Western Gailes Golf Club – Course Profile

Western Gailes Golf Club
Irvine, Ayrshire, SCOTLAND

7014 YARDS (PAR 71)
COURSE ARCHITECT: Fred Morris (1897)
COURSE WEBSITE: http://westerngailes.com/
LAST PLAYED: August 12, 2017.
LOW SCORE: 89 (+18)

– Golf Digest World’s 100 Greatest Golf Courses (Outside USA) 2020: #99
– Top100GolfCourses.com Britain and Ireland Top 100 2020: #37
– Top100GolfCourses.com Top 100 Links Courses of Britain and Ireland 2020: #26

“I had heard so much praise about Western Gailes over the years that it was high on my list of must play courses. It didn’t disappoint. Beautiful holes, on great land make it endlessly interesting and challenging. I look forward to my next chance to play.”
Geoff Ogilvy, 2006 U.S. Open Champion

Western Gailes Golf Club will always hold a special place in my memories of the game, as it was the first stop on our epic 2017 Scottish adventure and perhaps more significantly, my first-ever round of golf outside North America.

The history at Western Gailes dates back to the late 1800’s, when four prominent members of golf clubs in the city of Glasgow had a vision to create a course on the Ayrshire coast, a getaway far from their workplaces where they would be free from the winter frost that allowed the game to be played year-round.

They were able to come to a lease agreement with the Sixth Duke of Portland, William Cavendish-Bentinck, for a parcel of land near Irvine hard on the coast and as a result, the club was officially formed in 1897. The parcel of land is a long but narrow strip that sits near the Firth of Clyde, between the sea and a railway line. That railway has been a significant part of the history at Western Gailes, as it provided members and guests who lived in Glasgow easy access to the Ayrshire coast. A train station would be built right at the club and was in use from the early days right through the 1950’s, with the last train leaving the Gailes station in 1966.

The first nine holes were ready for play early in 1898 and the second nine was opened in May the same year. Golf Digest is of the belief that Willie Fernie, the 1883 Open Champion and golf course architect who designed the famous “Postage Stamp” hole at Royal Troon also designed Western Gailes. However, the club insists that their first greenskeeper, Fred Morris, routed and designed the golf course.

The course regularly hosts Open Championship qualifying events, was the site of the 1972 Curtis Cup matches and has also hosted the Scottish Amateur nine times, most recently in 2011. Western Gailes tips out at just over 7000 yards and it’s a supreme test of golf, especially when the wind blows, as it did when we played.

The course has an “out and back” routing, something that is relatively standard with links golf but Western Gailes is very unique in comparison due to where its clubhouse is situated. The first four holes run inland away from the clubhouse to the northeast before turning around for a thrilling jaunt along the coast. The next eight holes, from #5 through #13, head southwest with the sea hard on the right side the whole way. It’s a magnificent stretch of holes but the golf remains compelling as you make the “turn” once again on the long par five 14th, heading northeast for the last five holes before hitting the centrally-located clubhouse.

The first hole, a 310 yard par four named “Station”, is a gentle handshake of an opener but I quickly would find out how much wind affects ball flight over in Scotland, as my wedge approach from about 90 yards climbed in the air and then started coming back towards me!

The fun truly begins on the second, named “Railway”, as it features a very unique green set below fairway grade in a bit of a hollow. Strategy off the par four 3rd hole, named “Arran”, is paramount. You need a tee shot that hugs the left side of the fairway in order to have a full view of the green, which is completely blind if you are over near the three pot bunkers on the right hand side, situated behind a large dune.

You make the turn after the 4th and the 5th hole is an absolute stunner – named “Bunker’s Hill”, this massive par four stimulates all your senses, with the sea and sand hard to your right and rollicking dunes to your left. This hole, along with the following seven along the sea, play into the prevailing wind so at 500 yards from the tips, you’ll often need three well-struck shots just to reach the putting surface.

This is just an appetizer though, as the 6th and 7th holes, in this author’s humble opinion, are world-class in every respect.

The 6th, named “Lappock”, is a 498 yard par five with a forced carry required off the tee to a slightly diagonal fairway. You can elect to layup short of the well-placed fairway bunker cut into a dune on the left side or hit a hybrid or metal wood and give it a go. The punchbowl shaped green is set in behind that dune and a shot that is played well out to the right can hit a large slope and funnel to the left and onto the putting surface if struck well. The green is very long and quite narrow so despite the fact that the slopes seem to help, it’s incredibly difficult to place your ball close to the hole, even with a wedge. The design and the setting is tremendous and most will walk off this green, take a look back at the incredible landscape and know they’ve played one of the best holes in golf.

You can only shake your head in delight as you make your way to the elevated 7th tee. The first par three at Western Gailes, named “Sea”, is another standout. Measuring 198 yards from the back tees, this hole plays downhill slightly but is all carry to a very well-protected green nestled in the dunes and with bunkers short right and long left. Anything but the most precise shot will likely mean a bogey…at best. Simply gorgeous!

The mid-length par four 8th hole and the shorter par four 10th holes feature burns that wind directly in front of the greens, making distance control vital with your approach on both holes. I also enjoyed the very difficult test presented at the long par four 11th, named “Plateau”, which presents an angled fairway that is slightly offset from the green, which is tucked off to the right and requires a big fade approach or the more risky shot on a direct line over the deep rough and dunes to the right.

The short par three 13th hole is at the far southwest end of the property and the final hole at Western Gailes with the sea on your right. Named “Barassie”, it’s only 154 yards from the back tees but is almost completely surrounded by seven bunkers, while any shots that come up short will fall back down the slope and into another burn. Play for the middle of the generous green here and be happy with a two-putt par!

The last five holes play inland and back toward the clubhouse, with the railway running down the right hand side the whole way. At 592 yards, the par five 14th is the longest hole at Western Gailes but the prevailing wind should help somewhat. Birdies and pars are possible but you need to hit a long and accurate drive to give yourself any chance at a good score here.

The 15th hole, called “Heather”, is the last of the one shotters at Western Gailes and it’s another stunner both visually and from a design perspective. A long iron or fairway metal will likely be required, as you have a long forced carry over the long rough and then two very well-placed pot bunkers about twenty yards short of the green. If you clear those particular traps, you have some room to run the ball up to a green surrounded by two bunkers left and three more to the right. Anything offline will likely result in a bogey or worse.

The long par four 17th hole, named “Ridge”, is yet another standout. Measuring 470 yards from the back tees, your drive needs to avoid a bunker on the left side and the railroad to the right but enhancing the difficulty is the fact that the fairway narrows considerably the further you hit it off the tee. The second shot is unique, as the fairway splits and you need to hit over the ridge to a green set behind a series of bumps and hollows, with a small, deep pot bunker cut into the front right of the putting surface.

The “Home” hole, a 407 yard par four, is reasonably straightforward but hitting into the widest portion of the fairway will leave an approach of approximately 200 yards, which isn’t ideal. The approach shot is tested by a series of three bunkers that are between 30 and 50 yards short of the green on the left, ready to thwart any shot not well struck.

Make no mistake about it – Western Gailes is a very demanding test of golf. The fairways are pretty narrow and the targets seem even smaller due to the dunes lining most of the holes, the very long and challenging rough and 106 bunkers that are dotted throughout the design. The course certainly prevailed on this day, as I shot an unsightly 89 (+18) overall, with zero birdies and quite a few round crushing double bogeys!

That all said, I think this was the perfect course for us to begin our journey and a great choice for anyone who is looking for a proper introduction to true links golf. It’s not called Western Gailes for nothing – the wind out here is always a factor and your shotmaking skills will be supremely tested throughout the day.

The course was in fantastic condition, with very firm and fast fairways and greens despite a wetter than average season back in 2017. We were also very fortunate to experience perfect weather on our first day in Scotland, with mild temperatures and glorious sunshine throughout the day, as seen in the photos below.

Western Gailes has always been considered to be somewhat of a hidden gem, perhaps due to the fact that it isn’t part of the Open rota. However, Golf Digest recently named it as one of the 100 best golf courses in the world outside of the United States and I was told it’s a popular choice of tourists coming to the Ayrshire coast. Based on the incredibly warm hospitality we were shown by the club’s staff and members, I can definitely see why that’s the case.

We finished our day with a couple of drinks in the clubhouse, which overlooks the 18th green and offers long views of the course and sea.

It was a perfect way to conclude our first day in Scotland.

The tee shot on “Station”, the opening hole at Western Gailes Golf Club
(Photo by Now on the Tee)


That’s me hitting my second shot on the par four 4th hole
(Original Photo Courtesy of Howard Riefs)


There are sod-walled bunkers aplenty at Western Gailes, including the front left of the 4th green
(Original Photo Courtesy of Howard Riefs)


Yours truly ripping one off the 5th tee at Western Gailes
(Original Photo Courtesy of Howard Riefs)


A look from the fairway on “Bunker’s Hill”, the 5th hole at Western Gailes
(Photo by Now on the Tee)


The gorgeous surroundings beyond the 5th green at Western Gailes
(Original Photo Courtesy of Howard Riefs)


Looking back down the 5th fairway from the 6th tee
(Photo by Now on the Tee)


Stephen paces off the yardage on the par five 6th hole
(Photo by Now on the Tee)


The wonderful par five 6th hole at Western Gailes, named “Lappock”
(Photo by Now on the Tee)


The rollicking 6th fairway, with the green in the distance set in a punchbowl behind a dune on the left
(Photo by Now on the Tee)


Looking back up the fairway from just behind the pin on the 6th green at Western Gailes
(Photo by Now on the Tee)


Another look back down the thrilling par five 6th, as seen from the 7th tee
(Photo by Now on the Tee)


The glorious par three 7th, appropriately named “Sea”
(Original Photo Courtesy of Howard Riefs)


Chris deftly handles an almost impossible pitch from the dunes left of the 7th green
(Original Photo Courtesy of Howard Riefs)


That’s me attempting to navigate the difficult tee shot on the par four 8th hole, named “Burn”
(Original Photo Courtesy of Howard Riefs)


The beautiful but difficult par three 15th, called “Heather”
(Photo by Now on the Tee)


A split fairway awaits on the very cool 17th hole, named “Ridge”
(Both Photos by Now on the Tee)
The approach shot into the “Home” hole at Western Gailes
(Original Photo Courtesy of Howard Riefs)


A look at the locker room at Western Gailes Golf Club
(Original Photo Courtesy of Howard Riefs)


One comment

  • Love the thorough course review and great pics Matt. I'm headed there in June, looking forward to this even more now! Looking forward to additional reviews based on last years trip!


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