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  • Neil White

Western Gailes

Updated: May 15, 2023

Wow! I had already been gobsmacked by Western Gailes and then came the astonishing view of the final five holes.

This is my type of place. Links golf at its rawest and most exciting and we played it in perfect light in the hours before dusk and then watched the sun go down..

A few miles from the exulted turf of Troon and Prestwick, Western Gailes is over the railway track from Dundonald - 100 yards forward geographically but 100 years backwards in its style.

And I write that as a huge compliment. This is a club which oozes tradition on and off the links.

The wooden doors of the lockers in the long-established changing rooms give an early clue to the long history of a club founded by Glasgow businessmen.

Ditto, the bar area where it can be imagined the drinking and post-round chatting of those with their names on the wooden honours boards.

The truth is that there has been much work in the clubhouse and the course over the years but I can attest that none of it has taken away its classic feel.

Western Gailes has two key defences - the wind and the rough. It was designed on a slither of land between the railway and the beach and, consequently precision play is required to reap rewards.

The first hole may appear to be a very gentle introduction because it is a short par-four but it lays some important markers.

So, the fairway bunkers are deep, the rough is penal and even those left with a wedge into the green will discover that the approach has to be spot-on to avoid slipping down the false front or either side of the putting surface.

These great links really come into their own from the fifth onwards with a run of seaside holes with the wind into the face.

With beach views and the Isle of Arran across the bay, the challenge is set with a par-four of nearly 500 yards with dunes on either side.

That is a mere aperitif before two of the most remarkable holes I have played on my travels.

The sixth would be an incredible par-five with the wind but is mesmerising against it, as its fairway bends to the right from the tee with dunes covered in gorse on one side and a bunker and hefty undulations on the other.

The fairway narrows between grassy mounds before dipping and turning sharply to the left to a target in a sloping dell.

If that weren't crazy enough, the seventh is a downhill 200-yard par-three with a dune and sandscapes to the left and rear and barely any clear land in front of the putting surface. It felt like an exaggerated version of Lahinch.

Two more of my favourite holes in the same direction are the 10th, a long par-four with a green protected by a slither of a burn which I found after thinking I had flushed my approach, and the 11th a fiendishly long par-four whose target is perched on the right with dramatic run-offs to the left.

The 13th is a gorgeous par-three with water ready to gather a short tee shot and seven bunkers surrounding the green from any other angle.

And then there is the real wow factor. The view from the 14th tee as the road home, with the breeze at the back, begins.

This par-five plays with the mind, with a considerable carry from the tee, the railway line to the left and bunkers lurking across the fairway.

Thankfully, I was on-line and wind-assisted, managing a tap-in par while others were finding trouble.

It transpires that straight shots are the key to this dazzling denouement which continues with another sand trap-strewn par-three.

I had been pleased to be the only one from our group to still be playing the same ball by the time we reached the 16th but resigned myself to its demise when my approach disappeared towards the greenside creek.

Much to my surprise when it became clear that it has hit the stream's board and bounced to safety.

The recently refurbished, curving 17th threatens even greater peril from the railway line and one of our compadres cleared it by so far the marshal reckoned it had found its way to the 16th at Dundonald.

I went for a more sedate 'play it like a five' routine and walked away with the two points whereas the more adventurous came a cropper.

Unlike the lovely last hole where the whole group netted pars - an apt end to one of the great rounds of my quest so far.

We applied to join Silloth on the day we played it for the first time. If we hadn't, I might well have been tempted to ask about memberships at Western Gailes.

Yes, it is that good!

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