Trump Turnberry (Ailsa)

Trump Turnberry (Ailsa)

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Course Information

Unlike some Open Championship venues, Turnberry is loved the world over. Ask the likes of Jack Nicklaus, Tom Watson, Gary Player and Greg Norman about the Ailsa and prepare for fulsome praise. Apart from the visual splendour, they like it quite simply because it invariably rewards good shots. The crumpled fairways of Royal St George’s, for example, are not to the liking of everyone. Some find Royal Lytham & St Annes, walled in on three sides, visually underwhelming. And Carnoustie, while its class is not in question, can sometimes prove unplayable, as witnessed just prior to the turn of the millenium.

But Turnberry seems to inspire nothing but affection from all who visit – from Open champions to thrill-seeking holidaymakers. The reasons – while multitudinous – are generally obvious. The views are magnificent throughout, with Ailsa Craig offering a constant brooding presence. This huge, granite rock has a haunting, captivating quality. Sometimes brilliantly clear, and sometimes shrouded by cloud, often its outline blurs and then fades from view completely.

The locals say that, if you can see it, rain is on the way. If not, it has already arrived. Like all links courses, the weather is a major factor but at Turnberry it influences more than your chances of a good score. The experience is simply incomplete without seeing the sun illuminate the famous lighthouse or, later in the day, melt into the Atlantic Ocean.

The third instantly recognisable landmark is the white hotel which stands proudly above the links, now adorning the Trump name as shall be discussed shortly. It is easy to see why it has become so popular with international tourists. The fact that the Ailsa hosted what many believe to be the greatest ever Open Championship is also in its favour.

When the game’s most prestigious tournament came to Turnberry for the first time in 1977, no-one could have predicted what would unfold. The finest two players of the day, Nicklaus and Watson, found themselves head-to-head at the very top of their form for the final 36 holes.

Later Hubert Green, who eventually finished a distant third, would declare that he considered himself the real champion since his two fellow Americans were playing a different game to the rest of the field. Starting the weekend level, both fired rounds of 65 to set up the final-day showdown.

Watson’s stunning finish – including an approach to within inches of the hole on the last green – gave him another 65 and a one-shot victory over his rival. Turnberry’s profile was instantly elevated and the championship has since returned twice.

With the winners in 1986 and 1994 Greg Norman and Nick Price respectively, it has a record of producing great champions. Watson’s emotional return to Turnberry in 2009 nearly furthered this record with one of the greatest stories in modern golfing history, but eventually Stewart Cink prevailed over the then 59-year-old in a playoff.

Since then, plenty has happened on this fabled property. The most notable occurence was the small matter of the club’s acquisition by the now ‘Leader of the Free World’, Mr. Donald Trump, in 2014.

With this purchase came a wealth of controversy associated with the US President, so much so that Turnberry’s return to the Open rota, as it were, sits now inbetween prolonged jeopardy and outright purgatory. A Trump branded Open doesn’t seem a part of the R&A’s future plans, which, although completely understandable in all practical and social regards, may be considered by some to be a golfing travesty.

Needless to say, the R&A have no doubts over the quality of the course, which has always stood out as one of the finest around despite a rocky history. Although its century-long life has been chequered to say the least, the Ailsa has endured hard times admirably. Originally owned by a railway company, the land was used in both World Wars as an airfield.

Fortunately, the stretch of holes along the coast were largely unscathed and Mackenzie Ross was able to restore the links using this land as the centrepiece. The result eventually became a course that held few peers in the British Isles.

Martin Ebert’s interventions have lifted the Ailsa from one of the UK’s top three courses to one of the world’s top three courses. It may, by some, be considered the best course across the entire globe.

Most, likely including the R&A, would have doubted that the Ailsa course, after this restoration from Ross and others, could be improved. But it has. In fact, through enlisting the help of Martin Ebert, Trump has brought about radical changes that have stunned those of the golfing world fortunate enough to have seen them.

Martin Ebert’s interventions have lifted the Ailsa from one of the UK’s top three courses to one of the world’s top three courses. It may, by some, be considered the best course across the entire globe.

While the changes were originally thought to be concentrated on a select few holes, the course improvements actually extend to most, if not all, of the 18 holes. Upon stepping on the 1st tee, it becomes immediately apparent how much higher the bar has been set both in terms of aesthetics and golfing challenge.

Formerly perhaps the softest start on the Open rota, the 1st has been lengthened by nearly 70 yards and the green moved 40 yards to the right and surrounded by fearsome bunkers. Additionally, it is now backed by high mounds, which not only mark the boundaries of the course better, but will also provide natural stadium vantage points for the spectators sharing the drama of the newly testing approach.

As a result of Martin Ebert’s historic review, a number of sterile revetted faces introduced in the 80s have been superseded by the natural style of edges introduced by Mackenzie Ross when he restored the course in the 1940s.

Not only is this an aesthetic improvement, it introduces more risk and reward to fairway bunker play. Around the green, however, the revetted style has been maintained in order to preserve the greenside drama, but the historic sinuous shapes have been restored to avoid boring “pot” bunker forms.

This dual aesthetic for fairway and greenside bunkers is applied consistently throughout the course, further enhancing its attractiveness. The 1st is just one of 10 wholly new holes on the course, a change so radical that Martin Ebert was concerned that his proposals might not find favour either with professionals or punters, who, polls show, regard Turnberry as their favourite Open venue.

He need not have worried. The changes to every hole instigated either by Ebert or Trump (Martin is insistent on giving credit to a “passionate” owner, particularly for insisting on creating the new par-3 9th) are such that the design of each and every hole is worthy of an essay in itself.

As if the natural setting is not memorable enough, there is also the presence of the iconic Stevenson lighthouse, not only a universally recognised landmark, but also now transformed into a halfway house beyond compare.

While space limitations preclude this, words must be shared regarding the holes that now fully exploit this beautiful coastline. Starting at the par-3 4th, the green has been moved closer to the ocean and the beach has been extended into the carry. An even more significant change is made on the walk from the 5th green to the 6th tee.

A new broad, irrigated grass path along the top of the coastal dune gives stunning views along Turnberry Bay to the lighthouse in the distance, and the combination of a new elevated tee to a new “postage stamp” green on the peak of another dune will create one of the classic short holes of links golf.

Turnberry Ailsa

However, the outward nine now finishes with what will undoubtedly be regarded as the most spectacular hole on the Open rota, if Turnberry returns to it in the foreseeable future. Plans to replace the hogback 9th have been around for decades but the money just hasn’t been there.

The Trump billions have changed all that, and the opportunity has finally been taken to create a simply awesome challenge, particularly for the professionals who will have to carry over 200 yards across the bay.

As if the natural setting is not memorable enough, there is also the presence of the iconic Stevenson lighthouse, not only a universally recognised landmark, but also now transformed into a halfway house beyond compare.

With high-end catering from a luxurious grill and drinks taken on an extensive sea-view terrace, there could be significant delays at the halfway stage as golfers find it difficult to tear themselves away from the incredible views.

However, the 10th awaits and is a treat, (and a challenge), worth waiting for. Extended to a par 5, at 562 yards, it is over 100 yards longer than before, sweeping round the bay. With its new green perched above the rocks and protected by the famous doughnut bunker extended to provide the greater threat, this is a hole to savour.

With the new green located on the site of the existing 11th tee, the new 11th tees are moved towards the ocean, creating another testing shot over a rocky shore. Now on the homeward stretch with the haven of the hotel in the distance, the phrase ‘between a rock and a hard place’, although literally correct in this sense, could not be further from the magnificent truth.

The biggest change in the run-in is to the par-5 17th, the easiest in successive Opens, which has been considerably stiffened by reducing it in length to a championship 499 yards and a par 4 designation, a move which has enabled the final significant change to the new Ailsa layout – the repositioning of the 18th tees, now sited on the very top of the coastal dunes.

Thus the spectators will see the players dramatically silhouetted against the sea as they hit their final drive. A well bunkered fairway provides for a final “risk-and-reward” choice set against the outstanding backdrop of James Miller’s magnificent hotel, a fitting climax to what will indubitably become the Open’s most dramatic venue.

Dramatic and, to the pros, even more of a challenge. As a respected professional said: “For me, Turnberry has always been the most attractive and enjoyable Open venue, with Carnoustie the toughest and fairest challenge, but with the improvements, Turnberry will be both”.

But what of the resort guest, whose best game resides in the past, or who struggles to break 90, or  who can’t hope to carry 200 yards of ocean? Well, Mr Trump has to run a profitable hotel and therefore has to present a course which all can enjoy, and has done so by providing “trophy” tees which reduce the course from a monstrous 7,453 yards to a manageable 6,250 yards for men and 5,800 for women.

One of the finest attractions of golf is that whilst one could never hope to play football at Wembley or rugby at Twickenham, one can play every Open venue, walking in the footsteps of the golf immortals.

At Turnberry, something special is available to all those willing to make, and pay for, the pilgrimage. A chance to beat said immortals and trace a path for them to follow at a course that, although already great, may now be the greatest of them all. If that is not a definition of golfing perfection, then perhaps nothing is.

Top Holes

5th 531 yards, par 5

Named Fin Me Oot, and no wonder, because locating the green in the right number of shots is some challenge. Previously a long par 4 and now a sporty par 5, you want to be playing your approach from as far to the right as possible because the green is set at an angle to the fairway. But doing so involves flirting with bunkers and making the hole play longer than its yardage suggests.

8th 476 yards, par 4

This long par 4 played towards the lighthouse with the sea on your left is as strong a two-shotter as you are ever likely to encounter. The fairway cambers from left to right and three bunkers await anything even fractionally leaked. The massive green is set above the level of the fairway and will sympathetically accept a solid, straight shot in but nothing else will get as far as the front edge.

10th 565 yards, par 5

A long par 5 that can be shortened, especially if you manage to take the inside line to sneak past the bunkers in the middle of the fairway. Then you can get a forward bounce down the hill and enjoy the approach to a large, infinity green with the sea behind it. Watching a sweetly struck iron shot soaring towards this green is a special sight indeed.


Mackenzie Ross & Martin Ebert

01655 331 000

Westin Resort , Turnberry , Ayrshire , KA26 9LT