Western Gailes Golf Club Feature Review
Review by Golfshake Ambassador Matt Holbrook
William Johnstone, James Lang, Will G O Lindsay and Andrew McCulloch were all members of golf clubs in Glasgow in 1897. They headed to the Ayrshire coast with the vision to create a golf course away from the industrial fog and smoke of the city - but also a course which would allow for play all year round.
So, Western Gailes was born.
It wasn't until the spring of 1898 when the first nine holes were open for play. Due to the hard work of then greenkeeper, Mr Morris, the second nine soon followed by May of the same year.
Whilst the course takes on natural terrain and surroundings, some reshaping has been necessary over the years. The 10th and 17th were modified due to tank manoeuvres during the war whilst the 3rd, 4th and 5th holes were redesigned to allow the access road down to Irvine Harbour. Other than these changes, the course remains largely unchanged and has developed into one of Scotland's finest links courses, hosting a number of prestigious events, including, most recently the 2011 Scottish Amateur Championships and the Scottish Amateur Strokeplay Championship.
The clubhouse - which faces out on the Firth of Clyde and Isle of Arran - was added in 1909 with further extensions added in 1934 and 1961. and whilst some further improvements and modernisations have come along, the history can still be felt - in particular in the old changing rooms filled with the wood beams and traditional wooden lockers.
With the railway running between the course at Western Gailes and Dundonald Links next door, it serves as another reminder of the transportation links that would have brought golfers from the big city out to the coast to enjoy the classic links courses. Now attracting thousands of visitors a year, Western Gailes has become one of the main attractions that brings golfers to the stunning Ayrshire coastline.
The first thing that struck me when I arrived at Western Gailes was how muted and tranquil it was. The odd rumble as a train goes past. The old style long but narrow car park that sat just off the opening few holes. The clubhouse building a fitting figure at the end of the row of cars. As you make your way down to the pro shop, a quick look to the right and some of the holes, wispy rough and devilish looking bunkers sit proudly between you and the coastline. Perfect.
My group and I had a bite to eat before we went out, with a lovely bar menu available to sit and eat overlooking the two putting greens and some of the course surrounded inside by old wooden honours boards. A group of members were enjoying their post round refreshment and letting us know what to expect. After hitting a few putts (a chipping green is also available) to get the pace we headed to the first tee with excitement.
Front 9 Overview
In a more traditional style, the course at Western Gailes does one big loop, the first four holes heading north away from the clubhouse, before turning back along the coastline towards the south from holes 5 to 13. The finishing stretch then comes back towards the clubhouse with the train line running all the way up the right-hand side leaving a finish that could potentially wreck the best of scorecards - more on that later though.
It’s a fairly uncomplicated opening hole, with just the one bunker to avoid to the right of the green, but the terrain between tee to green means that your second shot is never going to be on a flat lie leaving your approach into the small undulating green a tricky one.
Holes 2 to 4 start to warm up, a bit of length, some tough decisions off the tees regarding club choice and ideal lines and some well-placed bunkers that aren't all in sight. The 5th is the first hole that runs along the coastline. And what a beauty it is too. At 453 yards from the white tee, the fairway is protected by thick linksy rough down the right-hand side and mounds and sandy dunes on the left. The entrance into the green is a narrow one with the bunkers front left and right and run-off areas beyond those, four would be a fantastic score here.
The 7th is a fantastic par 3. Dropping down from the tee, which comes with cracking views of the Firth of Clyde, it will play a little less than the 170 (whites) yards on the card. But six bunkers surrounding the green make the target area feel twice as small than it actually is, and accuracy is the only thing on your mind. Beware as not all the traps are visible from the tee too. Whilst the 8th is fairly generous in terms of fairway and green, it’s the first time one of the burns running through the course plays its part. Two good shots should avoid it, but when this plays into the wind there is only around 10 yards between the burn and the front of the green, so club up and hope for the best!
Back 9 Overview
The back kicks off just as the front did with a fairly generous par 4 at just 348 yards, the fairway is angled from the tee, so the temptation is to go as far right as possible, however too far right will leave you in trouble and a possible hack out to make sure you’re not having to hit from deep rough in order to carry another burn that runs along the front of the green.
It’s a similar story at 11 and 12, but with a bit more length - 445 yards and 436 yards respectively before another cracking par 3 at the 13th. Whilst the green and pin is visible from the tee. Due to the dunes between the tee and green, another burn short isn't in sight, neither are the first two of seven bunkers which go round 90% of the green.
As you get to the 14th tee - a brutal par 5 measuring 562 yards off the whites (can go back to just shy of 600 yards off the tips), it’s the first of the finishing stretch heading back towards the clubhouse. With bunkers left and right in good places to capture errant tee shots, the second shot will also need to be precise to avoid another set of fairway bunkers. Leaving yourself short of those will still leave you around 130 yards to play so still no gimmie. A great designed hole.
The 17th is another challenging par 4, even with just the one bunker to avoid from the tee, the mound that runs through the fairway will leave a tricky second shot into a green where the flag is seen but the putting surface isn't, before heading home on 18 in front of the clubhouse once again. 11 bunkers between tee and green are to be avoided as you play into one last undulating green protected once again by four pot bunkers.
The course is fantastic. It really does have a bit of everything. The condition is perfect for that traditional links golf. It isn't perfectly manicured which is what you want from a such a historical links course. Naturally, it will be playable all year round, however I am sure that when the wind and rain picks up it could become really difficult - or fun, whichever way you'd look at it. Golfers of all abilities can come and play here - some of the tee shots are quite challenging, but that won’t be a hindrance and with tees ranging from 7,014 to 6,106 yards, there are options for everyone - including a separate tee at 5,441. Some of the bunkers mean you will have to take your medicine, but they are very fair and what you'd come to expect from such a course.
I loved the game at Western Gailes. The design is fantastic in every sense. Good shots rewarded, bad shots punished. Fairway bunkers penal but fair and a combination of some greens that have grand undulations and those more subtle. As far as a links course is concerned, for me, this ticks every box. The way the course loops out, around and down the coastline, then back in is classic. The views of the sea from all round the course are so picturesque and the burns running through some holes when you least expect them is a great addition. The peacefulness of the surroundings with the odd sounds of the seagulls on the hunt for food just adds to the experience.
The views from all the tees are fantastic and whilst some lines are tricky to work out there isn't any that will really leave you scratching your head. The Ayrshire coast is brimming with great golf courses and Western Gailes should be extremely high on your list to go play. You'll not find a fault. Simply stunning.
Overall Rating - 10
Course (Conditions) - 10
Course (Hole Variety/Layout) - 10
Course (Green Condition) - 10
Course (Challenge/Difficulty) - 9
Club Facilities & 19th/Clubhouse - 10
Practice Facilities - 8
Friendliness/Hospitality - 10
Pace of Play - 10
Value for Money - 9
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|Western Gailes Golf Club
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