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.
I know that Top100 appraisals should only focus on the course being reviewed but, really, to write about this place without mentioning the club and the atmosphere in the clubhouse would be doing Western Gailes a gross disservice. Everything here has quality stamped on it in very large letters.
From the moment you’re welcomed at the front door by the genial caddie master to the farewell you are bid by the catering and bar staff in the lounge you know you’re made to feel a member for the day. If, on leaving, you feel unimpressed with the 18 holes of traditional Scottish links golf that’s on offer here, then I suggest you must be one of the most demanding golfers to ever have set foot on a golf course.
The stretch of fairways from hole 5 to 13 are magnificent, bookended by a sprightly opening foursome and a stirring final five holes.
The par five 6th and par three 7th are two of the best holes in the country, as is the brilliant par four 17th.
Such was the excellent state of the fairways and greens when I played yesterday, you would never know the country had just endured one of the worst winters in living memory. Indeed, as a matter of opinion, I think the course at Western Gailes is only bettered in Ayrshire by the Ailsa at Turnberry.
At just over 6000 yards from the regulars Western Gailes is short in comparison to today’s monsters but as Harry Colt, the man behind Muirfield and Hoylake among numerous others stated “length has very little to do with merit”. It is, like many other of the courses in this area, a club of olde worlde charm. The ubiquitous rough and gorse coupled with stunning views, lift your golfing soul to new levels. In fact, you will have to travel far and wide to get a more magnificent and thought provoking stretch of holes than that of holes 3 – 9 which can see you using every club in your bag and every shot in your armoury. The back 9 may seem less relenting but there are still some classic holes the best being the 17th which wouldn’t look out of place at any championship course.
A special word and hearty thanks go out to Caddy master George Ferguson who took time out of his schedule to give us a behind the scene tour of the clubhouse which displays the club’s interesting memorabilia. It was greatly appreciated: a fabulous day rounded off with an unexpected treat. Don’t make the mistake that I did. Western Gailes is no “B” list, best supporting actress job. It is an “A” list, up for an Oscar star which shouldn’t be seen as subservient to others and which on no account should be missed. MPPJ