Played by NCG: Gailes Links
Reason for a Gailes Links review
The Scottish round of NCG’s Secretaries’ Days was taking place at the club and, never one to miss the chance to play a links, I popped along.
Where is Gailes Links?
People talk about the golden stretch of golf courses in Surrey but this patch of Ayrshire is up with the best of them.
What to expect
I’d waited a long time to tick Gailes Links off my courses played list so was very excited to get out and sample a track designer Willie Park Jnr described as one of his favourite creations.
It was a final qualifying course for the Open until last year so expect to be challenged, particularly if you are a player who is often offline.
As with all proper links courses, the railway line forms a pivotal part of the layout and out of bounds is a companion on a number of holes.
Gailes is often labelled as ‘classic links’ but I think it’s far subtler than that. You won’t be wowed by hole after hole hugging the shoreline and, as you traverse the layout, it becomes fairly heathland in places.
The club have recently stripped out a lot of the gorse for which it was once notorious but plenty remains and when it is in full flower, as it was when I visited, it is quite a sight.
The conditioning of the course was absolutely first rate.
Being an average hitter at best, it was very satisfying to hit drives that bounced, ran, and allowed me to hit some under-used clubs (the short irons) for approaches.
I often – and probably unfairly – judge a course by its par 3s. Even though there are only a trio in this par 71, the offering at Gailes is very strong.
The 6th is a conundrum and I was lucky to get a very favourable bounce off a bank to negotiate it successfully.
The 12th, which played into a three-club wind, was fiercely difficult while the 15th looks straight-forward but there is no future for anyone who slides it right.
With the greens running at an even pace, and very true, it was a memorable experience.
It’s hard to find a signature hole at Gailes Links – the course is consistently excellent without boasting a showstopper.
But the 9th, a drivable par 4 at 307 yards off the whites, still stands out. With gorse tightly packed in on both sides of the fairway, you’ve got to be an accurate hitter if you’re going to take this on – especially with a bunker sitting at 285 on the right hand side of the green.
Even if you take the cautious option, as I did with a hybrid, there is plenty to think about on the approach.
The mushroom green has sharp run offs on all sides and, with the surface generally on the fast side, you’ve got to be precise. More gorse awaits anyone who is long or is unfortunate to pick up an unlucky bounce.
It’s key, when missing the green and putting, to be positive if the ball isn’t going to end up back at your feet. It’s quite a challenge for a hole that’s only stroke index 13!
My best bit
Draining a double breaking 15-footer on the par 3 15th for a two was a good feeling, especially since I’d missed a sitter at the 6th when seeking the same outcome.
I also managed to negotiate the front nine in 39. A stretch of four pars in five approaching the turn was some of the best golf I’d played all year.
What to look for
If you are going for a walk around, try to visit during the Tennant Cup, which takes place annually at Gailes Links. It’s the oldest open amateur strokeplay event in the world.
When I go back
I’ll be a touch more defensive on the 12th, after short-siding myself and having no way of holding the green with my chip.
I’ll also try to finish better as a double bogey at the last was a weak way to conclude a promising round.