Review of the Month March 2018 - Trump Turnberry (Ailsa)
Four Englishmen tried their luck with the Scottish weather and took advantage of an offer to play the new Ailsa course in March. I had played the old version a few times and considered, along with many others, the stretch from holes 4 to 11 as one of the very best I have ever played. Would the new version live up to the old?
Fortune smiled on us and, despite snow drifts that day in parts of England we were treated to blue skies and crystal-clear views and temperatures above freezing for the first time in days.
We were given mats to play off which felt a little disappointing at first having paid so much money, but several factors prevented this detracting from our enjoyment. Some of the time we simply moved our balls to the semi-rough (better than most club's fairways) and played from there – no problem. Also, the mats were of high quality and enabled perfectly decent golf shots to be played (not like the thin pieces of carpet I'd be given at other places. This all meant that the fairways looked spectacular and divot-free (unlike the soggy courses we'd left behind in Yorkshire).
I should also point out that we played off the proper tees – we were offered the choice of white or yellow - and played on all proper greens so definitely received the full Turnberry experience.
On to the course itself, were the changes a good idea? The simple answer is a resounding 'yes'. The best really can be made better. Although there are changes to most of the holes, it is probably most apparent on the famous 4-11 stretch. Once down by the sea on the 4th tee, with Ailsa Craig overlooking your tee shot, you really get a sense you're in golfing heaven. The par 3 tee shot is all carry (as indeed are all the par 3s). The green has been relocated closer to the sea and any degree of wind (we had around 10mph from the East) will cast doubts on the golfer's strategy and only a well-executed shot will hit the green.
The next par 3 (6th) has been shortened but the new green is no less easy to hit being on top of a dune ridge. Again, anything other than finding the green and bogeys or worse will likely ensue. Holes 7 and 8 maintain the high standard, threading their way through dune valleys.
It used to be that one strolled from the back of the 8th to the Open championship tee of the then Par 4 9th and marvelled at the carry the professionals must make over the rocky inlet with the sea crashing below. The amateur golfer then walked to a slightly inland teeing area to play a fairly straightforward par 4 without too much danger. Even for the Pros in modern times, this hole has been relatively easy unless there was a rare strong off-shore wind and so even for the Open the drama of the hole had diminished.
Not so anymore. With the re-siting of the green close to the lighthouse, the Open tee is once again daunting as a 248-yard par 3 over the sea. However, unlike the previous version, us mere mortals also have a chasm to cross. Our group resorted to fairway woods into the breeze to carry the ocean below and our good shots were rewarded with a great sense of achievement. This seems to me the closest I will get to playing the 16th at Cypress Point.
The 10th hole was previously one of my favourite holes in all golf, hugging the sweeping coastline as a very tough par 4, littered with bunkers and slopes. It still retains its place as one of the greats. The breath-taking views remain, possibly enhanced by the use of numerous (I think there are 7!) elevated tees all framed by the famous lighthouse behind. The green has been pushed further into the corner of the coastline allowing the hole to become a par 5 which at least gives the amateur golfer a better chance of better of a par if they are not distracted by the glorious scenery.
Finally, we say goodbye to the sea along the 11th but this also has been redesigned to be more of an all-or-nothing par 3 where nothing but the green will do. Another stunning improvement.
The remaining holes are still of a high standard (the 14th green is now almost back at the lighthouse) but it remains the coastline holes which will capture the imagination of every golfer that visits Turnberry.
Needless to say the hospitality, facilities and attention are all of the high standard expected at a top tier golfing resort but it is the course itself that will live long in the memory. RdD