This delightful links, originally laid out by Old Tom Morris and later re-designed by James Braid, has somewhat of a split personality... and it all depends upon which tees you play from.
Played from the white ‘Ardneil’ tee markers at 6,146 yards it is a fun and entertaining course which gives you a good chance of playing to your handicap. However, move back to the blue ‘Arran’ blocks and you have a 6,523 yard championship standard test of golf. Indeed The Club host the Scottish Boys Championship every four years.
Par remains 71 for both options and with nothing in-between the white and blue tees I don’t think I know of a course where there is such a big differential. I suspect that the blue tees have been a new addition to the course and whilst I think they benefit it considerably many of the holes do require some relatively long walks back to them.
The course itself lies on a narrow strip of coastal land, bordered on one side by agricultural land and on the other by the picturesque beach. It is generally flat but has many subtle undulations on the fairways and around the greens. This creates awkward stances and you often have to use the lie of the land on your approach shots.
The opening holes play on the most undulating terrain but being furthest from the sea they play a little softer than the holes closest to the shore. I didn’t care much for the first and last holes but really enjoyed the sixteen in-between.
After sweeping around a blind sand dune the second green sits nicely into the hillside with a steep drop-off to the left and a couple of bunkers defending the right-hand-side. At the third you tee-off from the highest part of the property and play a really well bunkered par five with out-of-bounds also a threat down the right. The only other par-five comes soon after at the seventh and is also very strategic in nature.
There are only three one-shotters on the card and each is a fine hole, the first of them comes at the fourth. All are well-guarded by sand and play in different directions although all have a similar yardage; between 172 and 187 yards from the back tees. I had about a two-club wind on my visit and hit 4, 6 and 8 irons into these holes so the numbers you see on the scorecard, like at most links courses, is almost irrelevant.
The fifth, sixth and eighth are all strong par-fours. The pushed-up green at the first of these is excellent and tricky to hit. The next shares a double-green with the 17th and whilst the last of this three-pile is the longest it was my least favourite, albeit a solid two-shotter.
Holes nine, ten, 11 and 12 play in a little annex that is separate to the rest of the links. The ninth and 12th are short holes that play through the narrowest part of this section whilst the tenth hugs the coastline, worryingly close for those prone to a hook. However, the pick of this fine bunch may well be the driveable 11th that has a superbly angled green, roll-offs at the front and sides and a series of well-placed and visually deceiving bunkers.
Through a dozen holes the course has done nothing wrong and delivered some good quality holes. You then play a stretch of golf that will probably be the most memorable at West Kilbride. The next four holes (13 through 16) return to the shoreline and play hard against it for the next mile. The 428-yard 13th is a thing of beauty as it sweeps left-to-right before you fire to a semi-sunken green. The 14th is shorter at 319 yards but is just as good and turns the other way. The 15th can be a brute at 440 yards but once again has a tremendous green-setting. Finally the 16th plays into the corner of the property with a burn, out of bounds and several bunkers to avoid throughout its 355 yards.
West Kilbride is situated some ten miles up the coast from the hustle and bustle of Troon and Prestwick and as a result perhaps doesn’t get the credit it deserves. It’s certainly a course I would recommend you seek out if heading to Ayrshire and well worth the short drive to Seamill. And for those seeking food afterwards I can thoroughly recommend the Waterside Hotel a mile or so south on the A78.
Copt Heath is a very fine parkland golf course that requires precision, plotting and a deft touch around the slick greens.
The Blue is a mix of American-style design and traditional English parkland. It's an unusual combination which makes the most of the terrain available. It was designed by Simon Gidman and opened in 1994.