For discerning golfers and golf fans the world over, Turnberry requires little introduction.
Situated on the craggy coast of the Firth of Clyde between Ayr and Stranraer, this beloved resort’s reputation rather goes before it.
A four-time host venue for the Open Championship, it dates back to the early 20th century when the Turnberry Golf Club was formed. That was followed in short order by the Turnberry Hotel, which opened in 1906 amidst Scotland’s great railway boom.
Since then, the resort has evolved into one of the biggest, best and most transfixing destinations in the game.
The Ailsa Course is a huge part of the reason for that. The jewel in Turnberry’s crown, the course has gone through a host of changes over the last 115 years, the most recent of which were completed over an eight-month period between 2015 and 2016.
Part of a wider £200m investment programme funded by the Trump Organisation, which bought the resort in 2014, the changes were advised by Martin Ebert of renowned golf course architecture firm Mackenzie & Ebert. All 18 holes were changed to varying degrees, with the most noteworthy alterations coming on the coastal stretch from the fourth to the 11th.
The most remarked-upon work was carried out on the ninth and tenth holes. It was a grim irony that the worst holes on the course (as they undoubtedly were) occupied the finest piece of land on the property. The ninth was converted from a thoroughly humdrum par-4 into a spectacular par-3 that plays across the lapping waters below.
The tenth, meantime, was turned into a par-5, with its infamous ‘donut’ bunker restored to its ‘rugged’, original look and the green pushed all the way back onto the rocks on land previously occupied by the championship tee for the 11th.
The closing hole is also radically different. Previously a dog-leg, it now plays in pretty much a straight line from a tee that has been pushed all the way back onto a dune that sits above the beach.
In essence, the subtle but distinct separation between the course and the coast that existed previously has been ripped away – and it’s all the better for it. As Ebert acknowledged: “The Ailsa Course has always enjoyed a superb landscape but now the seaside holes use the coastal setting as real playing and visual features.”
It's easy to throw big bucks at a project and call the results a success. However, there is no question that the investment in the Ailsa Course has been money well spent.
was apparent to anybody watching the 2009 Open that, whilst it still
occupied one of the most spectacular parcels of land in golf, the course
itself had become somewhat tired and was in desperate need of
improvement. The changes made have elevated it closer to where it ought to be, specifically the very top of the game.
Being hyper-critical, there are still some parts (on the back nine, in particular) that perhaps merit further development but that’s true of almost every course.From what it was to what it is, the Ailsa is markedly improved.
Of course, there’s an elephant in the room that can't be ignored. Many will choose not to play the course on a point of principle given who owns it. That’s perfectly understandable. However, if you are able to separate the course from the name above the door, then you’ll be treated to what is, truthfully, one of the finest courses on the planet.
It’s tempting to pick the ninth or tenth, for obvious reasons, but it’s the par-3 11th that is arguably the biggest standout. As was the case with the two holes preceding it, the ‘old’ 11th was mundane, underwhelming, forgettable, you name it. By moving it closer to the coast, Martin Hawtree has created one of the best par-3s in Scotland, if not the world.
At 178 yards from the whites, it plays across a series of rocky outcrops towards a two-tier green protected by a bunker short and trouble left, right and long. In other words, choose your club wisely, hit the green and take two putts for par all day long. It’s just a great, great hole.
Did you know?
The Turnberry Lighthouse – which now doubles as perhaps the most magnificent ‘halfway hut’ in golf – stands within what used to be the moat of Turnberry Castle, thought to be the birthplace of Robert the Bruce in 1274.
And another thing...
The Ailsa Craig, which is an almost ubiquitous part of the Turnberry experience, stands 11 miles out to sea. The uninhabited volcanic plug is reckoned to be almost half a billion years old and granite mined from it is used in the production of curling stones.
Okay, so, it’s not cheap. For 18 holes, you’ll pay anything from £100 to £395 depending on the time of year you visit and if you’re a hotel guest or not.
Our advice? Book through bunkered Golf Breaks. They have the best deals going and can create overnighters that allow you to play both the Ailsa and its sister course, the acclaimed King Robert The Bruce Course, for unbeatable value. Visit bunkeredgolfbreaks.com for details.
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