Turnberry's Ailsa Course: Britain's Best in Show

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March 30, 2011
David Brice, Golf International, Inc.

David Brice, CEO of Golf International, reviews destinations on PGATOUR.COM that can be experienced by purchasing a package with Golf international, a leading provider of high-end international golf travel. For more information about this trip or any other of Golf International's destination trips, click here.

A deep-seated desire to experience the legendary courses of golf's homeland is the major motivator that draws growing numbers of American golfers across the Atlantic each year. Eager to pit their golfing skills against the classic links layouts of the place that gave birth to the game over six centuries ago, it's an irresistible call few serious golfers can ignore.

Turnberry's Ailsa Course - a frequent British Open host, is ranked as Britain's very best.jpg
Turnberry's Ailsa Course, a frequent British Open host, is ranked as Britain's very best.
Turnberry's plush accommodations match the resort's two championship links courses.jpg
Turnberry's plush accommodations match the resort's two championship links courses.
Turnberry occupies a stretch of Ayrshire coastline only intended for links golf.jpg
Turnberry occupies a stretch of Ayrshire coastline only intended for links golf.
Turnberry's signature lighthouse stands guard over the Ailsa Course.jpg
Turnberry's signature lighthouse stands guard over the Ailsa Course.
The Kintyre Course is ranked among Scotlands top 40.jpg
The Kintyre Course is ranked among Scotlands top 40.
Turnberry - The perfect luxury golf resort.jpg
Turnberry: The perfect luxury golf resort.
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Scotland is and always has been the prime target of these golf travelers and perhaps that's the way it should be. With more legendary courses than any other country, these are the historic layouts that have proved to be the classic tests of any player's abilities.

Once considered the trip of a lifetime, most first time visitors quickly discover that a single trip is simply not enough to experience even a decent sampling of the vast array of Scotland's classic layouts that cry out to be played. This is a land of golfing plenty and legends abound - it would take a dozen trips to play all that demand attention and a dozen more to play them just one more time.

There may be no better place to start a Scottish golf experience than the west coast, home to a trio of such legends -- Prestwick, where The British Open began back in 1860; neighboring Royal Troon, another frequent British Open host and Turnberry, the most southerly of the country's great champions.

The Turnberry Hotel and Golf Resort, one of the most impressive golf havens in the entire British Isles, celebrated its centenary a few years ago and now on the north side of 100 years old, this jewel in Scotland's golfing crown has never looked better.

The plush, 5-star hotel sitting on its lofty throne, overlooks The Irish Sea and not one, but two championship layouts, the Ailsa Course and the more recently rejuvenated, Kintyre Course. Turnberry flaunts its celebrity in the same Edwardian style it has for over a century, but with more self-confidence than ever. Turnberry's fabled Ailsa Course is now firmly embedded as the top ranked layout in the entire British Isles and after hosting The British Open for the fourth time in 2009, has earned its stripes as a fully-fledged member of the elite club of golfing legends.

Back in 1945, the last thing Turnberry looked like was the setting for The British Open. The rolling expanse of fairways and greens had been leveled by bulldozers for use as an airbase during World War ll. Concrete runways, empty airplane hangars, fuel storage tanks, a control tower and abandoned military living accommodations, littered what had previously been a pristine coastline containing a pair of highly respected links layouts.

The great Mackenzie Ross was brought in to resurrect the courses after the war and by 1951 the mission had been accomplished - Turnberry was now restored to its rightful place as one of the world's premier golf resorts, ranked among the most beautiful.

Accolades have been heaped upon the Ailsa Course ever since. Some have called it the Pebble Beach of Europe, while others consider Pebble Beach, the Turnberry of America. Consistently ranked as one of the top 3 courses in the British Isles for almost a decade, the Ailsa Course was elevated to the number one position in 2007. Golf Digest Magazine gave the Ailsa 11th position among their Top 100 Courses Outside of the USA and the course regularly appears as one of the world's top 20 layouts. Whichever way you slice it, play Turnberry's Ailsa and you will be playing the crème de la crème of courses.

The level of maintenance here compares to the best and the layout has a never-ending variety of challenges, including strong, stirring holes that range from extremely difficult to others that encourage more aggressive play. Above all the Ailsa is a very honest course, devoid of trickery -- and while it provides plenty of drama, it also offers subtleties in profusion. The thinking golfer is always well rewarded.

On a course with no weak holes, the first three par-4's that lead to the sea may be the least strong. But the Ailsa can easily be forgiven, as these are only the opening act for the star-studded show that follows.

The sequence of holes running from the 4th to the 11th is arguably the best eight consecutive holes of any links course in existence. Hugging the shoreline, they tease, tantalize and frustrate with an ever-changing set of challenges and tests with no let up -- this is Scottish links golf at its very best.

The golf examination provides some respite for the next three holes and then, just as you have caught your breath, the Ailsa shows that the fight is far from over. From the perilously long par-3, 15th to the 16th, where a meandering burn jealously protects the green, the holes become increasingly difficult as they lead up to the grand finale.

The 18th may appear to be surprisingly calm; until you recall this was the same stage where one of the most dramatic finishes in British Open history took place. It was here in 1977 that Tom Watson beat Jack Nicklaus by a single stroke and all of the drama occurred on this very hole.

Turnberry's Ailsa Course is a legend of golf and a layout to be savored and enjoyed to the fullest. This is links golf at its most splendid and a challenge every golfer must experience at least once. I guarantee the memory will last a lifetime. But don't leave Turnberry without also experiencing the property's second championship layout, the Kintyre Course.

The Kintyre doesn't compete with its much-lauded older brother; it complements it. There was never any attempt to copy The Ailsa and as a result, The Kintyre offers a totally different kind of challenge, filled with its own character. Golf World Magazine recognized this in 2006 when it ranked The Kintyre as # 31 among all Scottish courses. This layout presents a serious challenge to be appreciated by even the most seasoned player.

Originally opened in 1909 as The Arran Course, just like Ailsa, it served as a military airfield during both world wars, suffering some painful abuse in the process. Twice it was rebuilt, including an impressive renovation by the great Mackenzie Ross after World War ll. It wasn't until 1999 the owners decided The Arran was worthy of a complete rebuild, a challenge awarded to noted English architect, Donald Steel.

Retaining the best of the old Arran Course, adding more land with some brand new holes, a totally new layout was inaugurated in the summer of 2001 to great acclaim. So dramatic was the change, a re-christening was deemed appropriate and The Kintyre was born.

Ridding itself of the dreaded "Second Course" tag it had carried for more than 90 years, a rejuvenated Kintyre embarked on a new life as a championship course in its own right.

In the brief 10 years since that important career change, The Kintyre has proved to be more than worthy of its newfound status and only seems to be getting better with each passing year. Steel has produced a thoroughly exhilarating layout, now stretching to over 6,850 yards, with just enough mischievousness built in to keep any player on their toes.

Turnberry can indeed now boast a pair of champions and as if to prove the point, The Kintyre was selected as a final qualifier for both the 2004 British Open, held at Royal Troon and again in 2009 when big brother Ailsa, hosted golf's event of the year for the fourth time.

Visitors come to Turnberry to play The Ailsa, but those who don't also include a round on The Kintyre, will be missing a real treat and a gutsy track with a very bright future.

For more suggestions on how to include Turnberry in your Scottish golf trip, contact the Scotland experts at Golf International by calling toll free 1 (800) 833-1389, or click here.

©2011 David Brice / Golf International, Inc. All Rights Reserved. Golf International -- Providers of quality golf travel arrangements since 1988.

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