Start by playing the finest links courses around
One of the finest examples of Scottish golf in all its glory is the South West of the country. Those who’ve previously visited this corner of the home of golf will need no reminding of why it is such a popular destination for golfers. That said, if you have yet to come into contact with southern Argyll, Ayrshire and Dumfries and Galloway on a golfing adventure, you will certainly want to continue reading.
In an area that is characterised by mile after mile of stunning coastline, it is no surprise that some of Scotland’s finest locations for links golf have arisen.
This terrain has played an important part in the development of golf in Scotland, laying the foundations for the growth of the professional game with the first staging of the Open Championship at Prestwick Golf Club in 1860.
Since that time, a further 35 Opens have been staged in Ayrshire alone - between Prestwick, Turnberry and Royal Troon - creating some of the most memorable events in golfing history.
Royal Troon will be the next Ayrshire venue to welcome golf’s greatest professionals looking to capture its greatest prize in the summer of 2016 - and what a treat they have in store.
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 Championship Rota but its greatest delight is perhaps reserved for the opening nine - the par-3 eighth, the ‘Postage Stamp’.
Wonderfully named in reference to the size of the green, it is among the shortest but also the most intimidating holes on the R&A’s run of Open courses, measuring just 123 yards.
Turnberry is home to two stunning links, the famous Ailsa and the wonderful Kintyre. Voted Scotland’s Best Experience by readers of bunkered magazine recently, it is undoubtedly a superb place to enjoy your golf and one of the standout visits of this corner of the county.
Prestwick was, of course, where it all began, and in that town alone lie several superb courses. In the links of ‘Old’ Prestwick and Prestwick St Nicholas you have the very best examples of traditional links.
St Nicholas boasts Old Tom Morris as one of its founding members, who also played a part in ensuring the course took the form of a classic seaside links. Often the stage for significant national events, the layout is lapped by the waters of the Gulf Stream, which help it to stay in a pristine year-round condition.
But it is not only in within the towns of Prestwick and Troon that you’ll find organisers of Scotland’s major events casting their gaze. Western Gailes lies between Irvine Bay and the West Coast railway line and has often been used as a host for prestigious tournaments, including the Scottish Amateur Championship as recently as 2011.
It boasts a natural set-up, where undulating fairways are occasionally interrupted by meandering burns. Its greens lie guarded at times by these waterways, or otherwise by the folds of the ground, making them the key to any low score.
And, in Kilmarnock (Barassie), Western Gailes is in good company. Barassie is found next door and is the equal to its esteemed neighbour. The club has recently invested heavily in its clubhouse interior, in order to give both its members and visitors a better experience of the club. “It’s a total transformation,” said one delighted member. Discover it for yourself.
Dundonald Links is another links test that’s an absolute ‘must play’ on your trip. Designed by Kyle Phillips (of Kingsbarns fame) it is always in first class condition and offers an adventurous test of golf. The par-3 sixth is one of the best short holes in the area.
West Kilbride is just as proud of its event-staging credentials and is right to boast that it is the venue for the Scottish Boys’ Championship every fourth year. Indeed, it was in 2012 that the budding stars of the future again visited the undulating and narrow stretch of coastal terrain.
As it is set over this fairly tight area, it only makes sense that out of bounds becomes a major hazard to avoid. Indeed, white stakes are in play at no less than 12 holes, meaning that steering your ball safely down the middle should always be the first priority.
Southerness is yet another South West venue to have hosted esteemed events. Designed by Mackenzie Ross and built in 1947, it measures 6,728 yards from the white tees from which the standard scratch is a daunting 74. However, if the wind is in your favour, the course can be a little friendlier, given that it is mostly flat with no hills to climb. Best of all are the views it provides of the Solway Firth, the Lake District and the Galloway Hills.
We know that championship tests are not for everyone - and this group is just as well catered for in the South West as any other.
Brighouse Bay has the wonderful fortune of having a coastal setting but does display some inland character, creating a wonderful hybrid test. Perched above the Solway coastline, the varied character of each hole makes the course interesting and challenging, whatever your handicap.
Some of the most accessible links courses in the region fall under the bracket of Golf South Ayrshire. Its four municipal links offer value that belies the level of experience you’ll gain while playing them.
Stunning views towards the Ailsa Craig are your company for the first eight holes of Girvan, which was designed by James Braid in 1902. These are set right on the beach, with the remaining ten holes being located slightly further inland and displaying some parkland traits.
As wild and true a links as you can imagine can be sampled, and no doubt enjoyed, Troon Darley - one of the jewels in the Golf South Ayrshire crown and perhaps the most challenging municipal in the country. Heather, gorse and whin are the major obstacles to be avoided and, while it is not quite as long as its neighbour Troon Lochgreen, it will put a premium on straight driving.
Lochgreen itself has several holes reminiscent of its Royal Troon neighbour. It may surprise you to know that this course has welcomed some of the greatest-ever golfers. In fact, Jack Nicklaus came through Open Qualifying there in 1962.
If you are a more able proponent of the short game, you’ll particularly enjoy the challenge of Troon Fullarton. At just under 5,000 yards, it provides endless enjoyment for those with more modest ability or looking for a morning warm-up to a greater afternoon test.