Western Gailes: A links treat to test the best

August 08, 2012
David Brice, Golf International, Inc.

Scotland's southwestern shoreline, is a land of rolling hills with impressive sea and landscapes and a generous helping of Scottish history. It's a picturesque, pastoral region that has inspired writers, architects, artists and revolutionaries for centuries.

This was the birthplace of Scotland's 18th century poet laureate, Robert Burns, whose writings arouse the same Scots passion today as they did 250 years ago. Here you will find Culzean Castle, considered the crowning achievement of the revolutionary 18th century architect, Robert Adam. William Wallace, 13th century Scots hero of the War of Independence was born here and Ayrshire also happens to be filled with one of Scotland's most magnificent collections of links golf courses.

Wherever you find one good links course, chances are there will be others nearby and nowhere is this piece of golf wisdom more true than in this part of Scotland. Boasting three British Open venues, all concentrated into a brief, 40-mile stretch of coastline, there's a wealth of other excellent links with names far less familiar in the area.

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Western Gailes is one links gem among Ayshire's many.
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Western Gailes is acknowledged as one of Scotland's great links layouts.
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Western Gailes is a links connoisseur's delight. Dont miss it.
Crafty bunkering can create serious problems for the uninitiated.
An active railway line marks Western Gailes' eastern boundry.

Turnberry, Prestwick and Royal Troon, are only the beginning of Ayrshire's glorious, links golf story; there are many more links calling out to be played which, were they separated further away from their more famous neighbors, would have gained far greater fame. Along the Ayrshire coast, there's no such thing as a poor links course -- each and everyone classifies as a gem.

At the very top of the listing of lesser-known layouts however, must come Western Gailes, a unique course that encapsulates so many of the glorious qualities of Scottish links golf. Ranked among Scotland's Top 15 and 40th in the entire British Isles, this is a real jewel and many would insist, the shining star in the galaxy of links courses calling Ayshire home. Despite its many golfing attributes, far too many visitors sadly overlook Western Gailes.

Western Gailes Golf Club was formed in 1897 by a group of successful though frugal merchants from the city of Glasgow. Having quickly invested what most considered as too much on a piece of shoreline property to accommodate their own course, they decided cost savings would have to be made on the development of the layout. The thrifty membership saw no reason to hire a famous and thus expensive golf architect to design the course and instead hired an anonymous local greens keeper for the task. With no formal training and little experience, his job was simply to design and build a course for the Western Gailes membership. The mystery designer did a remarkable job, and today the classic Scottish links he produced at Western Gailes is considered to be one of the finest in the entire country. Many consider it superior to both Royal Troon and Turnberry.

Bordered on one side by a railway line and the other by the sea, this is an exceedingly narrow layout, with an entire width no more than the two fairways permitted by the meager 130-acre site. But this is 6,714 yards of golf magic, presenting variety and challenges, rarely found in a single course.

The two, out and back loops, conveniently brings the long stretch between the 4th and 13th (with play into the prevailing wind) through the middle holes and before fatigue has set in. But this small mercy can easily run amuck as the fickle Irish Sea has a curious habit of changing its mind, together with the wind that blows off it. So take nothing for granted.

There are a surprising thirteen par-4 holes -- varying in length from 309 to 450 yards -- making this a true test of club selection, with the chances very much in favor of the player being forced to use every club in the bag.

The challenge is only compounded by the finely contoured greens, immaculately maintained and most ingeniously located, set into the folds of the surrounding sand dunes. Needless to say, pot bunkers 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.

What may be lacking in the way of aesthetics at Western Gailes is more than made up for the variety of challenges it presents. At times holes are reminiscent of Turnberry, while others bring back memories of Royal Troon and Prestwick, yet the course always retains a very distinct and charming character, entirely of its own.

Fame and fortune may not as yet have overtaken Western Gailes, even though it has received recognition over the years. It hosted the PGA Championships in 1964, the Curtis Cup in 1972 and innumerable National Championships, both amateur and professional since opening. It was at Western Gailes in 1903 that the great Harry Vardon won the first important championship staged here and the course is a regular British Open qualifier, whenever The Open is being held at Turnberry or Royal Troon.

Even though Western Gailes is eminently qualified from the standpoint of quality and challenge to host the British Open, sadly that day will never come. Its confined site is far too small to handle the masses that a modern day Major demands.

Such details, however, should not detract from the appeal Western Gailes holds as a real golfer's golf course. For those who play this magnificent links, the discovery awaits that Western Gailes contains more of the good things of links golf than any other.

For suggestions on how to incorporate Western Gailes and other top flight links courses of southwest Scotland into your itinerary, contact the Scotland experts at Golf International by calling toll-free, 1-800-833-1389, or click here. For more travel ideas on golf trips call 1 (212) 447-5003 or click here.

©2012 David Brice / Golf International, Inc. All Rights Reserved. Golf International -- Providers of quality golf travel arrangements since 1988.