Editor's Note: The following article is written by David Brice, President of Golf International. Established in 1988, Golf International specializes in the design and operation of quality golf trips to Scotland, Ireland, Northern Ireland, England, Wales, France, Spain and Portugal. The articles written by David represent trips available to Golf International customers. Click here to learn more about Golf International.
The county of Ayrshire, located along the southwest coast of Scotland, boasts one of the world's most valuable pieces of golf real estate. Extending from Turnberry in the south to just beyond the town of Troon to the north, this brief stretch of little more than 40 miles of coastline is filled to overflowing with a concentration of more than 20 golf courses. World-class all, they include 9 of Scotland's top 50 layouts and 3 deemed of an excellence high enough to be selected as hosts to The British Open.
It's difficult to comprehend how so many quality courses can fit into such a small area, but fit they do, creating a golfer's dream come true. Ayrshire is golf manna from heaven and something every player will only drool over.
Whether there is one among the group that can lay claim to being the best of the best, is a very debatable point. There are those that have seniority, with a proved consistency over more than a century to qualify themselves. Others of far more recent vintage may be the equal of the centenarians, but have not been around long enough in this tradition bound game to be eligible for a Best in Show ranking. Some have intentionally kept a low profile, preferring to avoid any signs of over-commercialism and still more that are even worthy of being a British Open venue, but lack the infrastructure to accommodate the event.
To single one course out as Ayrshire's very best would take a braver man than me, as there are a half dozen that have at least some claim to such a lofty title, among them the venerable, Royal Troon Golf Club.
At 133 years of age, Royal Troon's Championship Course has never looked better. It remains as feisty a links layout as it has ever been, perhaps even feistier and more than capable of humbling the most accomplished player. As a well-seasoned venue for The Open, having hosted the event on 8 occasions, with certainly more ahead, Royal Troon is firmly entrenched in the elite club of currently only 9 courses in Britain honored as members of The Open Rota. This is, without doubt one of the jewels in Ayrshire's golfing crown and a true champion among champions.
Today, one of Scotland's most prestigious golf clubs, Troon's beginnings were far more humble, when in 1878, a small group of local golfers gathered in the bar of the Portland Arms Hotel in Troon -- their mission, to form a golf club. This congenial gathering over a few glasses of ale and friendly banter, resulted in the beginnings of what is now known as Royal Troon Golf Club.
Their original facility, laid out by the Keeper of the Greens at neighboring Prestwick Golf Club, consisted of a modest five holes and an abandoned railway carriage that would serve as an even more modest clubhouse. With less than 20 members, Troon Golf Club was born.
Within a year of opening, a sixth hole had been added and by 1888 Troon was boasting a full eighteen holes. With help along the way from 1883 British Open Champion, Willie Fernie, noted designer James Braid, Dr. Alistair MacKenzie of Augusta fame and English architect, Frank Pennick, Troon has received the doting care and attention of some of the world's most talented masters of course design.
It hosted its first Open in 1923 and has produced an impressive bevy of Open Champions including, Bobby Locke, Arnold Palmer, Tom Weiskopf, Tom Watson, Mark Calcavecchia, Justin Leonard and most recently, Todd Hamilton who took the 2004 Open crown. This is a course that clearly favors Americans.
In 1978, Troon's centenary year, the club received royal patronage - Royal Troon remains the first (and last) golf club in Britain to have been granted Royal status during the 58 year reign of Queen Elizabeth ll, a fitting tribute to an extraordinary golfing institution.
This is a traditional out and back links layout with the opening few holes showing a kinder side of the course's sometimes merciless character. These short par-4's run picturesquely along the shoreline of the Firth of Clyde, offering an opportunity to soak in the scenery -- Ailsa Craig to the distant south and to the west, the majestic mountains of the Isle of Arran. Enjoy the views while you may for there is serious work ahead. Royal Troon is tough from beginning to end, but the toughest holes of all run through the mid-section.
The most famous, or perhaps infamous hole of all is the Postage Stamp, the deceivingly short, 123 yard eighth and the scene of many a disaster over the years. It holds a birdie opportunity for any who may be able to hold the miniscule green, or a sure calamity for the majority who will be doomed to find one of the five, deep surrounding bunkers
In the 1950 Open, it took German amateur, Herman Tissies, 15 strokes to complete this beautiful but heartless hole -- a tee shot, a single putt and 13 bunker shots in what seemed to be more a strange game of table tennis than it was golf. By comparison, the legendary Gene Sarazen, at the age of 72 played Royal Troon during the 1973 Open and on consecutive days took a grand total of just 3 strokes to play the eighth hole twice and never took his putter out of the bag! This is a true death or glory hole.
Just as Troon's eighth is the shortest hole on any British Open circuit, so the sixth hole is one of The Open's longest, measuring an imposing 599 yards that demands pinpoint accuracy every inch of the way. Strategically placed fairway bunkers can prove fatal as a young Bobby Clampett discovered during the 1982 Open. After leading the field throughout the first three rounds, he found one of the sixth's infamous fairway bunkers. The resulting triple bogey destroyed Clampett's confidence and he fell totally out of contention.
Troon's eleventh, a 488-yard par 4 was once described by Arnold Palmer as the most dangerous hole he had ever seen and the thirteenth and fifteenth are barely any easier. Some have said Troon's closing holes lack some of the character that predominates the rest of the course, but most will disagree. This is one of the toughest of links courses in existence, so any perceived softness becomes a matter of relativity -- nothing on this entire layout could ever be considered anything less than testing.
Leave Royal Troon off your trip to the home of golf and you will be missing one of the very best.Visitor times may not be the easiest to come by and early booking is always the surest way to get on, but even then, with some flexibility concerning dates and an assist from a knowledgeable professional golf travel company such as Golf International, it's still possible, so don't miss it.
For some ideas on how to include North Berwick's West Course and a few other East Lothian gems on your family's Edinburgh vacation, contact the Scotland experts at Golf International and call toll free 1 (800) 833-1389 or click here.
©2010 David Brice / Golf International, Inc. All Rights Reserved.
Golf International -- Providers of quality golf travel arrangements since 1988.