A region that encapsulates everything that’s great about Scottish golf
This year, the South West of Scotland welcomed the best women golfers in the world over a matter of weeks, once again establishing it as a world-class golf destination of the very highest order.
The Ladies Scottish Open took place at the brilliant Dundonald Links, sister course of Loch Lomond.
One week later, the RICOH Women’s British Open headed to nearby Trump Turnberry, where the world-famous Ailsa course hosted the best lady golfers in the world for the only ladies’ major in the United Kingdom. Both events were a massive success.
Those two weeks, quite simply, helped showcase the very best of Scottish golf. The boost in tourism was obvious and well expected, but what those weeks really did was show that there is more, so much more, to golf in Scotland than St Andrews.
What’s more, this is an area of golf that is constantly improving.
HIT THE LINKS
The South West of Scotland is dripping with world-class championship links, not to mention some of the very best links tests you might never have heard of. Either way, it’s golfing heaven.
Donald Trump, the owner of Turnberry (01655 333 991), is investing roughly £100million into the renovation of both the hotel and the golf operation at the famous links resort, which hosted the incredible ‘Duel in the Sun’ between Jack Nicklaus and Tom Watson back in 1977. The Ailsa course, which last hosted the Open in 2009, is currently being revamped and, as such, is out of play for visitors until at least June 2016 but the shorter sister course, the Kintyre, remains a worthy test in its own right. The hotel is also a wonderful place to base yourself as you tour this stunning corner of the home of golf.
Royal Troon (01292 311555) is where Zach Johnson will defend the Open in the summer of 2016. Considered to be one of the finest and most testing courses in the world, Royal Troon features an abundance of deep rough, interspersed with gorse and broom. Its inward half is widely accepted to be the most difficult on the Open rota.
Prestwick (01292 477404) is where it all began and in that town alone lies several superb courses that welcome visitors. In the links of ‘Old’ Prestwick (01292 477404) and Prestwick St Nicholas (01292 477608) you have the very best examples of traditional links.
But it is not only within the towns of Prestwick and Troon that you’ll find organisers of Scotland’s major events casting their gaze. Gailes Links (01294 311561) recently hosted 36-hole final qualifying for the Open, having been given the honour by the R&A to be the sole Scottish venue for entry to the Open for four years, regardless of where it is being played. Gailes Links is a stunning test of golf and is particularly noted for its year-round condition and friendly welcome. It is part of the Gailes Golf Experience (01294 311649), a promotion that includes Gailes Links, the aforementioned Dundonald Links and Western Gailes (01294 311649). The latter boasts narrow fairways and greens tucked away in little hollows or dells, so it’s also worth a visit. The Gailes Golf Experience, incidentally, offers superb rates on all three courses and will also help you find local accommodation. It’s well worth looking into when you’re in the area.
Kilmarnock (Barassie) (01292 313920) offers a great championship links test - it hosted final qualifying when the Open was play at Turnberry in 2009 - and is noted for its excellent greens. The clubhouse was revamped a few years ago and remains one of the best in terms of catering on the local golf scene!
Another former Open qualifier is Irvine (01294 275979), a traditional Scottish links shaped by the golfing brain of James Braid, and it shows. It’s a brilliant test of links golf and one of the country’s hidden gems. Expect narrow fairways, small undulating greens and incredible turf conditions throughout.
The Isle of Bute is a great tourist attraction, made even better by the joys of the scenic nine-hole course of Kingarth at Bute Golf Club (01700 503091). This seaside links is just
seven miles from Rothesay on the west coast of the island and has seen some significant improvements in recent years. The course was in trouble in 2009 until the local golf community pulled together and embarked on an ambitious programme of restoration and renewal. The result is one of the finest nine-hole venues in the country, all played in full view of some incredible scenery.
Machrihanish Golf Club (01586 810277), in Campbeltown, is one of the classics of Scottish golf, helped mainly by its staggering location and world-famous opening hole. Machrihanish is also a great place for a society break as you can also take in Machrihanish Dunes (0800 151 3701) and Dunaverty (01586 830677), giving you the full spectrum of golf in Campbeltown.
The final links on our ‘must play’ list is Southerness (01387 880677). With its panoramic views of the Solway Firth and its links terrain, this is a tremendous test of golf that is, quite often, guarded heavily by the winds. Get it on a calm day and you’ll find it a fairly clear-cut test - but if the wind picks up you’ll be
in for quite the challenge!
AWAY FROM THE SEA
The beauty of the South West is that the region has a depth of variety in its golf courses that some corners of the home of golf just can’t match. Not only does it have a collection of world-class links, it also boasts some truly incredible layouts that are not links courses.
Take Stranraer (01776 870245), for example. Set on the shores of Loch Ryan in Wigtownshire, it is the last course to be designed by the legendary James Braid and remains a truly exceptional test of golf, not to mention a hugely picturesque one.
Dumfries and Galloway, incidentally, is littered with a superb courses, with little-known Crichton an absolute gem of a find. Set almost in the heart of Dumfries town centre, it is a small but mightily enjoyable test of golf, characterised by its woodland location, and superb run of holes.
Nearby is Dumfries and County (01387 253585), also known as The County, which is a popular 18-holer and famous for its friendly welcome. Its greens are superb all year-round and, in truth, if you’re in town and haven’t played here, you’re missing out. Dumfries is also a great place to base yourself during your trip, with the Hetland Hall Hotel (01387 840201) just outside the town a popular place with golfers.
Thornhill (01848 330546) is a little north of Dumfries and is an excellent mix of heathland and parkland, famous for its beautiful scenery, quality of turf, and association with former Ryder Cup star and European Tour winner Andrew Coltart.
Cally Palace (01557 814341), just a short drive from Castle Douglas, is one of the best conditioned golf courses in the region. The hotel runs a number of ‘stay and play’ packages, meaning it could well be the perfect venue for a short break. Expect superb views of Cardoness Castle, Rutherford’s Monument and the Fleet Estuary.
Closer to Glasgow, it’s worth visiting Gourock (01475 631001), a bustling club with a rich history, boasting stunning views of the River Clyde and expansive greens.
Annanhill (01563 521644) is a public course situated on the outskirts of Kilmarnock and is part of the East Ayrshire Leisure collection of courses, alongside Caprington (01563 521915) and Doon Valley (01292 531607). Parkland in nature, it is located in the grounds of the Annanhill estate and boasts tree-lined fairways that are fairly wide, so you’re got a little room if required off the tee. The feature hole is the par-3 13th where you play across a valley to a raised, small green heavily guarded by bunkers. The hole is reminiscent of the famous Postage Stamp at Royal Troon. Caprington and Doon Valley, meanwhile, are more than worthy of your time and offer some of the best value golf in the area.
VALUE IN NUMBERS
The South West doesn’t only boast a collection of world-class links and an enviable selection of inland tests and hidden gems. It should be made clear that one of its biggest assets is that fact that it provides exceptional value of money. In this corner of the home of golf, everything is linked, with many of the hotels offering golfers special rates for advance bookings and so on. If your golfing party is playing on a budget but still wants to experience the best of the region, you’re in luck.
There is no doubt that the South West of Scotland is every inch the first-class destination it appears to be. The sooner you experience it for yourself, the better.