Not all golf courses are created equal and that can certainly be said about Trump Turnberry.
For here you will find the most spectacular stretch of coastline on any golfing land that I have ever seen.
The natural setting and scenic beauty of the iconic Ailsa course, an Open Championship venue four times over, is simply sublime.
Add to this firm turf, sandy dunes and a stiff breeze blowing off the Ayrshire coast and you are in pure golfing heaven. Turnberry is a place truly made for golf.
From the instant that you leave the third green and head towards the fourth teeing ground you are within a lob-wedge of the shoreline and this persists right up until the moment you depart the 12th tee and head inland to play the excellent closing stretch. During this run of eight glorious holes the water cannot always be seen, and it is not always in play, but you know it is there and this inspiring connection with the sea creates the feeling of spine-tingling golf.
I first played here in September 2015, just before the course closed for major renovation work, then shortly after it's re-opening the following year and once more in the summer of 2017. And whilst minor scar tissue is still there from the changes the transformation of the 'reborn' Ailsa course is staggering and has taken something that was already exceptionally good to an entirely different level. The alterations have created an even closer relationship with the coastline on this stunning run of holes where the ninth, 10th and 11th are as breath-taking and thrilling as anything you will find.
No less than 14 holes were changed to some degree or another with the fourth, fifth, sixth, ninth, 10th and 11th receiving major works where the shoreline has now literally been brought within touching distance. The 14th is also a newly created hole and is grand par five that stretches the course yardage to 7,489 from the tips although most will play this par 71 layout from around 6,500 or less.
I think those who were sceptical to the alterations will be proved that change in this case was absolutely for the best and the new Ailsa could well become the holy grail of 21st Century links golf.
Indeed since its first formal course was built, in 1901 by Willie Fernie, Turnberry has witnessed many changes to its playing grounds and even the conversion of the links to runways during both world wars could not diminish the desire to play here. With that devastation arrived the opportunity to enhance the already famous links. And it was the near-miraculous work of the brilliant Mackenzie Ross who played the imperative role in Ailsa's transformation between 1949 and 1951. Ross reshaped the natural dunes, hillocks and valleys that had been lost during the war to make Turnberry into one of the most significant venues in world golf.
Back to the present day and it was the acquisition of Turnberry by Donald Trump in 2014 that has provided the opportunity for another renaissance at this cherished golfing outpost. The work was carried out by international golf architects, Mackenzie & Ebert, which must surely have been a mouth-watering proposition and something that will ensure Turnberry’s place in the golfing limelight will remain in place for a very long time.
Pleasingly very little will has changed on what I originally thought were two of the strongest holes on the course; the 7th and 8th. Both are long holes where the former is a par five and the latter is a 454-yard beast. Both call for good drives before you play to green locations that are simply to die for; grand in scale, natural in appearance and draped over the terrain in a way that ensures you could play them a hundred times and be asked to hit different shots. There is a real epic-ness to this dynamic duo. Tag on the short sixth - 138-yards of pure terror from the whites - and I actually think this trio is as good as the headline grabbing holes along the coast.
Holes nine, 10 and 11 are magical in location, the famed lighthouse casting an eye over every stroke you make, and I cannot really describe how celestial this part of the property is. Simply drink it all in and enjoy the moment. The par-five 10th is stupendously good; an angled drive across the rocky shoreline is the first task, avoiding the central bunker the second and then deciding whether to have a go for the green, situated on a kind of peninsula, over a huge bunker the third. But the job is not done there for the isolated green complex has much interest.
The beauty of the changes means you now also return close to the coastline at the new 14th green and again at the championship tee on the 18th. This has spiced up what was already a very fine closing third of the course that doesn’t need the eye-catching vista of sea and rocky beaches to make it worthy of deciding a Major Championship. When The Open will return to Turnberry is uncertain but it should and it should as soon as possible.
Elsewhere, the raised green at the 13th reminded me very much of the lauded 14th at Royal Dornoch and whilst it's certainly not Foxy it's a brilliant bunkerless green complex. The green locations at the short 15th and burn-fronted 16th are equally sensational and terrifying. You don’t have to look far to see moments of brilliance all over the landscape here.
There are two other (three if you count the wee links pitch and putt) on the Turnberry Estate and it was a pleasure to return to play the new King Robert The Bruce course in July 2021. Since my last visit in 2017 when the second course here was called the Kintyre much has changed.
The majority of the course has been given a facelift with new fairway and greenside bunkers as well as a couple of water hazards removed. Some trees have also gone and a wetlands area created. And the middle section of the course (holes 8 to 11) have been completely redesigned. It now means the course plays to a 7,203 yardage from the rarely used black tees and is a par 72.
I'm pleased to report that the changes are for the better and elevates this fine links to well within the top 50 in Scotland.
Previously holes 8 to 10 were played in an anticlockwise direction and featured a notorious hole with a green set deep in a rocky cove. That has all changed as we now play this loop on the cliff tops in a clockwise direction and they start with a fine par five with an infinity green and a glorious backdrop of the famous lighthouse and Ailsa Craig.
The next is probably going to become a decisive hole and is a real risk-rewarder. The drive is straightforward but then you must decide if you've got enough ammunition to fire over rocky cliffs to a green perched perilously close to the edge. There is an alternative route around although it is likely you will need to play over the large hollow (where the old 8th green site used to sit) at some point.
This trio of holes on the high ground is completed with a more traditional short hole and is a fine looking par-three. The old 11th has now been extended to a par five before the round completes over familiar ground.
It's not easy for any course to shine when you have something like the Ailsa hogging the limelight but the King Robert The Bruce is a very good golf course in its own right. Some of the holes on the lower ground may feel a little repetitive with the gorse lined fairways but it still ranks highly in my book and the changes have no doubt improved what was already a very good golf course.
Not many people know but there is also a third course at Turnberry and this is the nine hole Arran course.
In short it is a smaller version of the King Robert The Bruce - gorse lined fairways and large undulating greens - and is usually presented in equally tip-top condition. It's a par 31 and is only 1,996 yards but there is some good golf to be had and the green complexes have plenty of interest.
It's one of those course you could go out on an evening with half a dozen clubs and just drop a few balls around each green and have a wide variety of chip shots to play at your leisure because the course gets little traffic.
The very short second is a delightful hole and 8th is a fine short par four which could be driven under the right conditions.
My only criticism of this course is the walk from the 2nd green to the 3rd tee and back from the 6th green to the 7th tee. This makes it a bit of a disjointed affair but that aside the Arran is a fine standalone nine hole links course. Well worth an hour of ones time.
In summary the entire complex at the Turnberry resort is superb. From the delightful 18-hole links pitch & putt course, that greets you on arrival, to the imposing red-roofed hotel that overlooks the clubhouse, golf courses and driving range, everything is just about perfect. I balk a little at paying £10 for a Tuna Mayo sandwich but I guess that just goes with the territory.
Turnberry is indeed golfing heaven. It’s a special place that has shaped some of the most remarkable moments in the history of tournament golf and provided joy to thousands of golfers. I don't see that changing anytime soon.
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