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.
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.
With the lovely clubhouse more or less centred, the first four holes run north, followed by a brilliant stretch from the 5th to the 12th that run along the shoreline. These holes turn at the 13th so that the last five run north beside the railway line and back to the clubhouse.
The 5th is the first of the seaside holes. Index 1, it is 499 yards from the back tee. As it is a par four, you don’t want to be into the wind. The fairway bottlenecks 110 yards out from the well bunkered green.
Fourteen is by far the longest hole at 562 yards. The drive is over gorse to a fairway with plenty of rough and bunkers on both sides. Out of bounds and the railway line is in play on the right on all the holes from the 14th, with the exception of the par three 15th.
Western Gailes is such a joy to play that you will be very sorry to see the round come to an end. On a fine sunny day, there can be fewer better vistas than to stand on the 7th tee looking down the course. To the left is the fine clubhouse and to the right the peaks of Arran and the outline of Ailsa Craig further south.
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 love visiting this place as there’s an understated elegance about everything: from the locker room to the lounge, from the first tee box to the last green, Western Gailes effortlessly exudes an almost casual aura of golfing perfection. The 6th, 7th and 17th are three of the best holes in Scottish golf, with greens positioned to maximise the natural contours of the land (be it in the form of sand hills, hollows or ridges).
Although our group played in light rain for most of the round, we were fortunate to have only a slight breeze blowing at our back for holes 5 to 13, allowing a decent score to be made IF the ball was kept on the short cut grass.
Reasonable fairway width is an aspect of this course that I’d never really considered before but it’s an attribute worth mentioning, if only to reassure golfers playing here for the first time that you CAN start and finish with the same golf ball!
The starter told us before setting out that “80% of visiting golfers are from USA” and, judging from the number of American bag tags hanging up inside the starter’s box, that’s probably a pretty accurate percentage – just goes to show our cousins across the Atlantic might know more about links golf than they’re often given credit for…