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  • Neil White

Turnberry (Ailsa)

Enjoy the read and also listen to The Golf Pilgrim podcast from Turnberry at https://podcasts.apple.com/gb/podcast/the-golf-pilgrim/id1743914901?i=1000657591312 or your favourite platform


The history, the glory, the imagination to create an icon on this tract of land – oh, and a lighthouse as a halfway hut!


This was the birthplace of Scotland's most feted fighter, Robert The Bruce, and the site of one of golf's most famous showdowns, The Duel In The Sun.


In 2027, it will be 50 years since the epic Open finale between Tom Watson and Jack Nicklaus.



Could the anniversary be marked by the return of the world's oldest golf competition to these magnificent links? The venue would certainly be worthy.


Since 2014, Turnberry has been in the hands of the Trump Organisation, which, love it or hate it, has ploughed in circa £200m.


The result is a golfer's paradise, and the Ailsa course, with its strategic bunkering, undulating fairways, and stunning coastal views, is the highest-rated course I have played so far (narrowly above Royal Dornoch, Muirfield, and Royal Portrush).



Unfortunately, the forecast for our visit was bleak. The Met Office and the BBC had predicted heavy, even thundery rain.


Thus, togged up in our waterproofs, we were sopping during the wander from the car park to the superb academy and driving range.


The rain was persistent but easing as we tested our skills on the putting surface and then embarked on our round.



There was a comedic false start because I was so over-excited that I topped my ball 15 yards into the deep rough.


For the first time on my golf pilgrim travels, I accepted the invitation of a Mulligan from our host and re-gathered for the long bending par-four opener.


It was a new beginning for nine of the most exhilarating holes I have played.



The quality of the conditioning was evident from that opening hole.


The fairways' turf is wonderfully tight, the greens run perfectly, the run-offs are sublime and the bunkering is dazzling.


I was inspired and the first signs of a thrilling run came on the second, a bending par-four with gorse bushes on the right and six bunkers lurking.



My approach found a deep greenside trap and I was delighted to splash out to 15 feet and nail my putt for par. I allowed myself to imagine an Open crowd cheering in appreciation.


By this time, the drizzle had ceased but the wind was in our face for Blaw Wearie, a tough, curving par-four where precision is needed to avoid sand on the left and rough on the right.


Turnberry's par-threes are among the best and I gasped at the sight of the aptly named Woe-Be-Tide fourth.



The target is over sandy waste, inside a grassy dune on the right and the sea on the left. I was chuffed to find the middle of the green and record par.


My feeling of indestructibility was soon shattered on the fifth – a stunning par-five, which should be doable at less than 500 yards with the wind behind.


However, the sting is the approach to a raised green with bushes behind but more importantly, SEVEN bunkers within 30 yards of an ascending entrance.



My conservative course management had left me with a 100-yard chip but the ball fell short into an enormous trap. Every sinew was needed to spew it out by literally one inch.


The par-three sixth was arguably more difficult from the yellow tee because it was uphill over bunkers to another perched green, whereas the view is downhill from the elevated white tee.


I have never hit a better eight-iron and was faced with a 12-footer for the most outstanding two of my life. "Great birdie", said our host but he was premature as the ball stuck on the lip of the cup.



With the wind in our favour, I had two more birdie chances on the eighth and ninth – a beautiful dogleg par-five and a majestic seaside par-four into a two-tiered green.


Behind the eighth is a path that seems to go nowhere, and our host invited Mrs. W. and me to follow it and take our cameras.


Beyond the grassed dune is one of the most remarkable sights in golf – the magnificent par-three ninth, over a craggy beach with the Turnberry lighthouse to the left of the pin.



We were so fortunate that the sun was now shining, and Ailsa Craig was clear in the near distance with a halo cloud on top. In the opposite direction, the coastline views prompted gasps.


We were not allowed to drive from the back tees, but we did take the whites and thought I had hit a decent shot, only for the ball to stick in the tufty grass in front of the vast green.


I had thought that talk of the lighthouse being the halfway hut was a myth but not so. We entered for our chocolate and drink fix in unique surroundings.



Alongside it are some ancient walls, originally part of a castle that was the birthplace of Robert The Bruce. Our host even pointed to a rock that legend suggested was his face.


I digress.


Back on the course, the hits kept coming with the 10th, a sweeping par-five from an elevated tee with a longer carry than initially appeared.



As the fairway ascends, there is a wide strand of sandy waste before a green leaning left to right. I can testify that even a handsome approach may be thrust towards dense rough.


It is followed by a gorgeous par-three over rocks and beach to another undulating putting surface. The views here will live with us for a very long time.


Turnberry's history has few parallels. Alongside the par-four 12th is a memorial to British, American, and Australian airmen who died while serving at the School of Aerial Gunnery & Fighting, which was based here during the First World War.



The present shattered the solemnity of remembering the past as a ball flew from behind the green on the par-four 12th as we were preparing our approaches.


It transpired that an Argentinian visitor slammed his drive into the ladies' tee on the 13th, and the ball diverted towards us. Fortunately, we were able to sidestep this unexpected interruption before a friendly exchange.


The 14th headed back out towards the lighthouse and nearly yielded more comedy as my drive rested two inches to the side of a deep fairway bunker.



I tried to conjure a stance but fell back into the trap, so I stood in the sand and attempted to play the ball chin-high. Unsurprisingly, I could only move it five yards.


My game was well on the wane when we hit the majestic Turnberry run-in and the par-three 15th with its steep run-offs down the right and fiendish pot-bunkers on the left.




My blob there was followed by another on the long par-four 16th, which twists around heavy rough on the right towards a green protected by the Wee Burn, which gives the hole its name.


A nine-iron clip made the green by about a yard but our host said it would have slipped back into the water if we hadn't seen so much recent rain.



From my youth watching the Open, I have always remembered the name Lang Whang, the Scottish Gaelic for Long Whack – precisely what is required from the tee on the dramatic hole 17.


Dunes are on the left of a tight fairway that funnels into a bowl green protected by pot bunkers.




We felt smug that we had defied the apocalyptic weather forecast, but a deluge began on the 18th. That was a pity because we were too wet to fully appreciate this tough par-four named after Watson and Nicklaus's epic battle.


Indeed, a plaque commemorates Watson's glorious seven-iron approach from 178 yards that sealed him the claret jug.



Our drenched clothes prevented us from raising a glass to him in the clubhouse after our round, but fear not, we shall return to Turnberry.


It is one of the most extraordinary golf experiences and I would retread its turf in a heartbeat.



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