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.