While many a golfer may travel abroad in February to escape the harsh Scottish winter for some warm sunshine golf, I decided to brave the elements and headed off on a golf adventure to Ayrshire by rail.
After purchasing a Spirit of Scotland rail pass, packing a light travel bag filled with plenty of warm clothing and a pencil bag on my back, I set out for the coastal railway line of Ayrshire which passes many of the area’s finest golf courses. The railways acted as the catalyst for the expansion of the game at the turn of the 20th century and Ayrshire is a part of Scotland where that history and tradition is still evident.
My first steps on Ayrshire soil was in the far south in the coastal town of Girvan on a bleak, misty Sunday afternoon with threatening rain-filled skies. A constant ghostly companion of my travels would be legendary Scottish golfer and five-time Open Champion James Braid who travelled by rail to visit, play and design many golf courses across Great Britain. Girvan is one such golf course designed by Braid and nowadays it is run by the Ayrshire council which manages eight golf courses in the region. The opening eight holes run alongside the sea and offered me fleeting glimpses through the cloud and mist towards Ailsa Craig before one crosses the road and turns inland for the second half of the course. I completed the game just before the weather turned to complete rain but it was also a close call in running back up the hill to the station to catch my connecting train south.
After an early game at Stranraer Golf Course Monday morning, Braids final design in Scotland, I journeyed northwards on a single track line past lowland glens dotted by the odd sheep, ancient stone walls and the flowing waters of the Stinchar river before arriving to coastal views at the historic golfing town of Prestwick where the first Open Championship was played in 1860 in the early afternoon.
The train station is directly beside the first tee of the golf course and strolling around town there are many areas of interest depicting the golfing significance of the place such as The Red Lion Inn where the first championship was planned, a plaque to commemorate where the first shot of that 1860 Open was hit and a memorial plaque in the towns graveyard to Andrew Strath, a former Open Champion and Keeper of the Green at Prestwick before his untimely death.
Awaking from a fine night’s sleep at the Golf View Hotel overlooking the course, I hit the links early Tuesday morning at 8 am amid brightening sun-filled surroundings. The course is a throwback to the origins of the game and there are still six greens that exist which were part of Old Tom Morris 12 Hole layout. Names of holes such as Alps, Himalayas and Cardinal have influenced the game worldwide and every year golfers descend to the links to pay homage to a national golf treasure.
I had time for a quick spot of lunch in the clubhouse before hurrying to the station to catch a train to Troon where a friend of mine working on the course guided me on a walking tour of Scotland’s most recent Open venue, The Royal Troon Golf Club. Some winter renovation work on the first tee shall enhance the vistas out across the beach towards the Irish Sea, Ailsa Craig and the distant Isle of Arran. Famous holes such as The Postage Stamp and Railway naturally stand out but it is also very interesting to see much environmental work on the course helping to conserve and enhance the areas local flora and fauna particularly in regards to the small blue butterfly project.
Royal Troon no.11 by the railway
On a cold, grey Wednesday morning I returned south to Ayr to ramble around the old town and see the many tributes to Scotland’s most famous Baird. A scarf was wrapped around the knee of the statue of Burns in the square while pigeons had made a home on both shoulders. There are further interesting places to see in the town such as Tam o' Shanter Close and the William Wallace Tower monument to mention but a few.
A warm broth was needed to warm the bones, before returning on the train to play the links of Barassie, another course influenced by Braid that is full of heathland heather, broom and gorse over the opening holes before a short walk to the newer nine which run alongside the ever-present railways.
I faced a raw, bracing cold wind Thursday morning when leaving the homely and quaint Tigh Dearg (the Red House) B&B. I walked the short pitching wedge distance underneath the railway tracks to the municipal courses of Troon, of which there are three. Even at 7.40am, there were many golfers gearing up to play the courses on such a sharp winters day which is a testament to the dedication, love and maybe madness the Scottish people have for their game. I decided to play the Darley course which has a par 71 and is one of the trickiest municipal courses one can encounter.
Barassie Links short promo video
After a much needed hot cup of tea after the round in the recently refurbished clubhouse, I returned to the station to journey on towards West Kilbride where I was meeting a friend from Sweden who had travelled across from Edinburgh. Playing 36 holes in the one day is always a challenge but with the weather getting progressively windier and colder later in the afternoon, the winter gloves were unpacked for the first time on the trip. West Kilbride was a real old-fashioned links next to the seaside and offers panoramic views towards Arran even though it was not visible to us in the cloudy conditions. With somewhat tired legs late in the evening, I gratefully accepted some Swedish generosity of a lift back up to the train station for the final 15-minute journey to the last stop on the line, the summer holiday town of Largs.
An early walk along the seafront promenade and breakfast enjoying improving views out to Cumbrae, Bute and Arran prepared me for the final game of the trip. A friend from Hamilton who spent many summers sailing the Firth of Clyde drove through to join me for the game at Largs Golf Course which enjoys a pretty location high on the edge of the town looking out towards all that is on offer out at sea. A wee testing course that kept us both entertained with a Swiss-style looking chalet acting as the clubhouse, or so it seemed when walking up the 18th fairway. Traditional Scottish hospitality awaited on the inside thankfully – no cheese or Toberlones on sale here!
On the return east Friday afternoon, through the rush hour commute on the tracks, I reflected on this west coast golfing adventure. I visited seven courses in six days ranging from historic links to Open Championship venues, rugged authentic municipals and coastal cliff tops. There were some winter tees and winter greens, uneven lies and bounces, ground under repair and preferred lies. But there was also some perfectly manicured turf with true rolling surfaces which when all added up led to a true Scottish golfing winter experience with Ayrshire acting as the perfect host.
Leaving the car at home and travelling with the golf clubs by train was indeed a novel way to go discover Ayrshire. It was tough to get off the beaten track and see many of the areas many attractions but golf was the motivation for this trip and by using the railways, I found that many courses were easily accessible - between Ayr and Irvine alone, I counted at least thirteen courses that are visible from the railways.
I never saw another set of clubs on the train during my weeks travel, but through an old-fashioned mode of transport, I found it was still possible to journey as Old Tom and Braid would have done in days past which offered the perfect opportunity to sit back, relax and see more of Scotland. However, my next trip will be pretty straight-forward and one that every golfer knows – a trip to the driving range to work on the swing!
A guest post courtesy of Frank Aherne, of 'Links Fairways'.
One of our founding partners of Ayrshire Golf Scotland, Blair Estate is awarded their 2nd 5 star recognition.
Following release by Visit Scotland.....
An Ayrshire castle is celebrating after receiving its second 5-Star award from the national tourism organisation in six years.
Blair Estate which sits within 250 acres of countryside near Dalry was recently awarded a 5-star Quality Assurance award from VisitScotland for its new self-catering accommodation within the East Wing of the historic mansion.
The castle, which dates back to the 12th-century and is reputed to be the oldest continually inhabited mansion house in Scotland, also holds a 5-star QA award for its exclusive use offering, which it has held since 2012.
The recently refurbished East Wing self-catering accommodation sleeps ten and is offered in addition to the exclusive use of the house, which accommodates up to 34 guests in 17 bedrooms and is ideal for house parties and large group holidays.
Blair Estate has also joined the VisitScotland Information Partner (VIP) programme. Launched in May 2016, the VIP programme harnesses the local knowledge, warmth and enthusiasm of partners across the country to help visitors receive the warmest of welcomes and make the most of their trip to Scotland.
With its strong emphasis on promoting local produce, Blair Estate also has VisitScotland Taste Our Best accreditation - a joint initiative between VisitScotland and the Scottish Government to recognise businesses including and promoting local Scottish Produce on their menus.
Developed and improved for over 30 years, VisitScotland’s Quality Assurance Schemes are world-leading and provide a trusted, independent and impartial source of information for visitors. They allow businesses not just to meet visitor expectations, but to exceed them.
VisitScotland Regional Director, Annique Armstrong said: “Congratulations to Blair Estate on this fantastic achievement.
“Our Quality Assurance scheme helps businesses to reach their full potential and truly shine. The scheme is about more than just the ‘stars’ on the door - it’s about the entire visitor experience, about investing in your business, driving-up quality and creating jobs. Blair Estate is a shining example of the quality experience on offer in Ayrshire and fully deserves its double accolade.
“Delivering a quality experience that meets, and exceeds, visitor expectations is crucial in making Scotland a must-visit, must-return destination.”
Owner of Blair Estate, Sallie Hendry said:“It is a great privilege to be one of a small number of private houses and castles in Scotland to have been recognised in this way, which reflects the dedication of our team and the work we have carried out over the past six years. We are committed to offering our guests the highest standards of comfort and cuisine, to ensure their experience of our accommodation and Ayrshire as a whole is the very best.”
Guest Blog by Visit Scotland www.visitscotland.com
Three of Ayrshire best loved Links courses have teamed up to bring you the Ayrshire Links Experience.
It's a major boost for the area as the package is well suited for tour operators bookings, making it an easy booking process for them. Local Accommodation can also take advantage, adding room nights, dinner etc to create a short golfing break.
With visiting golfers spending anywhere between £100 and £300 per day after golf this package is sure to generate some economic benefit going forward.
The courses included are Dundonald Links, host of the 2017 Scottish Open. Irvine Bogside and Barassie Links, both having been Open Qualifying venues in the past.
Golf is available 7 days of the week and we would suggest making Dundonald Links the Saturday course if visiting over the weekend. The cost of the 3 courses in the shoulder months of April and October is £185 and in the Summer is £240.
For more information visit http://www.ayrshirelinks.com/
International visitors tee off at Scottish
Golf Tourism Week
Over 70 of the
world’s leading golf tour operators have arrived to meet face to face with the
courses and locations that make Scotland the home of the sport.
Trump Turnberry Hotel hosted visitors who held over 3,500 meetings with golf
course and hotel exhibitors from Scotland, who expect that the events taking
place at Scottish Golf Tourism Week will attract further international golf tourists
in coming years.
chief executive of the Nairn Golf Club, said it was his first time exhibiting
at Scottish Golf Tourism Week. The Highland golf stalwart, who took over the
top job at Nairn having moved from Castle Stuart Golf Links four years ago,
said Scottish Golf Tourism Week was a “fantastic” opportunity to meet new
He said: “This is
a great event for Scotland and a fantastic initiative - we want to support
something like this in Scotland.
“There’s a lot of
new faces here. It shows you the new business that is available in the various
golf tour businesses around the world.
“I have already
met some potential new clients. Looking through my appointment sheet today most
of these are new. It is encouraging and quite exciting.”
Pam Smith, Captain
of Crail Golfing Society, has returned to Scottish Golf Tourism Week for a
second year. A historic course established in 1786, the club enjoyed a record
year this year, attracting more than 17,000 visitors to play at its two courses
located two miles east of Crail in Fife.
benefits in attracting international visitors from its proximity to St Andrews
and Kingsbarns. About 40% of its business comes from international visitors and
Smith says that bookings are even further ahead already for 2018.
She said: “We had
a very positive result from attending Scottish Golf Tourism Week last year. At
the event people were checking for availability. This year feels very much the
same. We have a very busy schedule of appointments.”
She added: “We
are lucky but we are not complacent.
“We have already
met with two completely new tour operators, including one from India.
“It is also the
familiarisation trips. We had visitors to Crail yesterday and they loved it. He
said he’s definitely putting business our way. We would never have met him if
we weren’t at Scottish Golf Tourism Week this year.”
of Spela Golf (Gailes Travel), arranges golf tours in Scotland, England, Wales
and Ireland for Scandinavian and US tour groups. It is the second year she has
attended Scottish Golf Tourism Week and on this time out she visited golf
courses in Ayrshire including Royal Troon and Prestwick golf clubs as well as a
number of “hotels and castles along the way”.
She said: “We
send thousands of people here every year. It is the home of golf.
“I am here to see
people I already know and find a few more hidden gems we hadn’t found before. I
have found a hotel that will be really good for us.”
Wayne Mordon, President
of Athlone Golf Tours based in Canada, puts together custom tours ranging in
price between £2,800-£3,000 for discerning North American golfers.
He said currency
exchange rates were making Scotland even more attractive to his clientele who
value Scottish tradition and its links course experiences.
He said: “The
things I tell people is it is less expensive to play in the UK than it has been
for 20 years. People don’t know that unless you tell them.”
familiarisation trip with Scottish Golf Tourism Week took him to St Andrews,
where he was able to visit hotel and accommodation providers and see where they
were in relation to the golf courses.
He said: “It was
great to see the accommodation side. We stopped by St Andrews University dorms,
to the Ardgowan to the Dunvegan hotels. It allows me to offer combinations, and
a range of options to where they can stay.
“It helps me
visually. What I have learned about this morning is some properties I wouldn’t
have considered are now in my arsenal of selling.”
He said events
such as Scottish Golf Tourism Week were essential to ensure Scotland retains
its premier position globally as the home of golf.
“To me what
Scottish Golf Tourism Week represents is Scotland is open for business rather
than assuming people will just go to Scotland. It is an important step.”
Tom Lovering, Director
of Scottish Golf Tourism Week, said that the event had brought operators that
were planning to increase their bookings to Scotland next year.
“We expect the
buyers here, several which are new to Scottish Golf Tourism Week, will book a
great deal more tours and facilities as a result of what they have seen here
this week. Scotland is the home of golf, but it is events such as Scottish Golf
Tourism Week which ensure we stay as a top global destination for the world’s
Chief Executive of VisitScotland, said: “I’m delighted to hear the positive
feedback from buyers and exhibitors at Scottish Golf Tourism Week. This is a
fantastic opportunity for golf tourism businesses from across Scotland to meet
face to face with tour operators from across the globe, generating more
business and more visitors to Scotland.
“Golf tourism is
worth more than £286 million to Scotland annually and helps to support our
visitor economy, not just through golf courses but our hotels, bars,
restaurants and other tourism attractions.”
Tourism Week, supported by VisitScotland and Scottish Enterprise, continues and
culminates in the annual Scottish Golf Tourism Awards dinner on Thursday.
Golf's 2017/18 top 100 course rankings is out and we have plenty to shout about here in Ayrshire....
With three of the worlds best, it's no great surprise that Ayrshire is one of the most sought after golf destinations on the planet. With over 45 golf courses to choose, from golf on an Island, along its famous links coastline or parkland gems designed by Ryder cup legends, Ayrshire has a golfing experience for everyone.
It's with no great surprise that Prestwick Golf Club no.100, Turnberry Ailsa no.16 and Royal Troon no.47 sit proudly among some fantastic courses including Augusta National, Pebble Beach and Pinehurst but to name a few.
Check out the full review below by clicking the link.....