I can think of plenty of well known golf resorts that are over-hyped but Turnberry isn’t one of them. This is a golfing destination worthy of its reputation. In fact, I’d argue that its second course – The Kintyre – is deserving of a higher profile than it enjoys, courtesy of the inevitable shadow cast by its more illustrious sister course, The Ailsa, which has played host to four Open Championships. Put the two together, though, and add in a five star hotel and some fine dining, and you have one of the world’s great golfing destinations and reason to stay for a few days. And why would you want to rush off? Here’s a chance to soak up all that Turnberry has to offer.
And offer it certainly does. On summer evenings, as the shadows reveal every hump and hollow and the sunlight adds lustre to the golden gorse, it’s hard to think of a more special place to play golf. It’s also hard not to let the mind wander to the legendary performances that have unfolded on the Ailsa links – Nicklaus and Watson’s Duel in the Sun or Watson’s captivating performance in 2009 as he came so close to winning again. With a backdrop of rugged Scottish coastline and the iconic lighthouse constantly in frame, the inspiration is there in abundance.
Away from the course, the hotel sits quite regally on the hill, casting its watchful gaze over the links and out to the Irish sea and Ailsa Craig, Arran and the Kintyre mountains. Turnberry really does enjoy a glorious position. Thankfully it’s accessible, too, being less than an hour’s drive from Glasgow Airport.
With so many reviews, articles and admiration already bestowed on the Ailsa Course, there’s little I can add beyond my personal reflections. The course consistently ranks among the best in the world and there’s no arguing it. For me, whenever you play one of the truly great golf courses, it’s all about getting swept up by the experience – rain or shine, on good form or out of form, it doesn’t matter. This is a chance to smile and create your own memories of a place that already means something to you even before you arrive.
The comparably gentle opening three holes play alongside one another other, edging gradually towards the shore, and from there you head into a famous and glorious stretch of coastal links that take you right through to the 12th, where you turn back inland. The views across the beach, with Ailsa Craig and Isle of Arran, provide the most magnificent setting to strike a golf ball. The design is challenging but fair and with the gusting winds, you’re presented one of the most complete golf courses in the world.
Personally, I love the par three 4th hole. Short and sweet, this is a beautiful little hole. Two holes later, another par three offers a far more formidable challenge (in fact, in a strong wind this is a brute) that’s wonderful in its own right. The gentle dogleg and inviting nature of the 7th and the splendour of playing in front of the lighthouse on the 10th all stand out for me.
The turn for home begins at the 12th, a hole marked by a poignant war memorial in honour of lost airmen of the World Wars that stands on the hill by the greenside. Evidence of the wartime runways can still be seen nearby. The 15th is another enjoyable par three with treacherous bunkers and green undulations, before the superb par four 16th tests your game with its greenside burn awaiting any imperfect approach. The par five 17th offers a welcome chance to score.
Without the stands and paraphernalia that accompany The Open, the 18th isn’t such an imposing, grandstand finale, but putting out in front of the famous red-roofed Turnberry Hotel is reward enough. It’s the end to what is, quite simply, a fantastic golf course.
For obvious reasons, The Ailsa will always be the number one course at Turnberry, but The Kintyre is an expertly designed and hugely enjoyable championship course in its own right. Designed by Donald Steel, it comprises three very distinct sections. The first and last thread between the gorse, with some fairways a little more generous than others, while the middle third ambles up to the exposed cliff top and the full force of whatever elements the West Coast of Scotland has conjured up for you on the day. Here the views are fabulous, though if the wind’s blowing you’ll be happy to return to the gorse-lined fairways below.
If you haven’t played the course before, you’re not aware that the 1st hole is as kind as any as you step on to the tee. Make the most of the opportunity to swing with some abandon, as for most of the rest of the round there’s a premium on accuracy. The dog-leg par four 4th and long par four 5th in particular test the nerve and accuracy of your hitting. To avoid a blind approach over the gorse, it’s important to be playing from the right side of the fairway on the 4th, while the drive on the 5th demands that you flirt with the Out Of Bounds fence down the right hand side. Not for the faint hearted.
Holes seven through nine provide a lovely stretch that begins with a dog-leg left around a copse of trees that ideally requires a bold right to left shot from the tee. The signature par four 8th follows, presenting a choice between a very risky blind drive aimed at a cove in which the green resides or a long iron and flick with a wedge over the ridge. Take my advice, don’t ever bother going for the green in one. I am sure the 8th tee has had more than its share of golfers gazing back and wondering why they didn’t just lay up.
Whatever has come before, the views along the cliff top from the 9th go a long way to easing the pain. In fact, this is arguably the best spot anywhere at Turnberry to survey the linksland, Ailsa Craig, and famous Lighthouse. It’s reason alone to leave the Ailsa for one day and venture on to the Kintyre.
A few holes later and you’re back among the gorse (perhaps more literally than you’d care to be), with the 14th a long and particularly fine par five that offers a good chance of a birdie. The 16th is the complete antithesis; a delightfully short hole of around 120 yards that’s protected by the idiosyncrasies of its green.
The final hole has no less than 11 bunkers and although visually inviting, the unsubtle undulations on the green make it an immensely challenging par five on which to finish in front of the clubhouse onlookers. It’s a splendid end to a thoroughly enjoyable round, on a course that hosted Open Championship Final Qualifying in 2004 – a mark of its pedigree in its own right.
As I mentioned at the outset, the Kintyre would certainly be a more talked-about golf course if it wasn’t for the Ailsa always stealing the limelight. So, if you journey to Turnberry, it would be a great waste not to play both courses. Turnberry offer a ‘Great Golf Experience’ package that includes a round on each course, two nights’ bed & breakfast, and dinner each evening in the 1906 restaurant. If you’re inclined to take my recommendation, I guarantee it’s an experience that will linger long in the memory.