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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.”
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…
Four of us visited Western Gailes last week on our annual trip to Scotland and were all mightily impressed by this classy lay out. We were told beforehand that we would enjoy this course the most and sure enough we did. We loved every second of walking the famous fairways of Royal Troon and Prestwick but for us Western was the star of the show. The welcome we received on arrival and inside the clubhouse was first class. On top of that the starter was extremely helpful offering us lines from the tees as well as a friendly warning of the dangers to come on some of the holes. We were lucky enough to play the course on a calm, sunny day and the views across to Arran particularly from the nine holes that run along the beach are simply stunning. My favourite holes are amongst the dunes, particularly 6 and 7 but there are so many good ones to choose from. The burn running in front of the green on 8, 13 and 16 only adds to the excitement and the railway line down the right of the closing holes keeps you on your toes until the end. Every hole offers a different challenge and there is not a weak one on the course. On top of that, the greens were as good as anything I have seen this year. This place may be overshadowed by some of its neighbours when it comes to the history of the game but should be very much viewed as an equal when comparing the quality of golf on offer. Brian W