The Ailsa Course at Turnberry Feature Review
Review by Golfshake Ambassador Matt Holbrook
Steeped in history and prestige, the Ailsa Course at Turnberry is the jewel in the crown that is golf on the Ayrshire coast.
Host of four Open Championships - the most famous being the 1977 Duel in the Sun - the course is sculptured into the sand dunes just inland from the Firth of Clyde with stunning views out to sea and across to the Isle of Arran and Ailsa Craig.
The Turnberry Lighthouse serves as an iconic backdrop throughout most of the Ailsa and sits at the turn of the course as you play alongside to the Firth. The Lighthouse sits on top of the ruins of Turnberry Castle, believed to be the birthplace of King Robert the Bruce, which dates back to the 13th century. The Lighthouse now serves as one of the most picturesque halfway houses in golf.
The Ailsa is a links in its purest form, from the wispy rough, riveted bunkers and undulating greens that are a test for any, the course provides everything a golfer could be looking for and more.
Upon arrival you will be greeted by a member of the team in the starters hut to check in before entering the clubhouse, which is also one of the largest professional shops in Europe. Every angle is covered from head covers, to glassware, flags, framed photos, ball markers to crested apparel. Keep an eye out for the '77 Duel in the Sun' range that includes iconic tartan trousers worn by Tom Watson when he secured his legendary Open victory over Jack Nicklaus at Turnberry.
The selection of old hickory clubs on display and silverware is a great addition to the experience before heading upstairs to the suitably named 'Duel in the Sun' Bar - passing a replica Claret Jug as you enter. The views looking across both the Ailsa and the King Robert the Bruce Course really whets the appetite as you grab a drink or food before heading out to play.
As you would expect there are exceptional practice facilities, with a driving range onsite accompanied by chipping green and putting green allowing you to get suitably warmed up before heading over to the first tee and beginning your adventure.
Front 9 Overview
Whilst the 1st hole may be considered a relatively gentle start, what it certainly does do is set the tone for some of the challenges that lay ahead. A dog-leg from left to right, the four fairway bunkers - three left and one right - are all superbly positioned. Finding any one of those would leave a battle for par, but even from the fairway there is a tough approach, with three substantial bunkers left, short and right of the green also needing to be evaded.
The 4th through to the 12th is often described as one of the best stretches in golf due to the location and iconic views. The par 3 4th is the first hole that sits close to the sea on the coast. Playing anything from 180 yards to close to 200 - depending on the wind direction - this hole provides a tough early test with the hefty dune on the right and pot bunker left both to be avoided.
The 5th, a long par 5 rolling from right to left, boasts an impressive 10 bunkers from tee to a green which is framed perfectly by the surrounding dunes at a point on the course where the only thing visible is the hole you are playing.
Views aplenty on the 6th, a fun par 3, but due to the raised tee it's the first time the proper views of the coastline and lighthouse in the distance can be appreciated on the walk from the 5th green.
The 7th and 8th continue the spectacular theme of playing along the coast before you reach the 9th, which is arguably one of the most iconic par 3s in golf. With the panoramic views of the lighthouse, the sea and jagged coastline, this remarkable hole, playing anything from 143 to 248 yards will provide a test that will be as enjoyable as the scene it is set in. It's also worth going back up the championship tee to get a true understanding of what faces the professionals.
Back 9 Overview
Once you have enjoyed a visit to the halfway house in the Lighthouse, the 10th will soon welcome you back into the hypnotic world of Turnberry. From the tee, playing over the rocky shoreline, this par 5 is a fantastically sculptured hole in the natural terrain that gives the longer hitters the chance to go for the green in two. The green sits with the sea surrounding at a point of your round where you just pause to take everything in.
The par 5 14th plays uphill all the way from tee to green, whilst relatively short in distance, more often than not you will be playing into a head wind and you will do well to avoid the bunkers either side of the fairway. The approach plays up to a raised green which is severely undulating.
The 16th has a slightly different feel to it, playing less than 400 yards, a driver from the tee might not be the best option depending on wind direction, the green this time is protected by the 'Little Burn' which runs across the fairway in front of the surface, but it is worth noting that it may not be visible from your second shot. The large bank up the green means anything short will roll back down into a watery grave.
To finish, a challenging par 4 which moves from left to right, then left again gives you a decision as to where to aim your tee shot. Three bunkers right and two left, this is an expertly designed finishing hole with the view of the grand hotel in the distance providing a fitting backdrop to end what is a memorable experience.
What can you say after playing the Ailsa Course?
Its physical challenge is tough and often open to the elements, but little do you care about your score. You can't help but think about all those that have gone before on the historic links with some of the most scenic views anywhere in the world of golf.
The course and experience can, and should be, enjoyed by golfers of any ability. Will you lose some balls? Yes. Will you be faced with some of the toughest shots in the game? Yes. Will you not care but enjoy every single second of it? Yes.
There are tees ranging from 5,412 to 7,501 yards giving options for everyone. Hit bad shots and yes, you'll get punished, but hit good shots and they will last a lifetime.
Given the location and layout, the famous links will generally be playable all year round and may even play tougher in the summer months when dry and fiery.
Everything that needs to be manicured is, leaving some areas more natural which is exactly what you would want and expect to ensure a true links test. The tee boxes are pristine, several of the greens are substantial in size and some are among the most undulating you can find. The bunkers are bottomless and threatening and the greens are firm and true. It really is seaside golf at its finest.
Make sure you head back up to the Duel in the Sun Bar to have a drink, look back out at the fairways and reminisce on one of the best experiences golf has to offer and one that will live long in your memory.
To put it bluntly, it's the best.
The cost to play isn’t cheap, but this is something special, arguably one of the ultimate golf experiences, and a bucket list destination for the majority of golfers.
For me, it was simply the best venue I've been lucky to experience. From the minute you pull into the resort until the second you, regrettably, have to leave, everything about the experience of playing the Golfshake Highly Recommended Ailsa Course at Turnberry is five stars.
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