Tuesday, 13 April 2021

When it’s time, play some island golf

Scotland is known for links golf, that goes without being said, it’s a treat to play this style in the country where it all began. Another great style of golf that Scotland is a world-class destination for is island golf.

Grabbing your clubs and boarding a ferry has a special feel to it, it’s not something most of us experience often. The main challenge is not getting a club and ball out to fire one into the water during your crossing.

You arrive back on dry land at your destination and it is time to play. This build-up adds a whole new dimension to the experience, it’s like being on a floating clubhouse before you play your round.

Off the coast of Ayrshire, two islands spring to mind as golfing destinations straight away. Arran and Millport, the former a well-known haven for golf and the latter somewhere you may not have played before.

Millport may normally be known for family holidays and cycling, but it is also somewhere to take the clubs. Golf has been played here since 1888 and in 1913 was redesigned by James Braid. The heathland course has a testy start with OB awaiting bad shots on the first seven holes.

The views you get from Millport GC are beautiful, from the 5th green you can see for miles around. You get similar views throughout the round on this short but tricky course. This is a good wholesome and testing round of golf.

With seven courses, Arran is as good a golfing destination as any. It is worth booking yourself a hotel or lodge over there and making a proper trip of it. You will want to sample the local whisky while you are there too.

Starting with Lamlash, this course by Willie Fernie and Willie Auchterlonie is a great opener for your trip. The rolling heathland course maybe short, except for two long par threes, but it demands tactical and accurate golf to navigate it well.

There is a sense of stepping back in time when you play here, the course hasn’t changed much at all since it was finished in 1908. Part of the challenge is concentrating on the golf and away from the distracting views of Goat Fell and the Holy Isle.

Another place where you can play your golf and feel at one with nature is the nine-hole gem at Lochranza. The course sits beside the Arran distillery and is often bathed in the smell of the beautiful whisky. You may also see some of the famous red deer that graze on the land at the course.

Lochranza has some unusual water hazards that you will want to avoid during your round. If you expect to come here and overpower the course with big drives, bring a lot of golf balls. This is a tactician’s course, you have to carefully plot your way around.

Some say that nine holes is enough, it definitely can be when you have a golfing experience as all-consuming as a round at Corrie. This is easily one of the prettiest and most dramatic golfing landscapes you will ever play on.

Nestled between the hills to the north of the island, this course may keep your phone camera as busy as your clubs. With a mix of long and short holes, this course cannot fail to delight you.

Sitting high above the town of the same name, Whiting Bay is a short and picturesque eighteen holer. This feels like a mountain course and the views down toward the Firth of Clyde are spectacular. It’s a tight and tricky course that requires patience and accuracy.

The deep green pines, purple heather and yellow gorse create a sumptuous colour palette around this course through the year. This course is in great condition year round and is a great challenge for golfers of all levels. Enjoy island golf from on high.

The next stop is the west coast of Arran and down to the waterfront for a glorious nine- holer, Machrie Bay. Looking the Kilbrannan Sound and toward the Kintyre Peninsula, Machrie Bay is a flat course that is perfect for families. It is pure unadulterated golfing fun.

Machrie Bay almost feels like a mini championship links. It has all the character of some of the best seaside courses just on a smaller scale. If nine holes isn’t enough for you here then you are encouraged to double-up and make it eighteen.

Last, but absolutely not least is the pièce de résistance of golf on Arran, Shiskine. This twelve-hole masterpiece proves that you don’t need eighteen holes to be celebrated, it is in the top-100 courses in Scotland. This is island links golf like you’ve never played.

The dramatic and rocky terrain frames the holes beautifully, at times the course looks like something out of a computer game. The work of Willie Fernie and Willie Park, Jr. encapsulates Scottish golf perfectly in less than eighteen holes. Every golfer must play this golf course in their lifetime.

Island golf around Ayrshire is rich and plentiful. You can’t go wrong booking a few nights and hopping island to island and course to course. If you want to blitz it you could even challenge yourself to the Arran Golf Marathon. Island golf is waiting for you when you’re ready to get back to exploring our local courses.

Thursday, 8 April 2021

When it’s time take a detour to the west coast

When you come to Scotland on a golf trip, many are drawn to the big names of the East like Muirfield, Carnoustie and, of course, St Andrews. Indeed, Fife and Lothian make great bases for a golf trip and to tick off some bucket list courses. However, Scotland is a small country and a short drive can open up the West coast too.

You see, this is the beauty of a golf trip to Scotland, there are so many different golfing landscapes to enjoy and you are never that far away from them. So what does the West coast have to offer to lure you away, even for just a day trip, when your on the other side of the country?

First, let’s talk about the courses. Ayrshire boasts a patch of golfing coast that is packed to capacity with some of the best links golf in the world. In here are two former Open Championship tracks, one which is where the tournament was born, one current Open course and many other world-class tracks.

From Glasgow Airport, this golfing treasure trove is just thirty minutes away. From Edinburgh Airport it is under an hour and a half away, a small price to pay for such a destination. This article isn’t just about Royal Troon, Prestwick, Turnberry and Western Gailes though, the West offers more than courses.

It is well known that Glasgow and the West is one of the friendliest parts of Scotland. This is the land of the 19th hole where you can sit in a bar, enjoy a pint and celebrate/ commiserate your round. You can meet locals here and get unique insider knowledge.

One of the most famous 19th holes in the world is The Red Lion Inn in Prestwick. This isn’t just any pub to sit and enjoy a post-round pint, this is the very place that the idea of a course over the links land of Prestwick was given life. The rest, is history.

Prestwick Golf Club itself has one of the most incredible clubhouses you will ever have the pleasure of visiting. If you are a golf fan then this is one of the greatest collections of golf memorabilia you will ever see. The greatest thing about the clubhouse is the passionate members who love to tell you more about what you are seeing.

Some other beautiful clubhouses include Western Gailes, Glasgow Gailes and Royal Troon. These are buildings that feel welcoming and have retained that traditional clubhouse feel. There is something so special about the locker rooms of these clubs.

If you have decided to take the trip over to the West from the East and want to make a night of it, something you should do, by the way, then there are some great hotels to look at. One of the finest is The Marine Hotel in Troon that has recently been refurbished.

This beautiful red sandstone building sits looking over the opening and closing holes of Royal Troon. Imagine sipping on a well-deserved pint whilst breathing in the Royal Troon air. Many great hotels are waiting for you in Troon to help you find your base for your golf trip to the West.

Lochgreen House Hotel is pure traditional luxury. With undisturbed views out over the course at Royal Troon and onto Arran, this is a place you can take in the seemingly alive links land. There is a serenity about this hotel that will help you forget about the stresses of modern life.

Finally, for whisky and golf fans, Piersland House Hotel is the former mansion house of the Johnnie Walker whisky family. There is a great connection to the spirit of Scotland in this warm and welcoming hotel. Sipping on a dram and discussing golf, life doesn’t get much better than this.

Never rule out a trip over to the West, even if your golf holiday is based in the East. Rich golfing history, world-class courses and the warmest of welcomes awaits you on this side of Scotland. You will never regret taking this detour.

Thursday, 1 April 2021

When it’s time, come play our championship links

The ‘Duel in the Sun’ and the ‘Tussle at Troon’ are two incredible golfing battles that we the world has watched over the years. Both of these historic events took place on glorious championship links courses in Ayrshire.

Ayrshire is home to some of the best links golf in the world, so it is no surprise that it has a rich history of elite championship golf. You see, St Andrews may be the where it all started but Ayrshire has a claim of its own.

Prestwick is the home of major championship golf. This was where The Open Championship was born and between 1860 and 1925 it hosted golf’s oldest major twenty-four times. It has a similar energy to St Andrews when you visit.

As a golfer, you know you are standing on hallowed turf and you can feel it. The Old Tom Morris design is like no course you will ever play. The clubhouse is one of the most special tributes to the history of our great game and is packed with stunning memorabilia.

It’s not just about Prestwick though, just forty minutes from The Home of The Open is Turnberry. This was the site of the exhilarating ‘Duel in the Sun’, the 1977 Open Championship that saw Tom Watson triumph over Jack Nicklaus.

Not only that, in 2009 Tom Watson thrilled us all again by nearly winning the event at 59 years old. The Ailsa course was re-imagined by McKenzie and Ebert and has been worked on by many great architects through the years including Willie Fernie.

The Ailsa is arguably the most visually stunning courses on the Open rota. With views out over the Firth fo Clyde onto Arran and beyond, it is the perfect backdrop to a beautiful course. There is a natural ruggedness about Turnberry that captivates.

Many would argue with you that the Ailsa at Turnberry is the best course in the world, you would have a tough job finding something better. This is the complete links course from the heritage to the unsurpassed quality of the golf on offer.

Heading back toward Glasgow from Turnberry along the Ayrshire Coast, you pass back through Prestwick and travel just ten minutes further to Royal Troon. The site of one of the most flawless rounds in Open history, Henrik Stenson’s 2016 victory over Phil Mickelson.

With nine Opens in the bag and another coming in 2024, Royal Troon is another jewel in the crown of Ayrshire golf. From the short but tricky opening holes you make your way through some sublime links golf and then you arrive at the infamous Postage Stamp.

The shortest hole on the Open rota and the 8th at Royal Troon, this is the perfect test of your accuracy. Just 123 yards to a tiny green, “A putting surface skimmed down to the size of a postage stamp” as Willie Park famously said. Take a three and run!

Royal Troon, like Prestwick and Turnberry has been shaped by some of the greatest architectural minds in golf. Willie Fernie and James Braid created the course we see today after the greenkeeper of Prestwick, Charlie Hunter, originally laid it out.

Ayrshire isn’t just an Open Championship playground though. Dundonald Links hosted the Scottish Open in 2017, won by Rafa Cabrera-Bello. This masterpiece by Kyle Phillips sits on a stretch of golfing land that is adorned by some wonderful courses.

In the Gailes region of the Ayrshire Coast you will also encounter Kilmarnock (Barassie), Glasgow Gailes and the magnificent Western Gailes, more on that later. Dundonald Links is one of the finest examples of a modern links course in the World.

There is a luxury to the playing experience at Dundonald, it requires more modern shot making and length at times but you can feel its authentic links heritage. Many new links courses have popped up in Scotland recently, Dundonald may be the best of the lot.

When in Ayrshire you simply must treat yourself to a round at Western Gailes. It may not have held the famous events like some of the courses mentioned above, but it is very comfortable sitting at the table with them these world-class courses.

The stretch of holes in the high dunes on the front nine is simply majestic. The locals keep this one for themselves and it has an understated confidence about itself as a course. Don’t be put off, it is open for visitors and visit you must.

Ayrshire is just packed with great courses that have held some of the greatest events in world golf. When it’s time, experience these championship links and savour your own slice of golfing history as you stroll the fairways walked by legends.

Wednesday, 24 March 2021

When it’s time, spend less time travelling and more time golfing

We’ve all lost a lot of time from golf in recent months. Be it the pandemic or the weather, many of us are pining for a round. As spring is on the way, it is time to start planning your comeback and looking for rich seams of golfing land to try new courses.

There are few areas packed with high-quality golf like Ayrshire, in particular the nine miles of coast between Gailes and Prestwick St Nicholas Golf Club. In this little slice of golfing heaven there are eleven courses and a whole lot of history.

This pocket of golfing paradise has work by Old Tom Morris, Willie Fernie, Willie Park Junior and modern architects like Kyle Phillips, Fred Hawtree and McKenzie & Ebert. Despite these courses being so close, the golf you will experience is anything but similar.

Starting at Prestwick St Nicholas, the course has delightful panoramas down over the Firth of Clyde. It is a short course but it punches above its weight in terms of the quality of the holes. There are design features from a by-gone age which add to its charm.

This is a strategists course, placing the ball to avoid intelligent bunkering, an abandoned quarry and navigating the undulating rollercoaster terrain of the opening and closing stretches. The rough can be punishing but golf is always fun at Prestwick St Nicholas.

Next on our stop is the birthplace of The Open Championship, golf’s original major. This is a golf experience that stays with you. To walk the hallways of the clubhouse and see the incredible history of our great game is a wonderful privilege.

A nervy first tee shot, don’t donate a ball to the railways, sets you off on a beautiful Old Tom creation. The course is a time capsule of the golfing past yet it remains every bit as challenging now as it was then. Modern technology seems to give only a minimal edge.

From one Open Championship venue to another, the next stop is Royal Troon. The time is now to get a round in at Troon before The Open visits in 2024. Take on the Postage Stamp and The Railway whilst taking in the glorious views of the Firth of Clyde.

Walking down the fairway at the 18th, Craigend, you can’t help but think of those champion golfers who have walked before you. From Stenson and Popov to Palmer and Watson, it is a course that has produced some worthy champions.

Not only do you have the Old Course to enjoy here, The Portland, a Willie Fernie and Dr Alister MacKenzie design, suffers from that difficulty of having such a famous big brother. Underestimate this track at your peril, it is as fine a links as any.

Just the other side of the railway, the Troon Links trio may be the finest collection of municipal courses in the world. Darley is a test, Lochgreen (where Jack Nicklaus qualified for his first Open) and the tricky Fullerton are great value.

Just as you work your way to the other side of Troon, you strike yet more golfing gold with Kilmarnock (Barassie). This is another course loved by the R&A for prestigious championships and Open Qualifying.

Some of the fastest greens in Ayrshire await you at Barassie as well as all the usual undulating delights of links golf. New holes, by Paul Kimber, have created a better flow to the course and making it even better than it once was.

Between Barassie and the coast is the narrow strip of golfing gold, Western Gailes. Ayrshire is laden with golfing treasure but some would argue that Western Gailes is the most beautiful of them all. The only way to know for sure is to play them all and decide.

This is a course that continually changes as you play. The nine hole stretch along the coast is some of the finest golf you will experience. Expect a test but one that still makes you smile. Western Gailes is everything that’s great about Ayrshire golf in eighteen holes.

The new kid on the block, Dundonald, is a different prospect altogether and has settled into stellar company very quickly. Host course of the Scottish Open in 2017, golf at Dundonald is an experience from the second your car pulls into the driveway.

Kyle Phillips did a great job creating a modern links here, some perfectly placed pot bunkers and subtly undulating greens defend the course. Certain flag positions can make your round especially tough. Dundonald Links is as worthy of its place in Ayrshire as any.

The most northerly course of this astounding coastal collection is Glasgow Gailes. A frequent host of Open Qualifying, this is a course that has made dreams come true and seen tense battles. The heather-lined course is one for the tacticians, the plotters.

Glasgow Gailes isn’t a course to overpower. Many raised greens test your accuracy and confidence when attacking the flag and the closing holes make for a stunning end to your round. What’s more, it makes for a stunning end to this magnificent golfing trail.

You would be hard-pressed to find a better set of golf courses in such a small area as you can in this strip of Ayrshire. It is harder to find such a glut of world-class links courses as this. When it’s time, find a hotel and tick theses course off your list, you won’t regret it.