Scotland's Southwest: Golf for aficionados

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September 22, 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.

Anyone with a love of golf and an appreciation for the game's history and traditions will sooner or later be drawn to Scotland -- that is inevitable. It will be a pilgrimage to golf's Mecca and the place where golf was born more than 600 years ago. These pilgrims will come to discover golf's roots; to see and play some of the same links courses that shaped the game as we know it today, and walk in the footsteps of the greatest names golf has ever known.

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Prestwick hosted The Open 24 times before being retired.
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Turnberry occupies a coastline made for links courses.
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Overshadowed by its super-star big brother for almost a century, Donald Steel's makeover has brought Turnberry Kintyre into the spotlight.
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Royal Troon - A British Open venue since 1923.
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Western Gailes - One links gem among Ayshire's many.
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Dundonald - a more recent links addition to Southwest Scotland's already impressive golf collections.
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Glasgow Gailes is the handiwork of the very first British Open Champion, Willie Park and perhaps the best of his almost 200 course designs.
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At the top of the "must visit" list of every first time visitor will be the ancient small town of St. Andrews, golf's true birthplace, where the fabled St. Andrews Old Course holds a position of honor, sitting right in the middle of town -- this is the heart of golf. But Scotland is a country filled with golf and wherever you have a heart, there must also be a soul and golf's soul lies a brief two and a half hour drive due west of St. Andrews, in and around the golf-rich county of Ayrshire. Just as St. Andrews belongs on every first-timers list of places to visit and play golf, so too does this beautiful southwest coast.

Ayrshire is home to Prestwick Golf Club, where The British Open came into being back in 1860. Prestwick was the venue for a total of 24 Opens until 1925 when the attending masses had simply grown too large for this prestigious club to handle, and it was gracefully withdrawn from the Open Rota. Prestwick is still fully operational as a functioning golf club today and it warmly welcomes visitors to experience as important a piece of golf history as exists in all of Scotland.

The 160 year old course is an authentic, traditional links layout, filled with the 19th century oddities and quirks that were the fashion of the day. There are blind holes to contend with and fairways that at times may seem unfair with their humps and hillocks. The greens are often oddly contoured and the steep-faced pot-bunkers uncommonly deep, but Prestwick has been this way since its beginnings and this is how it tested those first Open players way back in 1860.

A round of golf on Prestwick is an historic experience and to be savored and enjoyed as such. You will be stepping back in time and literally walking in the footsteps of those great players of old, your advantage is that you will be playing with the help of modern technology and not the hickory clubs and feather stuffed balls of a century ago.

After golf, take an hour or two to explore Prestwick's clubhouse, it contains an outstanding collection of golf memorabilia and even more of the rich history that sets golf apart from other sports. The entire Prestwick experience is unquestionably unique and something not to be missed.

There's another Ayrshire prize waiting just a half hour's drive down the coast from Prestwick at the 5 star resort of Turnberry, which boasts two championship links layouts' including the number one rated track in the entire British Isles, Turnberry's Ailsa Course.

Some have called this the Pebble Beach of Scotland while others consider Pebble Beach to be America's Turnberry - no matter what the perspective, The Ailsa Course is one truly outstanding links and without doubt belongs up there alongside the world's most elite.

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.

The Ailsa Course was first brought onto The Open Rota in 1977 when it produced one of the most exciting finishes in British Open history with a young Tom Watson beating Jack Nicklaus by a single stroke on the 72nd hole.

Thirty two years later an almost 60 year-old Tom Watson gave perhaps an even more thrilling performance when Turnberry hosted its fourth Open in 2009 and at the final hole, Watson shared the lead with Stewart Cink. A world-wide audience of literally millions was staunchly behind the much older Tom, but this time, youth would triumph as Tom lost in the play-off and was denied his 6th Open Championship. But what an inspiration Tom Watson had been to senior players around the globe, motivating many to dust-off the clubs and test their skills on Scotland's links, especially Turnberry, at least one more time.

Another, not to be missed Ayrshire Championship Course is the highly esteemed, Royal Troon Golf Club, an eight time British Open host, located in the small coastal resort town of Troon, the hub of Southwestern Scotland's golfing wealth. Make Troon your home base and most of Ayrshire's golfing wonders will be within a half hour's drive and several, even closer

Sadly, most visitors only spend two or three nights in the area, limiting their attention to Ayrshire's big three -- Turnberry Ailsa, Royal Troon and Prestwick, then with the mission accomplished, drive off to other parts of the country in search of more trophy courses. If only they knew the jewels they had overlooked and they were all sitting on the doorstep.

Not all have readily recognized names, but don't let that deter you from experiencing them -- they include some of Scotland's best kept golf secrets.

Western Gailes Golf Club will be unfamiliar to most visitors, yet this superb layout sits barely ten minutes from Troon, content to be consistently ranked among Scotland's top dozen courses, remains one of the great unsung heroes of links golf.

Bordered on one side by a railway line and the other by the sea, this is an extremely narrow layout, with an entire width no more than the two fairways permitted by the meager 139 acre site. But this is 6,714 yards of links magic, presenting a variety of different challenges rarely found in a single course.

The two out and back loops, conveniently bring the long stretch between the 4th and 13th (with play into the prevailing wind) through the middle holes and before fatigue has set in - a small mercy that can easily run amuck as the fickle sea has a curious habit of changing its mind, together with the wind that blows off it. Take nothing for granted at Western Gailes!

The challenges are only compounded by the finely contoured greens, immaculately maintained and most ingeniously located and set into the folds of the surrounding sand dunes. Pot bunkers, deep and hungry, are in no short supply and to add a little spice to the round, meandering burns pop up strategically and immediately in front of four of the greens.

Miss playing Western Gailes and you will be missing a real treat and a round of links golf for the memory book. And there are more Ayrshire gems nearby, all calling out for some attention.

Dundonald Links may only be an 8 year old youngster, but it's an excellent layout from the drawing board of Kyle Phillips, the Californian architect who was responsible for the now famous, Kingsbarns at St. Andrews. Kyle has produced a very testing, traditional links that has the maturity and appearance of a centenarian. Huge and often severely contoured greens with very clever bunkering are the hallmarks of this outstanding design, assuring another memorable round for all.

Glasgow Gailes is another dazzler of a links, dating from 1892, always used as a British Open qualifying course when the main event is held at Royal Troon or Turnberry. Glorious greens, rugged rough and a collection of 18 holes where no two are even vaguely similar, makes every round an adventure, brilliantly demonstrating why links golf is the purest form of the game.

And still Ayshire has more hidden links gems to reveal, each with a charm, character and unique Scottish style, making them all irresistible to any connoisseur of the Royal & Ancient game. For more ideas and suggestions on how to include the very best of Southwest Scotland's amazing collection of world-class links on your 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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