Golf has been played over this fine links since 1892 and until 2016 it is the only Scottish final qualifying course for The Open. Its pedigree is undoubted as a venue for elite championship golf for it also co-hosted The Amateur Championship in 2012 and The Palmer Cup in 2008.
The beauty of Gailes Links, laid out by Willie Park Jnr, is that it’s also a highly pleasurable course for any standard of golfer. I recently played here in October 2014 and then again in July 2016 and each time all four players in our group, each of differing abilities, enjoyed the course immensely.
There’s no view of the sea or huge dunes to set the pulse racing but here you face an abundance of heather and gorse, a links exposed to the notorious wind from the west and some taxing and fantastically sculptured green complexes. I can imagine the heather, of which there is plenty, looks amazing when in full purple bloom, however, regardless of the time of year it is a place to be avoided with your golf ball.
This classic links has tight but silky fairways and several well placed bunkers; none more so than the first one you encounter; approximately 250 yards from the first tee in an almost central position and dictating the entire playing of the opening hole. Indeed many of the fairway bunkers pinch well into the fairways and combining this with the heather you have a tough driving assignment. The second is a also a modest two-shotter but trouble starts 160-yards from the tee and the further you drive the more accurate you must be; I am a huge fan of this hole.
There are only a few changes in elevation during the round but despite the property being relatively flat there is a gentle rolling feel to it thanks to the rippling fairways along with some raised and sunken green positions. As a result there are some brilliant little drop-offs around the greens and the gathering nature of the bunkers adds to the conundrum that you must solve when playing here.
You will only find two par fives on the scorecard but both have fantastic green sites. The fifth is located in a dell that has lovely undulating ground on the approach whilst the 14th is partially hidden behind a large sand dune and has lots of movement in it from the right.
There is a really good mix of short, medium and long par fours, again with excellent putting surfaces and surrounds. The aforementioned second along with the eighth, ninth, 12th and 17th are five I’d pick out as worthy of special mention with the ninth trumping them all.
The one-shotters are very good too and also boast alluring green complexes, the sixth and 15th especially. It’s just a shame you can’t really appreciate them from the tee more because they are slightly obscured from view but once you approach the green you get to see how good they are.
You can understand why Gailes Links has been chosen by the R&A to host Open qualifying. It’s a fair test, with only a few blind shots, and although it may lack the charm and quirk of some of the other oldest links courses in the world it has enough personality for you to really admire and respect this venue if perhaps not fall totally in love with it.