Turnberry Resort – Ailsa Course

Trump Turnberry – Ailsa Course
Turnberry, Ayrshire, SCOTLAND

7489 YARDS (PAR 71)
COURSE ARCHITECT: Philip Mackenzie Ross (1951); Martin Ebert (2016)
COURSE WEBSITE: http://turnberry.co.uk/ailsa-golf-course-scotland/
LAST PLAYED: August 14, 2017.
LOW SCORE: 79 (+8)

– Golf Magazine Top 100 Courses in the World 2020-21: #17
– Golf Digest World’s 100 Greatest Golf Courses (Outside USA) 2020: #10
– Top100GolfCourses.com Top 100 Golf Courses of the World 2020: #8
– Top100GolfCourses.com Britain and Ireland Top 100 2020: #2
– Top100GolfCourses.com Top 100 Links Courses of Britain and Ireland 2020: #2

“Turnberry has long been regarded as a ‘Jewel in the Crown’ of Ayrshire, Scottish and British golf – in fact, world golf – given the Ailsa’s consistently high position in worldwide ranking lists and it has always been a players’ favourite. That owes much to the stunning coastal setting of the links but also to the partnership between the Ailsa Course and the Turnberry Hotel which has always set the highest levels of luxury.”
From Mackenzie & Ebert’s Official Website, International Golf Course Architects

The evolution of the Ailsa Course at Turnberry is among the most fascinating in the annals of golf history.

Willie Fernie, the 1883 Open Champion, is credited with the design of the original 13 hole course in 1901. The gorgeous, James Miller designed hotel opened five years later, adjacent to a new railway that would allow visitors from all across Britain easy access to the course.

It was a very popular destination in those early days but World War I would see the land turned into an airbase and military training centre, while the hotel was converted into a wartime hospital. After the war, the course was rebuilt and given the name “Ailsa”, with a second course, “Arran”, also being reworked.

The advent of World War II saw this process repeated, as once again the course would be turned into an airbase, with the Royal Air Force conducting all of its aerial training on the site and the hotel was once again turned into a hospital for the wounded.

After the war ended, there was some thought given to just abandoning the idea of refurbishing the site, as both the hotel and the golf course were in need of considerable restorative work. However, the government was convinced to fund the resurrection of the facility and Mackenzie Ross was hired to reroute and redesign a new Ailsa Course, which would finally open for play once again in 1951.

The Ailsa course became world renowned in 1977, when it hosted its first Open Championship. To this day, the “Duel in the Sun” is considered to be on the short list of the finest tournaments in major championship history, an event that saw Tom Watson and Jack Nicklaus separate themselves from the rest of the field and play at a level many had never seen before on such a big stage. With the blazing sunshine showering the course in a golden hue, viewers across the world were spellbound by the quality of the golf and the course itself. Watson would end up matching Nicklaus’ long birdie putt on the final hole with a tap-in birdie of his own to win that incredible championship and cement the notion that the Ailsa Course was among the world’s best. The Open Championship would return to Turnberry three more times over the years, in 1986, 1994 and 2009, with Greg Norman, Nick Price and Stewart Cink winning those events respectively. That 2009 Open was incredibly memorable, as a 59 year old Tom Watson held the championship lead on the 72nd hole, only to bogey it and ultimately lose in a four-hole playoff to Cink.

Donald Trump would purchase the resort in 2014 for the bargain sum of $60 million and has invested an estimated $200 million more into hotel, clubhouse and golf course improvements. Martin Ebert was hired to rework a number of holes, including the once controversial par four 9th hole, turning it into a stunning par three adjacent to the iconic Turnberry lighthouse. Ebert’s work has been met with wide acclaim, with the general consensus being that the course has been significantly improved.

That all said, the chances of the Open Championship returning to Turnberry anytime soon seem remote. In 2015, the R&A announced that the 2020 Open Championship would not be held at Turnberry despite the fact that the Ailsa Course was previously considered likely to host the event. This announcement came shortly after Trump was admonished for allegedly making insensitive and ill-advised comments by golf’s governing body. While Trump was forced to relinquish control off all his business interests upon becoming President of the United States, his company, now run by his sons Donald Jr and Eric, still owns the Turnberry Resort and the R&A seems unlikely to reward an Open to the course while he’s in office.

We are all worse off for this development, as Turnberry’s Ailsa Course is unquestionably one of the world’s greatest venues, both for its dramatic views and the testing design capable of challenging the best players in the game.

Our day at Turnberry started with a little warmup session on the delightful “Wee Links”, a pitch and putt course that sits at the foot of the imposing Turnberry Hotel. It’s a blast to play and we played to about nine of the greens before venturing to the first tee on the Ailsa Course.

Compared to Prestwick, which we had played the day before, Turnberry’s Ailsa Course gets off to a relatively benign start. The first three holes are mid-length to long par fours that run parallel with each other – all three are solid holes in their own right but your head somehow keeps swiveling toward panoramic views of the Ailsa Craig, while your mind is on the long stretch of glorious seaside holes that are soon to come.

The par three 4th hole, appropriately named “Woe-be-Tide”, is the start of that exhilarating eight hole coastal sequence and it’s here that you get your first look at the famous Turnberry lighthouse, set well in the distance. The hole itself is set hard against Turnberry Beach and features a significant forced carry over sand to a green set just to the left of a large dune.

The fifth hole is a par five measuring 531 yards from the championship tee and features a cool green site set in a cove at the bottom of the dunes. This hole will likely play as a par four at any future Open Championships and will be played from one of the other tee decks.

The seaside walk from the 5th green to the par three 6th tee is among the most enjoyable and stunning imaginable and this hole was shortened considerably during the most recent course renovations conducted by Martin Ebert, providing a site for a new elevated tee deck for the 18th. The sixth now measures only 171 from the back tees, as opposed to the previous length of 231 yards and features a small, elevated green site that sits above a steep slope to the right and rear of the putting surface. With wind always a factor, hitting this green is a considerable challenge for all despite its modest length.

The 7th is a 575 yard par five called “Roon the Ben”, which translates to “Round the Mountain”. Indeed, your tee shot on this dogleg left requires accuracy to avoid bunkers lining both sides of the hole and your second is hit well uphill to a green protected by two bunkers short right and a valley of deep rough to the left.

The 476 yard par four 8th hole is among the toughest at Turnberry and plays uphill the whole way. With a narrow fairway protected by three bunkers on the right side of the landing area and an immense bunker short left of the green, only two perfectly played shots will result in a birdie chance, with pars and even bogeys still welcomed by most players on this wonderful test.

It’s sensory overload by the time you reach the 9th tee. Formerly a controversial par four with a hog’s back fairway that made it practically impossible to finish on short grass, Ebert has converted the 9th into a thrilling par three that tips out at a lengthy 248 yards. Any shots from the isolated back tee will require a hybrid or fairway metal that need to be carried over a rocky inlet of Turnberry Bay, while shots from the other tee decks feature a more modest carry. The iconic lighthouse is in full view just left of the green and the panoramic views on this area of the property may be unmatched in world golf. It’s a breathtaking site and even the greatest of cynics will acquiesce to its beauty and challenge.

From here, you make your way to the lighthouse, which now is home to a quaint and very comfortable halfway house. At this point, it was raining pretty hard so we warmed up with some food and drink before heading back out to play the final nine holes.

Ebert’s course renovations saw the 10th hole converted from a solid par four into an exhilarating par five that doglegs around the rocky coastline. The fairway is wide and inviting and the majority of the challenge is faced on your approach, where you can elect to layup or challenge the notorious “doughnut” bunker that is about a hundred yards short of the green.

The last of the seaside holes comes on the reconfigured par three 11th, which now has a greensite located much closer to the bay and rocky outcrops. This hole extends to a brawny 215 yards from the championship tee markers and concludes one of the most thrilling stretches of seaside golf imaginable.

The 12th begins the closing stretch that sees your eventual return to the clubhouse from the furthest reaches of the course. Named “Monument”, the straight forward par four features a monument on the hillside right of the green that commemorates those who died fighting at Turnberry during the World Wars. By the time you reach the plateau green on the 409 yard par four 13th, you will see the remnants of the airstrip used during the Second World War.

The 14th is yet another hole that has seen positive changes in the recent renovation and is now a 568 yard par five after previously being a long par four. The hole plays uphill on the approach and features one last look at the glorious lighthouse in the background before you make your way towards the finishing stretch.

The hotel beautifully frames the challenging par three 15th while the long par four 16th, measuring 479 yards from the back tees, features a burn that winds just in front of a green that slopes considerably towards the hazard, gobbling up any long iron approaches that aren’t well struck.

The 17th hole, formerly the easiest on the course, has been converted from a mid-length par five into an exceptionally challenging long par four that can stretch to over 500 yards.

The 18th, renamed to commemorate the historic “Duel in the Sun”, has benefited from the addition of a new elevated back tee, lengthening the hole and straightening out what used to be an awkward dogleg into a suitably rewarding finisher.

I have to admit that I came into my day at Turnberry with relatively low expectations. It’s a very expensive place to play and the controversy surrounding its owner also didn’t help build anticipation for my visit.

However, I was charmed right from the start, with impeccable service in the pro shop and locker room to the enchanting pre-round warmup on the “Wee Links”. And, as you can likely tell by my lengthy review, I was pretty much blown away by the entire experience of playing the Ailsa Course.

Many enthusiastic visitors proclaim it to be the “Pebble Beach of Scotland” and that was something that our itinerant group of eight debated in our coach as we enjoyed the long ride from Ayrshire to East Lothian after our day on the Ailsa. To a man, those who had played both courses proclaimed Turnberry to be the stronger of the two courses from one to eighteen from an architectural perspective and I’d also argue that the collection of seaside holes at Turnberry comes close to matching the drama and beauty of the historic links in California.

We played Turnberry on a cold and dreary day and dealt with driving rain and 3-4 club winds for almost the entire back nine, limiting the amount of photos that were taken on the closing holes. But the weather did nothing to dampen our spirits and our enthusiasm for the Ailsa Course. It sits on the most glorious of sites and you can’t help getting a bit spiritual as you walk those incredibly scenic seaside holes, especially the three holes closest to the famous lighthouse.

The clubhouse and locker room are very well-appointed and comfortable and lacked the ostentatious touches I had perhaps expected before arrival – Trump and his team acted with appropriate restraint during the renovations both on and off the golf course and I can only applaud the work and admit I was wrong in jumping to any conclusions before stepping foot on the property.

Turnberry’s Ailsa course is unquestionably one of the most stunningly beautiful seaside links courses on the planet, features compelling architecture and remains a serious challenge for the best players in the world. I truly hope the Open returns one day to this historic site and I can say with absolute assurance that I will personally be back someday to enjoy the world-class experience that Turnberry provides.

Built in the early 20th century, the imposing Turnberry Hotel can be seen from almost every part of the property
(Photo by Now on the Tee)


The clubhouse at Turnberry, where many millions were spent on renovations and upgrades
(Photo by Now on the Tee)


The delightful “Wee Links” sit at the base of the Turnberry Hotel and this pitch and putt is a wonderful amenity at this world-class facility
(Photo by Now on the Tee)


Huf slaps home his par as Matt S and I look on from the Wee Links
(Photo Courtesy of Howard Riefs)


Matt S almost holes out his pitch, with Howard, Chris and Dan (from left) looking on
(Photo by Now on the Tee)


Matt S hits off the 1st tee on Turnberry’s famed Ailsa Course
(Photo by Now on the Tee)


Looking back towards the tee, as Matt S and his caddie make their way toward the 1st green
(Photo by Now on the Tee)


The approach shot on the 1st hole on the Ailsa Course
(Photo by Now on the Tee)


A lovely panoramic of the 1st green from the left, with the Firth of Clyde in the background
(Photo Courtesy of Matt Schmidt)


The challenging tee shot on the 425 yard par four 2nd
(Photo by Now on the Tee)


Greenside on the 2nd hole at Turnberry’s Ailsa Course
(Photo by Now on the Tee)


Howard rips one off the par four 3rd tee
(Photo by Now on the Tee)


A look at the green on the 3rd, as seen from the 2nd tee
(Photo by Now on the Tee)


Matt S putts to knee-knocker distance on the 3rd green
(Photo by Now on the Tee)


Matt S tees off on the par three 4th hole
(Photo by Now on the Tee)


Andrew with a very difficult bunker shot on the 4th
(Photo by Now on the Tee)


The long approach shot to the 531 yard par five 5th hole
(Photo by Now on the Tee)


Andrew pitches up nicely on the 5th, with the ever-present Turnberry Hotel providing a great backdrop
(Photo by Now on the Tee)


The glorious walk from the 5th green up to the 6th tee, with Turnberry Beach on the left and the iconic Turnberry Lighthouse in the distance
(Photo Courtesy of Howard Riefs)


The short but challenging par three 6th hole
(Photo by Now on the Tee)


Huf blasts one out of the greenside bunker on the 6th hole
(Photo Courtesy of Chris Hufnagel)


Yours truly trying to figure out the tricky 6th green
(Photo Courtesy of Matt Schmidt)


Andrew driving down the par five 7th hole at Turnberry
(Photo Courtesy of Howard Riefs)


The steeply uphill second shot on the par five 7th hole
(Photo by Now on the Tee)


Just in front of the 7th green, with the 8th hole in the distance on the left
(Photo by Now on the Tee)


The tee shot on the very long par four 8th hole, which measures 476 yards from the championship tees and plays well uphill
(Photo by Now on the Tee)


The approach shot into the par four 8th hole from the right side of the fairway
(Photo by Now on the Tee)


A look at the 8th green from one of the bunkers short and right, as a storm makes its final approach
(Photo Courtesy of Howard Riefs)


The redesigned 9th is now an exhilarating par three measuring 248 yards from this championship tee
(Photo by Now on the Tee)


Dan G, Chris H, Steve S and Ed M (from left) on the glorious par three 9th tee, as the rain starts coming down hard
(Photo Courtesy of Chris Hufnagel)


Andrew L, yours truly, Matt S and Howard R (from left) get our turn on the beautiful 9th
(Photo Courtesy of Howard Riefs)


That’s me hitting my tee shot on the 9th
(Photo Courtesy of Howard Riefs)


Another amazing panoramic of the par three 9th hole on Turnberry’s Ailsa Course
(Photo Courtesy of Matt Schmidt)


Howard finishes off this seven footer on the 9th green
(Photo by Now on the Tee)


A look at the 9th green, as taken from the deck near the lighthouse
(Photo by Now on the Tee)


The beautiful and famous Turnberry Lighthouse
(Photo by Now on the Tee)


Matt S, Howard and Andrew try to warm up in the little grill room located inside the Turnberry Lighthouse
(Photo by Now on the Tee)


The tee shot on the newly redesigned par five 10th, measuring 565 yards from the back tees
(Photo by Now on the Tee)


Our group is ready to go after a nice little break after the ninth hole
(Photo by Now on the Tee)


Yours truly teeing off on the par five 10th
(Photo Courtesy of Howard Riefs)


The uphill approach into the 10th, with the famous “doughnut” bunker dictating strategy on the layup
(Photo by Now on the Tee)


Looking back down the tenth, with Andrew attempting his birdie putt while Matt S watches intently
(Photo by Now on the Tee)


The dramatic par three 11th hole, called “Maidens”
(Photo by Now on the Tee)


Andrew blasts out of a greenside bunker on the par four 17th hole
(Photo Courtesy of Howard Riefs)


All smiles despite the torrential rains on the 18th tee – Howard, Andrew, yours truly and Matt S (from left)
(Photo Courtesy of Matt Schmidt)


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