Ayr on a Shoe String
Everyone has their own idea of what
constitutes the perfect golf trip. For
some, it has to involve resort courses
in foreign climes where good weather
is virtually guaranteed. For more
hardy souls, there is nothing to beat a lengthy
tour covering hundreds of miles with a different
stopover every night and a different type of
challenge every day.
But for real perfection,
consider this. Take a budget airline flight to an
area containing possibly Britain’s greatest
concentration of first-grade links, including
three Open Championship venues. In my own
case, this amounted to £4.99 – yes £4.99 – for a
one-hour, 300-mile journey.
Next to no travel is
involved once you get there, making a one-day,
dawn-to-dusk, reasonably-priced 36-hole trip
from the other end of Britain perfectly feasible.
In fact, as you walk out of the airport, the first
course to stage the Open is visible across the
road in front of you, right next to the railway
Its neighbours stretch back-to-back for
miles up and down a glorious stretch of
coastline. Prices range from £15 for a round at
an exceptionally good municipal course to £135
for a day ticket at one of golf’s truly great clubs.
Furthermore: the natives are renowned for
their hospitality, there is a vast array of good
restaurants and pubs, and you will find excellent
accommodation starting at around £20-£30 a
If the budget is not a problem, just down
the coast is one of the world’s finest hotels
costing rather more. Should you feel the need
for a taste of night life after a day spent slaving
over a hot golf course, the bright lights of an
extremely lively city are 30 miles up the road.
And after you have holed your final putt of a
memorable trip, you can fly back home for as
little as – wait for it – £1.99 if you have booked
far enough in advance, taking the price for the
600-mile round-trip air tickets from southeast
England to the grand total of £6.98.
If that sounds like your perfect golf tour, too,
then look no further than the hallowed links of Ayrshire in southwest Scotland, less than an
hour’s drive from Glasgow. Here are names to
stir the blood.
Right opposite the airport that shares its name
is Prestwick, designed by Old Tom Morris,
home of the first 12 Opens, a living link with the
origins of the game and renowned for its
terrifying first tee-shot hard up against the wall
that borders the railway line, its vast, sleepered
bunkers and its baffling blind holes.
All around these ancient dunes lies an aura of
tradition and history, and the player is left with
the overwhelming sense of walking in the
footsteps of golf’s most revered figures.
Right next door is Royal Troon, one of the
current championship venues (the dates for your
diary next year are July 15-18) and home of both
the longest and the shortest holes on any Open
course – the 577-yard 6th and the tiny but deadly
8th, the 126-yard Postage Stamp. It was here that
former champion Gene Sarazen played one of the
most celebrated shots in Open history when,at the
age of 71, he holed-in-one with a 5-iron. Be sure
to make your score on the outward half here, for
the inward stretch presents one of the most
formidable finishes in golf.
All around this pair of jewels in the dunes lie
other courses of a purity to bedazzle the links
lover, among them Glasgow Gailes, Southern
Gailes, Irvine Bogside, Prestwick St Nicholas and Kilmarnock Barassie. That’s not to mention
about 100 more of various types throughout this
corner of Scotland. And if it’s a real bargain
you’re after, there are two ways to achieve
outstanding value for money. Multi-venue passes
starting at £60 for three days and £90 for five
days give access to some of Scotland’s best
courses, while an astonishingly small fee will
gain you entry to one of the region’s golf weeks,
involving several rounds of genial but serious
competition for a number of trophies.
One of the finest links on the Ayrshire coast is
Western Gailes, a classic layout just two
fairways wide for virtually its entire length
beside the shore. It’s one of the final qualifying
venues whenever the Open is played in this area.
Certainly the quality of its undulating fairways,
velvet greens and deep bunkers is the equal of
any championship course, and it is held in such
regard that it is frequented by the world’s top
players in the run-up to the year’s third major as
the ideal preparation for the special demands
imposed by links golf.
To complete the perfect trip, it is often a good idea to save the best till last. And if there is one
way to sum up the Ailsa Course at Turnberry, it
is simply that. The best.
Only superlatives can do justice to this magical
place and the sheer glory of its setting, the
breathtaking sweep of its impeccable fairways
to superb rolling greens high above the
spectacular coastline, and the severity – yet
unquestionable fairness – of its challenge.
In all of golf, there is nothing to surpass the
inspiring beauty of a brilliant blue day at
Turnberry, which now boasts another thrilling
18 holes in the marvellous Donald Steel designed
And if the wind gets up
or the rain comes down?
Well, that’s all part of
the test on a great links.
Between its start and its finish beneath the
white gleam of its world-class hotel (recently
ranked the second-best golf resort in the world
by Condé Nast Traveler magazine in the United
States), the incomparable Ailsa Course serves
up an experience never to be forgotten. But
there is one particular section more than any
other that haunts the mind long after returning
to the ordinary world.
From the par-three 4th hard by the beach, the
player will be aware of a heightening sense of
drama and anticipation as he battles his way along the desperately difficult coastal holes to
the 11th, with the near-mystical presence of
Ailsa Craig far out at sea a constant companion.
This sense reaches a climax at the 9th, with its
nerve-racking tee-shot over the rocks and
crashing waves under the gaze of the worldfamous
Surely the most focused of
golfers – perhaps even Tom Watson and Jack
Nicklaus themselves during their legendary
‘Duel in the Sun’ at the 1977 Open – would find
it impossible to avoid breaking off from their
game for a moment and gazing at such majestic
As one of my playing partners put it: “This is
like the cathedral of golf.”
And that has to be worth a pilgrimage.