More than just a relief course

Kilmarnock (Hillhouse)

Kilmarnock Golf Club (Hillhouse)

Date Reviewed
July 12, 2021
Reviewed by Ed Battye
The Hillhouse loop, formerly part of the main course but now a standalone nine hole layout, is an absolute treat.

The Barrasie Links at Kilmarnock Golf Club is an extremely fine and well-presented golf course. It’s also a superb test of every part of your game and has a real consistent feel of quality to it.

Located on the outskirts of Troon on Scotland's West Coast the Club has an extensive history and dates back to 1887. The course is an Open Championship Final Qualifying venue to boot and has a well-deserved reputation for some of the best maintained greens in Scotland.

The Club has been host to a number of other quality events in recent years and in 2016 the R&A Junior Open Championship will be played here.

The course very much reminded me of nearby Irvine and Gailes Links in style; set slightly inland these courses have wonderful terrain that ebbs and flows effortlessly providing all the challenges and vagaries of pure links golf. The land may not be as dramatic as some of the coastal courses in Ayrshire and you do not have that inspiring connection with the sea yet the masses of heather, gorse and other broom give Barassie Links an undeniable charm.

As for a test of golf you will struggle to find a sterner yet truer test than the 18 holes here. From the white tees the yardage is 6,852 and par is 72 (SSS 74) but there is also a set of blue tees that are not on the main scorecard which must stretch the links to in excess of the 7,000 yard mark. Big golf is certainly required here but so are finesse, guile and imagination.

The first three holes on the main Barassie layout (there is also the Hillhouse nine-hole course) are an impressive start; a fall-away green at the first, a burn to negotiate at the second and a fine approach to the excellently sited 3rd green the highlights.

A long walk is required to play holes four through to 12 and on this separate parcel of rippling linksland you will play two short holes, a good selection of two-shotters and the fantastic s-shaped par-five eighth. The par fours that impressed me the most out here were the dog-legging seventh and ninth with the long 12th ‘Barassie’ also worthy of special mention but in truth there isn’t a weak one amongst them. Indeed the real strength of Kilmarnock lies in its consistency.

Out here you can gaze across to the sea and you will spy golfers playing at Western Gailes, on the other side of the railway line, and at the far end of the course you rub shoulders with players at Dundonald Links.

You return to the early part of the course with a bang. The 13th may just be my favourite hole on the entire course and features an elevated drive to a sweeping fairway where a burn down the right must be carried; the longer you drive the more you must carry. The next doesn’t disappoint either, a tough par-three that has a wickedly sloping green, with menacing bunkers fronting this fine short hole.

More good holes follow. The 15th, 17th and 18th are all excellent yet varied two-shotters and along with the superb par-five 16th make up a very strong closing stretch.

Meanwhile the Hillhouse loop, formerly part of the main course but now a standalone 9 hole layout, is an absolute treat. Played over similar terrain, indeed it intertwines with the Barassie Links, it comes in at just 2,888 yards from the white tees and has a par of 34.

There are many outstanding holes with the 2nd and 7th the two that stood out most for me. The former is a long, but downhill, par three played to a secluded green with a steep drop-off to the back left.

The latter is a dainty short par-four, aptly named 'Heather', that requires placement from the tee before you play over broken heathery ground to an undulating green protected by a pronounced bunker at the front. There are shades of the Annesley at Royal County Down at this beautiful hole.

There are other fine holes too on a layout that is very impressive in its own right. The 1st and 9th don't cover the most exciting ground but both have entertaining greens as do some of the other excellent par fours. The 3rd, 4th, 6th and 8th are all medium length par fours and each one has at least one moment that leaves you utterly impressed, most likely the green complex. The other short hole (the 5th) is also a lovely drop-shotter with some deceivingly placed bunkers.

The Hillhouse is much more than a relief nine.

Kilmarnock would certainly make for a superb day of golf. Few would be disappointed with a nine-hole knock in the morning on the Hillhouse followed by 18 on the Barassie Links after lunch.

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