Golf Course Review of Turnberry Golf Club (Ailsa & Kintyre)
Turnberry Golf Course
Reviewed by Ed Battye -
Quick Summary: One of the best got better
Our 5 Star Rating: 4.9 (Ailsa), 4.0 (Kintyre)
Not all golf courses are created equal and that can certainly be said about Trump Turnberry.
For here you will find the most spectacular stretch of coastline on any golfing land that I have ever seen.
The natural setting and scenic beauty of the iconic Ailsa course, an Open Championship venue four times over, is simply sublime.
Add to this firm turf, sandy dunes and a stiff breeze blowing off the Ayrshire coast and you are in pure golfing heaven. Turnberry is a place truly made for golf.
From the instant that you leave the third green and head towards the fourth teeing ground you are within a lob-wedge of the shoreline and this persists right up until the moment you depart the 12th tee and head inland to play the excellent closing stretch. During this run of eight glorious holes the water cannot always be seen, and it is not always in play, but you know it is there and this inspiring connection with the sea creates the feeling of spine-tingling golf.
I first played here in September 2015, just before the course closed for major renovation work, then shortly after it's re-opening the following year amd once more in the summer of 2017. And whilst minor scar tissue is still there from the changes the transformation of the 'reborn' Ailsa course is staggering and has taken something that was already exceptionally good to an entirely different level. The alterations have created an even closer relationship with the coastline on this stunning run of holes where the ninth, 10th and 11th are as breathtaking and thrilling as anything you will find.
No less than 14 holes were changed to some degree or another with the fourth, fifth, sixth, ninth, 10th and 11th receiving major works where the shoreline has now literally been brought within touching distance. The 14th is also a newly created hole and is grand par five that stretches the course yardage to 7,489 from the tips although most will play this par 71 layout from around 6,500 or less.
I think those who were sceptical to the alterations will be proved that change in this case was absolutely for the best and the new Ailsa could well become the holy grail of 21st Century links golf.
Indeed since its first formal course was built, in 1901 by Willie Fernie, Turnberry has witnessed many changes to its playing grounds and even the conversion of the links to runways during both world wars could not diminish the desire to play here. With that devastation arrived the opportunity to enhance the already famous links. And it was the near-miraculous work of the brilliant Mackenzie Ross who played the imperative role in Ailsa's transformation between 1949 and 1951. Ross reshaped the natural dunes, hillocks and valleys that had been lost during the war to make Turnberry into one of the most significant venues in world golf.
Back to the present day and it was the acquisition of Turnberry by Donald Trump in 2014 that has provided the opportunity for another renaissance at this cherished golfing outpost. The work was carried out by international golf architects, Mackenzie & Ebert, which must surely have been a mouth-watering proposition and something that will ensure Turnberry’s place in the golfing limelight will remain in place for a very long time.
Pleasingly very little will has changed on what I originally thought were two of the strongest holes on the course; the 7th and 8th. Both are long holes where the former is a par five and the latter is a 454-yard beast. Both call for good drives before you play to green locations that are simply to die for; grand in scale, natural in appearance and draped over the terrain in a way that ensures you could play them a hundred times and be asked to hit different shots. There is a real epic-ness to this dynamic duo. Tag on the short sixth - 138-yards of pure terror from the whites - and I actually think this trio is as good as the headline grabbing holes along the coast.
Holes nine, 10 and 11 are magical in location, the famed lighthouse casting an eye over every stroke you make, and I cannot really describe how celestial this part of the property is. Simply drink it all in and enjoy the moment. The par-five 10th is stupendously good; an angled drive across the rocky shoreline is the first task, avoiding the central bunker the second and then deciding whether to have a go for the green, situated on a kind of peninsula, over a huge bunker the third. But the job is not done there for the isolated green complex has much interest.
The beauty of the changes means you now also return close to the coastline at the new 14th green and again at the championship tee on the 18th. This has spiced up what was already a very fine closing third of the course that doesn’t need the eye-catching vista of sea and rocky beaches to make it worthy of deciding a Major Championship. When The Open will return to Turnberry is uncertain but it should and it should as soon as possible.
Elsewhere, the raised green at the 13th reminded me very much of the lauded 14th at Royal Dornoch and whilst it's certainly not Foxy it's a brilliant bunkerless green complex. The green locations at the short 15th and burn-fronted 16th are equally sensational and terrifying. You don’t have to look far to see moments of brilliance all over the landscape here.
Meanwhile, the second course at Turnberry, the Kintyre, is a fine one in its own right yet is often overlooked by golfers heading to this part of the world. Clearly any course that plays second fiddle to the Ailsa may go under the radar but I would strongly suggest a play at this demanding links if time permits.
The greens are modern in design, have greater undulations than the main course and your ball is more likely to kick-off one of the humps and mounds at the green edges into swales and hollows around the putting surfaces. Gorse is also a threat on many of the holes.
EDIT: At the time of writing (July 2017) the Kintyre has been completely remodelled and is now open as the 'King Robert the Bruce' course.
There was also a third course, the 9 hole Arran, but this no longer exists.
In summary the entire complex at the Turnberry resort is superb. From the delightful 18-hole links pitch & putt course, that greets you on arrival, to the imposing red-roofed hotel that overlooks the clubhouse, golf courses and driving range, everything is just about perfect.
Turnberry is indeed golfing heaven. It’s a special place that has shaped some of the most remarkable moments in the history of tournament golf and provided joy to thousands of golfers. I don't see that changing anytime soon.