Anyone who commuted to Royal Troon by train from Glasgow on their way to 2016’s Open Championship will have enjoyed their journeys up and down the Ayrshire coast. The temptation must have been to hop off at one of the stations and change into spikes, because for a 10-mile stretch it’s like one big golf course. If you don’t know the area especially well it’s difficult to see where one layout stops and the other starts.
The railway skirts past the likes of Irvine Bogside, Dundonald, Glasgow Gailes, Western Gailes, Troon itself and – beyond that – Prestwick. It comes into play on every one of them, although never more so than on Troon’s 11th or Prestwick’s infamous 1st.
So special is this golfing region, it even inspired a verse from a particularly happy group of travelling golfers:
“Troon and Prestwick – old and classy,
Bogside, Dundonald, Gailes, Barassie.
Prestwick St Nicholas, Western Gailes,
St Cuthbert, Portland – memory fails.
Troon Municipal (three links there)
Prestwick Municipal, Irvine, Ayr.
They faced the list with delighted smiles:
Sixteen courses within 10 miles!”
Just opposite Western Gailes, on your left as you travel towards Troon by rail, is another layout of the highest quality. Unassuming, modest and partly concealed beyond tall pines is Kilmarnock Barassie. You could be excused for missing it if you were staring out to sea on your way past.
But that would be a shame, because although there may be as many as a dozen courses within a 10-mile radius that are more famous, few can rival its rich history or the quality of its carpet-like greens.
Although the club celebrated its centenary back in 1987 however, it has recently undergone significant change. The decision was taken to add nine new holes, partly to ensure the existing course never became outdated and partly to secure the future of a portion of land that might otherwise one day have become housing or an industrial estate.
The new holes now supplement the best of the original 18 and that has resulted in the overall yardage being increased from a relatively modest 6,486 yards to an altogether more weighty 6,817.
In the winter, or whenever a hole needs to be taken out of play, it can be replaced by one of equal quality. At other times, a nine-holer of unrivalled standing is available to make sure Barassie members need never go without a game, no matter how busy the season.
Much more importantly, the quality of the main course, by which any club stands or falls, has not been compromised. But then it was hardly a gamble to extend beyond the original boundaries at the far end of the course.
There may be as many as a dozen courses within a 10-mile radius that are more famous, but few can rival Kilmarnock Barassie’s rich history or the quality of its carpet-like greens.
In this part of the world new holes are merely those set to the purpose of golf at a later date – one look across the landscape at the far end of Barassie is enough to confirm the impression that they’ve really been there for a good hundred years.
To those visiting for the first time, the only way of knowing where the old and new merge is by crossing beyond a small stone wall. The first three holes of the new layout use the 3rd, 4th and 5th from the original. The relatively gentle former opener is therefore dispensed with, meaning a start of 509, 394 and 430 yards playing into and across the prevailing wind.
On a calm day, it’s not too severe, with a generous fairway awaiting the opening drive. With a breeze up, a good round can be ruined by the time the burn that traverses the 2nd fairway has been safely negotiated. The 3rd hole used to be rated the hardest on the course and it’s still one of the most dangerous, with out of bounds running up its entire right side.
After that it’s across to the new holes, which run on more open land all the way to the new course at Dundonald, a recent site of the 2017 Scottish Open where players honed their games at the seaside the week before the Open Championship.
First comes the relative respite of a par three, before a whole host of right-to-left doglegs, ranging in length from a drive and a pitch to substantial three-shotters. While Barassie always excelled with its shorter, strategic par fours, these longer holes offer something different altogether.
After nine holes in succession on the new ground, it’s back across the wall to what used to be the 6th, 7th and 8th, the beginning of a strong run of closing holes. The 16th is a par five that can be reached in two strong shots, followed by a long, straight par four that simply demands shots of a similar description.
What the closing hole lacks in length it makes up for in subtlety, with what is arguably the most awkward green on the course awaiting. Its severe contours mean two-putts here are never a formality.
If you have the energy, the other nine holes really shouldn’t be ignored. But then, with so many special courses literally surrounding it, you could also be excused for enjoying a quick drink, a bowl of soup and heading off for your next challenge.