are all strong par fours – in particular, the wonderfully named ”Hunger-em-oot” 16th where a small white-washed cottage to the left of the green must be negotiated and, in traditional links style, the double greened 17th called “Sunset” must be played to the left of the shared putting surface with the 6th hole, “Mound.”
The annual Scottish Boys Championship was held for many years at North Berwick and Dunbar on the east coast of Scotland before moving to West Kilbride in 1990. The course has hosted the event a further seven times so the Scottish Golf Union obviously think highly of this links on the Clyde coast.
The West Kilbride Golf Club at Seamill is located on a stunning piece of the Ayrshire coast, with spectacular views across the Firth of Clyde to the beautiful island of Arran.
This delightful links, originally laid out by Old Tom Morris and later re-designed by James Braid, has somewhat of a split personality... and it all depends upon which tees you play from.
Played from the white ‘Ardneil’ tee markers at 6,146 yards it is a fun and entertaining course which gives you a good chance of playing to your handicap. However, move back to the blue ‘Arran’ blocks and you have a 6,523 yard championship standard test of golf. Indeed The Club host the Scottish Boys Championship every four years.
Par remains 71 for both options and with nothing in-between the white and blue tees I don’t think I know of a course where there is such a big differential. I suspect that the blue tees have been a new addition to the course and whilst I think they benefit it considerably many of the holes do require some relatively long walks back to them.
The course itself lies on a narrow strip of coastal land, bordered on one side by agricultural land and on the other by the picturesque beach. It is generally flat but has many subtle undulations on the fairways and around the greens. This creates awkward stances and you often have to use the lie of the land on your approach shots.
West Kilbride is situated some ten miles up the coast from the hustle and bustle of Troon and Prestwick and as a result perhaps doesn’t get the credit it deserves. It’s certainly a course I would recommend you seek out if heading to Ayrshire and well worth the short drive to Seamill. And for those seeking food afterwards I can thoroughly recommend the Waterside Hotel a mile or so south on the A78.
Ed is the founder of Golf Empire – click the link to read his full review.
The opener is a short par four of 335 yards and is tame if you hit the ball straight. However out of bounds runs all along the right and a narrow burn dissects the fairway some fifteen yards in front of the green. This should be a very easy hole but you need to take care.
For the front nine, the out of bounds has been mainly along the right. From the 10th to the 12th, it runs on the left side. The 13th is a very good par four of 444 yards. The hole doglegs slightly right where out of bounds again lurks. The final six holes are all par fours.
The 17th has a water ditch on the left at around 200 yards and on the right at 245 yards. The green is a double green which is shared with the 6th. The closing hole features a narrow fairway with bunkers mainly on the left. Do not over club with the second shot as out of bounds is behind the green.
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.
I was a tad disconcerted when I first discovered West Kilbride was one of the 43 Scottish courses featured in Rolex’s 2010 book, “World’s Top 1000 Golf Courses”. Don’t get me wrong, I like the course but to have it in this reference book – along with Bruntsfield Links, Dalmahoy (East) and Carrick – at the exclusion of other stick-on Tartan Top 50’s like Machrie, Duke’s and Boat of Garten just didn’t seem right at all to me.
So I returned today for the first time in seven years to double check if my initial impressions about the place were somewhat jaundiced and on reflection, I think it’s a course that fully merits its place in the Scottish Top 100 but it definitely punches above its weight with the current high ranking position that it holds.
Why, even locally, there are a couple of other links layouts in Ayrshire I’d comfortably rate higher than West Kilbride. In fairness to the club, a lot of work has been done over the winter to create/repair bunkers and install smart new paths around some of the teeing areas so nobody has been resting on their laurels in terms of maintenance.
Regarding the course itself, the sequence of holes between the par threes at the north of the course around the turn is certainly engaging, as is the run for home along the shore starting at the 12th – it’s just a pity that it seems to take nearly half the round until any real excitement is injected into proceedings!
I really don’t want to be over harsh here as there are comparisons to be drawn with Kilspindie, that wee gem on the East Lothian coast, plus the views across the Firth of Clyde to Arran on a sunny day like today are simply stunning. It’s as solid a four ball course as you will find and brilliant value for money, especially when played in low season for a reduced green fee.