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3 miles N of Troon, off A78
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F. Morris, Fred W. Hawtree
Western Gailes Golf Club is wedged between Irvine Bay and the railway tracks on one of Ayrshire’s narrowest strips of links land. Western and its next-door neighbour, Glasgow Gailes, are the northernmost of the exceptional links courses located on this prodigious stretch of Ayrshire coastline.
Four Glaswegians who were fed up with playing on muddy parkland founded the club in 1897. They recruited the first keeper of the greens, Mr. F. Morris, to lay out the course on land leased from the Duke of Portland. Western Gailes is listed in the catalogue of Simpson & Company Golf Architects, but we don't know what work Tom Simpson may have carried out prior to Fred W. Hawtree developing four new holes in the mid 1970s to accomodate a new road.
Western is an unusual layout in that the clubhouse is more or less centrally located. The first four holes head north, parallel to the railway tracks. The next nine holes head straight back along the coastline in a southerly direction, passing the clubhouse along the way, and then the closing five holes head northwards, back towards the clubhouse and once more along the railway line.
Whilst the layout, as we have already mentioned, is unusual but ostensibly nine out and nine back, the holes are wonderfully varied. The fairways undulate gently, interrupted occasionally by three meandering burns that dissect this thin strip of land. The greens sites are cleverly located in naturally folded ground; some are protected by burns whilst others, like the 6th, are in hollows guarded by sand dunes. All the greens are fast, firm and subtly contoured. The 14th hole, a wonderful par five which often plays downwind, provides a huge temptation for big hitters, but numerous bunkers lie in wait.
Be prepared for a westerly wind that can be undeniably ferocious and cunning as it switches direction from south-westerly to north-westerly. On occasions it can be soul-destroying. Western Gailes is a suitably fitting name for this golf course.
Western is a very stiff golfing test – expect to use every club in the bag. The layout measures 6,714 yards from the back tees and Western has hosted a number of important events, including the 1972 Curtis Cup, narrowly won by the USA and the 1964 PGA Championship, won by AG Grubb. Additionally, the course is used for final qualifying when the Open is played at Troon or Turnberry.
Architect Tom Mackenzie sent us this exclusive quote in August 2020 regarding the work his firm was undertaking at Western Gailes:
“Mackenzie & Ebert’s work focuses on the bunkering with drive bunkers re-sited and re-styled to make them less severe but more visually stimulating. Tee positions are being adjusted with forward tees being added on some holes to make the carries more consistent in different wind conditions.
Some green surround reshaping is being undertaken on holes such as the 5th, 9th and 18th. The first phase was completed in early 2020 with a second phase completing the bunker work in the autumn of 2020. Further phases may well follow. This makes the course more forgiving for the shortest players and more challenging for the better players.”
Western Gailes is fantastic. Founded in 1897 it is on a narrow strip of property with the sea to the west and a railroad to the east . The railroad was key to its development as most golfers were originally from Glasgow and they utilized this mode of transportation. Western Gailes hospitality is fantastic. Members for the day receive a warm welcome and clubhouse tour.
The course is laid out in an elliptical manner with the first four holes headed north, the 5th-13th south and seaside and the last five holes paralleling the train tracks heading north back to the clubhouse.
The first hole is a welcoming short par 4. Favor the right side off the tee. The 2nd is much tougher. A 430 yard par 4 dogleg left with bunkers on both corners, resulting in a narrow landing area. The 3rd is a good hole with bunkers right. You should be able to fly them, but this will leave you with a blind approach and bring a nasty bunker into play. Left is better. The 4th is pretty straight forward, except everything rolls right off the tee. Thus, one must be left of center to navigate around the right bunkers. The 5th is the number 1 handicap with a very narrow green, in some places 12 yards. On the approach I would advise hitting an extra club as there are 3 bunkers guarding the front. The 6th, another par 5 is a blind dogleg right. Off the tee aim just right of the clubhouse and on your second let the barber pole be your guide. The 7th is one of my favorite par 3s in Scotland. A tear drop green the front is less than 10 yards wide. It is well protected with 6 bunkers, left is death. The 8th is tricky, one of the few holes with a water a burn runs about 10 yards in front of the green. This green has a sever back to front slope, make sure you hit an extra club if the pin is back. Oh, I almost forgot the 4 greenside bunkers! The 9th is a cool par 4 and definitely a birdie opportunity. You may not want to hit driver, there is more landing area right which also affords a better angle to attack the pin. The 10th is also a birdie opportunity . It also has a burn about 10 yards in front of the green and 4 greenside bunkers. The 11th is a real tough long par 4. Favor the right side of the fairway off the tee. Any approach that lands short will be catapulted left. Good luck. The 12th is another long par 4. To have a chance at reaching the green favor the left side of the fairway. The 13th is a short par 3, but it is effectively an island green. With a burn short and 7 bunkers surrounding the green very difficult to par if you miss the green. The 14th is a long par 5 that typically has the wind at your back as you head back to the clubhouse. The 15th is a 190 yard par 3. The front bunkers create an optical illusion as there is at least 10 yards between them and the front of the green. Moyo declared that he was going to ace this hole. I said that I hoped that he did. I almost stole his thunder as my ball wiggled as it went over the cup. Fortunately, I made the birdie putt. The 16th is a tight driving hole with fairway bunkers on both sides. However, if you are playing the correct tees, they should not be a factor as this is typically downwind. Also, there is ample room between the burn and green, approximately 30 yards. The 17th can be confusing. It is really a dogleg left and while the guide book tells you to aim just left of the clubhouse, don’t. You really need to hug the right side to have a chance. Even with this your discomfort will rise as you are going all kinds of gorse and gunch. Real tough hole. The 18th is a pleasant goodbye hole. The 12 bunkers make it look much tougher than it really is. Aim your tee shot to the right of the starter shack and then go pin seeking!
Western Gailes is a treat and I would pay to play again.
Visited for the first time in years on my annual UK golf trip. Despite very dry summer, very good condition. Warm welcome. Stretch from #5 through 14 among the best in Links golf. Don't miss it. M
Much has been documented about the “unconventional” out and back routing of this course, and let it be known that I am a huge fan of the configuration. The opening four holes in the same outward direction immediately illustrate marvelous green-sites, being concave, convex and wonderfully contoured. When you turn around and stand on the 5th tee box, you enter one of the best three-hole stretches in the UK.
I’ll highlight the ‘all-world’ 6th hole which is a par 5 that tumbles its way over turbulent undulations along the Ayrshire coastline. The green-sites for the par 5 6th and par 3 7th hole will stand-out in your mind as you reflect on the front side. The land across Western Gailes is fairly flat, so in the absence of dunes or notable rises in the land, the placement of hazards such as pots and sneaky water streams will be sure to offer no shortage of challenge. Playing dead into the wind with a burn abutting the front of a green gives players a lot to think about, and turns what appears to be a simple approach shot into a real test. There is a burn meandering across the course which impacts holes on both sides.
The course is situated between the railway and the sea, so typical of the classic Ayrshire links courses, with both being very much in play for the errant golfer. As the back nine navigates its way back towards the clubhouse parallel to the busy railway line, the real jewel is the 17th. The architect, Mr. F Morris, routed the hole across a massive ridge in the land, with a blind and treacherous approach shot that ironically plays towards a big red cross as a landmark – making you say a little prayer before you take the club back.
Western Gailes is a top-notch course, wildly superior to its hugely overrated Royal neighbour down the railway line in Troon.
For me, this is the best 18 holes in the area. There isn't a weak hole and the routing is interesting, challenging and just beautiful. I went out on my own at just after midday on a Tuesday last summer and had the course practically to myself. The opening stretch might look a bit dull on the scorecard with four short-ish par fours, but they are challenging and you really have to think your way around - I particularly loved the view from the fourth tee with the hole stretching out in front of you. I actually started out at -1 through four before turning back into the wind. The 5th is a really tough hole and I found the par 5 6th hole a stunner with its secret green. The par 3 7th is another class hole with the wind making the tee shot a real challenge. More tough par fours follow around the turn and there is little real let-up. The finishing stretch is tough but a score is definitely makeable, with the approach to the 17th able to make or break a good finish.
Simply put, this is a golf course where you just get immersed early on and then enjoy the ride. It was four hours of pure pleasure and I cannot wait to go back - it's a real golfer's course that should not be missed. If you're in the area, make this a must-visit.
Western Gailes is a thing of true beauty. Something extra special. Near perfection at times.
It’s a classy links course that only a fusion of nature and time is able to create and where man merely offers a guiding hand. This is close to being as good as it gets at times.
The 18 holes at the aptly named Western Gailes are hemmed in on a very narrow strip of land between the Firth of Clyde and the famous West Coast railway line. Rolling dunes, rippling sandhills, dips, swales, hollows and dells are all present. Add to this the firm, tight and sandy turf that you play from off the fairways and you have the ultimate combination for exhilarating links golf. The green sites on many of the holes are truly sublime.
Nine holes head in a northerly direction whilst the other nine are played alongside them but run to the south. It’s far from uncommon for a links course to play ‘out and back’ but here the clubhouse is centrally located so you play four to the north then a run of nine to the south before turning back again for the final five. It’s an unusual routing but one I found highly enjoyable.
What makes the long stretch of holes from the 5th to the 13th even more special is that they are played extremely close to the sea and the proximity of the beach certainly adds to the appeal and experience.
Personally I thought holes five to eleven were on a different planet to most other courses. The holes oozed charisma, challenge and produced a blend of golf that I have rarely seen on my travels. The natural green settings and tee positions define this stretch where the golfer is teased and tormented by the undulating ground but comes away feeling rewarded and uplifted. The snaking par five 6th, short 7th, driveable 9th and demanding 11th are pure links heaven.
Ed is the founder of Golf Empire – click the link to read his full review.
A rare course indeed that has no weak holes and all very “linksey”, which again is quite rare – western Gailes is a rare course. A short par 4 to start which is a good design feature enabling golfers to hit irons or rescues to get into the round and off the first tee. The second is a strong par 4 with a bowl as a green complex assisting the approach. The front green side bunkers are set back towards the fairway providing a different perspective. The par 4, 5th is tough but beautiful. The par 5, 6th hole was my favourite hole on the course closely followed by par 3, 7th. The most exhilarating stretch is 5 to 13 which is the land closest to the sea. The short par 3, 13th is an exquisite hole to end the seaside run. The consecutive par 4s of 11 and 12 are brutes and to play these cumulatively in 1 over is good golf. The 17th is my favourite hole of the “inner” holes, but as I say, there are no bad holes on this course.
We played Western Gailes as part of the Gailes Golf Experience along with Glasgow Gailes and Dundonald, a brilliant collection of courses, of which Western Gailes was our clear pick.
As previously noted, a well appointed club house where you are met and directed to your pre round preparations.
The starter was very friendly, and you are away.
A lovely bit of Links land, very well kept with not too many uneven lies on the pretty fairways but plenty of trouble.
The stretch from the 5th with the sea on your right is good golf, with views to Arran and Ailsa Craig and some lovely green sites hard on the beach.
Possibly a couple of the holes on the way back in were a little weaker, but still had burns and other hazards to keep the interest.
Was booked in here between playing Prestwick and Royal Troon and sort of expected it to be the lesser course. Whilst Prestwick is a wonderfully traditional Club experience, the quirky back nine makes it an essential experience which gets better on each return as you have more idea what lies ahead and Royal Troon is also a very special place with the stands starting to appear, Western Gailes was to me the highlight of the week .... Great holes and visually stunning on a par with Royal Dornoch, Brora, Machrihanish, Nairn, Crail (and the far end of Troon) etc for REALLY looking the part as stunning links territory. Already excited about the planned return in September !!
I reread my review of Western Gailes, written four years ago after my first visit. I gave it a five ball rating, said some nice things about the staff and the caddies, and was very complimentary of a course that I had very much enjoyed playing. I liked it even more this time around. The greens complexes, the layout, the risk/reward possibilities, the beauty of Western Gailes, all add up now, for me, to a solid six-ball rating. I would go so far to say that, all things being equal, I would prefer to play Western Gailes to Royal Troon.