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 managed to squeeze a game in last week at Western Gailes and it was a real delight to play again, even if the greens were a wee bit on the bumpy side due to overnight frost.
Holes 5 to 13 which hug the coastline are very good and the winter tee positions at sizeable angles to the side of the holes gave you lots to think about in relation to finding the fairways.
The clubhouse has such a lovely feel to it, with the staff making you feel like a long serving member – not a hint of snootiness or stuffiness here.
Western Gailes is an excellent example of the maxim that clubs with the best courses never have to try too hard to convey that fact to visitors, resulting in a very relaxed atmosphere both on the course and in the clubhouse.
Yes, I reckon Wetern Gailes to be the best and truest links course in Ayrshire. It is secluded beyond the railway line and occupies the finest dune land area. Although some of the holes are not overly long, they do present a tough challenge that demands constantly good shot-making. The club do everything they can to make your visit enjoyable.
Western Gailes is separated from adjacent courses like Barassie , Glasgow Gailes and Dundonald by the railway line but, what REALLY keeps this course apart from the others is the understated class of the layout – a traditional links course which just oozes quality.
I was fortunate enough to play on a sunny Spring day when the wind was never more than a light breeze and it was an absolute joy to tread the fairways.
The front nine are laid out on ground to the north of the property that is more undulating than the inward half and it is here that the best holes are located. I particularly liked the punchbowl green on the 2nd hole and admired the swale in front of the putting surface on the 3rd – no easing your way into a round here so hit the fairway running or you’ll be punished early on.
The top hole on the card was the 498 yard 6th, called “Lappock” where mounding keeps you in the dark about the cunning green location in the sand hills until the very last minute – a hole where a distance guide is a must for the first time visitor.
The back nine has burns in front of holes 10, 13 and 16 so no slacking off here on your way back to the clubhouse.
All in all, Western Gailes is a must play on any west coast rota of top tracks and with lunch included in the visitors fee, it is surprisingly good value when compared to other leading courses in the vicinity.