The test of golf that this well-maintained true links course provides is without question and there is a real understated quality about it.
The Club has staged Final Qualifying for The Open Championship on a number of occasions and since the turn of the century has co-hosted The Amateur Championship (with Royal Troon) and the British Seniors Open (with Turnberry). A par of 71 coupled with a SSS of 73 confirms the challenge that lies is store.
Founded in 1887 Irvine is a course that often goes under the radar when people discuss golf in this part of the country and it can therefore rightly claim to be one of Scotland’s hidden gems. I would agree with this sentiment and suggest that a round at Irvine would complement a visit to any of the perceived ‘big guns’ in the area very well.
Offering a traditional links experience the course owes much of its present day character to the great James Braid, the architect of many fine golf courses throughout the UK. Set in a seaside location at Bogside, albeit mostly on higher ground away from the coast and without any real views of the sea, there are a variety of holes at Irvine that will ensure a memorable round. The sandy fairways are mainly divided by gorse and heather; this frames each hole beautifully but also draws out the excellent bunkering on many of the holes too.
The course begins with a strong par four that requires a second shot to be played blind over the crest of a hill. Into any sort of a headwind, which we faced on our visit, par is a very good score. Looking at the scorecard you may be forgiven for thinking that you might be able to pick shots up at many of the holes towards the turn. The second is a short par five and over the subsequent five holes there are four short par fours. In reality you will have your work cut out to score well over this stretch.
Despite the yardage of these holes a blind approach to the second makes it difficult to judge distance whilst the brilliant green complex at the third ensures only the deftest of second shots will be rewarded with a birdie putt. Another superb green setting at the fourth, hard to a stone wall and adjacent to the railway line, is difficult to find and a large, sleeper faced bunker must be avoided at the next. The rising and narrowing nature of the seventh also makes this 318 yard two-shotter more difficult than it may initially appear.
What was most apparent to me at Irvine was the number of solid two-shot holes, each asking the same questions; a straight drive and a precise approach, but each with its own individual character. The aforementioned first is one of these, as is the 439 yard sixth, but the run of holes from the ninth to the 13th provide the backbone of the course and the meat of the challenge.
To the above five holes you could also tag on the following two. The 14th, aptly named ‘The Specs’ thanks to the pair of bunkers just short of the green that resemble a pair of glasses, isn’t as demanding as the previous holes but has a lovely enclosed green setting. Meanwhile the 15th is more generous in nature from the tee but has a well-guarded green.
And if you thought your fill of excellent par fours was over you still have the superb 17th to play. A semi-blind drive must err on the right to avoid brambles, gorse and other prickly undergrowth down to the left before you play across an undulating fairway to an excellent green complex sited some 438 yards from the tee.
There is one final hoorah to come too. And that is the drive over more wooden-faced bunkers at the final hole which if successful allows a gentle return to the 18th green set delightfully under the shadow of the impressive clubhouse.
You will find only two par three’s on the course. These come at the eighth, where some excellent green-side bunkering is the highlight, and at the 16th where you will need an accurate shot to hit the small raised green fronted by another sleeper-faced cross bunker.
There are many fine driving holes throughout the round. I particularly liked the one at the sixth where bunkers down the right encroach onto the fairway in just the right place but where a long drive can be rewarded with 50 yards extra roll down a steep slope. Meanwhile, the most terrifying tee-shot comes at the 13th where you face a wall of gorse and bracken; just a slither of fairway is visible and a small marker post acts as your only guide.
Irvine has an excellent mix of holes, provides a superb challenge and is a course I would seriously recommend visiting if you are planning a golf trip to Ayrshire or anywhere in the South-West of Scotland.
The Dunskey course at Portpatrick is one of the most fun and enjoyable I have played in Scotland.
Not many people know but there is also a third course at Turnberry and this is the nine hole Arran course.