Most visitors whisk into the west coast of Scotland, play Turnberry, Royal Troon and perhaps Prestwick, then scamper away to other parts of the country to play two or three more Trophy Courses before jetting back home, their golfing mission accomplished.
Oh had they lingered a little longer on the Ayrshire coast, what discoveries there were waiting for them. There was no need to be packing and unpacking, checking into and out of hotels, driving back and forth across Scotland in hungry pursuit of courses to conquer. It was all there on the west coast where a host of the best layouts could have been played from the one stop.
Wherever you find one good links course in Scotland, the chances are there will be others nearby and nowhere is this fact so much in evidence as on the west coast. Within the scant 45 miles of coastline, extending from Turnberry in the south to West Kilbride in the north, there are close to 20 excellent links courses, half of them ranked among Scotland's Top 50.
This listing of Ayrshire's, Cream of the Crop links courses is based on the 2006 rankings according to the respected Golf World. The Honorable Mentions, just a few of my own personal favorites that deserve to be included. Each course's Scottish ranking is shown in parenthesis.
Turnberry -- Ailsa (1): Some call it the Pebble Beach of Scotland, while others consider Pebble Beach to be America's Turnberry Ailsa. No matter how you slice it, this superb layout is simply as good as golf gets. Play is restricted to hotel guests, so splurge and enjoy --the hotel is as good as the golf.
Royal Troon (8): Host to 8 British Open Championships with certainly more to come, Troon is arguably the toughest on The Open circuit. A traditional out and back links, the closing stretch is considered one of the most demanding in the world. Visitor times are always in short supply and expensive, but worth it.
Prestwick (12): Venue for the British Open in 1860, Prestwick hosted a total of 24 Opens before being retired in 1927. This is one of the most historic pieces of golf real estate to be found anywhere and filled with every quirky oddity known in links golf. A must play for any serious golfer.
Western Gailes (13): Containing more of the good things of golf than any other, this is the unheralded, shining star in Ayrshire's galaxy of golf wonders. Play it once and you'll be wondering why this gem isn't at the top of every visiting golfer's wish list.
Turnberry -- Kintyre (31): Over-shadowed by its super-star big brother for almost a century, Donald Steel's superb makeover is bringing this wallflower into Scotland's golfing spotlight and deserved fame is on the way.
Glasgow Gailes (32): Glorious greens, rugged rough and a collection of 18 holes where no two are the same, turns every round into an adventure and demonstrates brilliantly why links golf is the purest form of the game.
Dundonald (35): American designer, Kyle Phillips (of Kingsbarns fame) has not disappointed with his second Scottish effort. Despite its tender age, this is a mature, traditional links, with huge and often severely contoured greens. Aided by shrewd bunkering, hungry rough and an incessant wind - Dundonald is a test for the best.
Shiskine (40): Located on the Isle of Arran, less than an hour's ferry ride off the Ayshire coast, Shiskine's not really eligible for this listing, but it's so special, I sneaked it in. Only twelve holes, but this pure1896 design is filled with every idiosyncrasy you either love or hate about links golf, including a host of blind shots and sheep grazing the fairways. Real golf in its original, unadulterated form.
Kilmarnock Barassie (44): 27 holes of pure links pleasure. Play the championship course, which combines half of the original layout with 9 of more recent vintage and then tackle the testy little 9 holer. This one is good enough to be used as a British Open qualifier and it won't disappoint.
Belleisle: Not a links course at all, but deserving of a place on this list as it's one of the best municipal parkland layouts in all of Britain. Mature trees, spectacular views and a lengthy, intelligent design from the great James Braid. Belleisle also offers some respite from the continual buffeting by the Ayrshire winds on the links courses.
Prestwick St. Nicolas: A spunky and very traditional Scottish links, squeezed in between the sea and a railway line -- and both come into play. Often confused with the "other" Prestwick by visitors, the locals know better, but prefer things that way so they can keep this true gem of a course to themselves. It's worth seeking out.
West Kilbride: An historic links course originally laid out by Old Tom Morris, where cattle and sheep still graze the fairways. A gorgeous setting and a feeling of playing golf the way it was intended. A thoroughly delightful experience, not to be missed.
The choice is yours, either spend half of your precious vacation time driving from one side of the country to the other or, enjoy a relaxing week in Ayrshire with all of this golf at your doorstep.
Use the seaside town of Troon as your hotel base and the furthest you will have to drive to any of these gems will only be 35 minutes and most can be reached from Troon in a mere 15 minutes or less. The only exception will be Shiskine, which will take an hour and a half to reach -- but the experience will be worth it and what a wonderful day excursion it will be.
For more ideas on how to include more of Ayrshire's golfing wealth in your trip, click here.
© 2007 David Brice / Golf International Inc. All Rights Reserved.
Golf International -- Providers of quality golf travel arrangements since 1988.