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. The original Western Gailes course remained virtually untouched until Fred Hawtree revised a number of holes in the mid 1970s.
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.
Much has been documented about the “unconventional” out and back routing of this course, and let it be known that I am a huge fan of the configuration. The opening four holes in the same outward direction immediately illustrate marvelous green-sites, being concave, convex and wonderfully contoured. When you turn around and stand on the 5th tee box, you enter one of the best three-hole stretches in the UK.
I’ll highlight the ‘all-world’ 6th hole which is a par 5 that tumbles its way over turbulent undulations along the Ayrshire coastline. The green-sites for the par 5 6th and par 3 7th hole will stand-out in your mind as you reflect on the front side. The land across Western Gailes is fairly flat, so in the absence of dunes or notable rises in the land, the placement of hazards such as pots and sneaky water streams will be sure to offer no shortage of challenge. Playing dead into the wind with a burn abutting the front of a green gives players a lot to think about, and turns what appears to be a simple approach shot into a real test. There is a burn meandering across the course which impacts holes on both sides.
The course is situated between the railway and the sea, so typical of the classic Ayrshire links courses, with both being very much in play for the errant golfer. As the back nine navigates its way back towards the clubhouse parallel to the busy railway line, the real jewel is the 17th. The architect, Mr. F Morris, routed the hole across a massive ridge in the land, with a blind and treacherous approach shot that ironically plays towards a big red cross as a landmark – making you say a little prayer before you take the club back.
Western Gailes is a top-notch course, wildly superior to its hugely overrated Royal neighbour down the railway line in Troon.
For me, this is the best 18 holes in the area. There isn't a weak hole and the routing is interesting, challenging and just beautiful. I went out on my own at just after midday on a Tuesday last summer and had the course practically to myself. The opening stretch might look a bit dull on the scorecard with four short-ish par fours, but they are challenging and you really have to think your way around - I particularly loved the view from the fourth tee with the hole stretching out in front of you. I actually started out at -1 through four before turning back into the wind. The 5th is a really tough hole and I found the par 5 6th hole a stunner with its secret green. The par 3 7th is another class hole with the wind making the tee shot a real challenge. More tough par fours follow around the turn and there is little real let-up. The finishing stretch is tough but a score is definitely makeable, with the approach to the 17th able to make or break a good finish.
Simply put, this is a golf course where you just get immersed early on and then enjoy the ride. It was four hours of pure pleasure and I cannot wait to go back - it's a real golfer's course that should not be missed. If you're in the area, make this a must-visit.
Western Gailes is a thing of true beauty. Something extra special. Near perfection at times.
It’s a classy links course that only a fusion of nature and time is able to create and where man merely offers a guiding hand. This is close to being as good as it gets at times.
The 18 holes at the aptly named Western Gailes are hemmed in on a very narrow strip of land between the Firth of Clyde and the famous West Coast railway line. Rolling dunes, rippling sandhills, dips, swales, hollows and dells are all present. Add to this the firm, tight and sandy turf that you play from off the fairways and you have the ultimate combination for exhilarating links golf. The green sites on many of the holes are truly sublime.
Nine holes head in a northerly direction whilst the other nine are played alongside them but run to the south. It’s far from uncommon for a links course to play ‘out and back’ but here the clubhouse is centrally located so you play four to the north then a run of nine to the south before turning back again for the final five. It’s an unusual routing but one I found highly enjoyable.
What makes the long stretch of holes from the 5th to the 13th even more special is that they are played extremely close to the sea and the proximity of the beach certainly adds to the appeal and experience.
Personally I thought holes five to eleven were on a different planet to most other courses. The holes oozed charisma, challenge and produced a blend of golf that I have rarely seen on my travels. The natural green settings and tee positions define this stretch where the golfer is teased and tormented by the undulating ground but comes away feeling rewarded and uplifted. The snaking par five 6th, short 7th, driveable 9th and demanding 11th are pure links heaven.
Ed is the founder of Golf Empire – click the link to read his full review.
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.