Turnberry and I go back a long way, 1964 to be precise, from rounds played with my father-in-law when his subscription was just £15 per annum.
Having had a 50-year love affair with the course, I would have doubted that it could be improved, but what I am now 100 per cent sure of is that Martin Ebert’s interventions have lifted it from one of the UK’s top three to one of the world’s top three.
You would have to live in a cave not to be aware of the plans to extend the wonderful run of five holes that hug the coast by a further three: two new par 3s with awesome carries across water on the new 9th and 11th holes and a new par-5 10th following the sweep of Castle Port Bay.
Golfers throughout the world have been excited by the fly-through video of the changes. However, the course improvements extend to virtually all 18 holes, as I learned last month when I joined director of golf Ricky Hall in walking the course and later talking to Georgina Snow, the resort’s woman teaching professional.
Starting our walk at the 1st, it is 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 hole 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. Ricky also pointed out the signifi cant change to the fairway bunkers.
As a result of Martin Ebert’s historic review, the sterile revetted faces introduced in the 80s have been superseded by the natural style of edges introduced by Mackenzie Ross when he restored the course in the 1940s.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 virtually 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. My own reaction in walking the course is that the changes to every hole instigated either by Martin Ebert or Mr Trump (and 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.
Space limitations preclude this, so I shall simply concentrate on the holes which now fully exploit this stunning shoreline.
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.
However, the outward nine now finishes with what will undoubtedly be regarded as the most spectacular hole on the Open rota.
Plans to replace the present hogback 9th have been around for at least as long as I have played the course but the money hasn’t been there. The Trump billions have changed all that, and the opportunity taken to create an 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 at present, 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.
We are now on the homeward stretch with the haven of the hotel in the distance. The biggest change here 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 wellbunkered 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 to me: “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, like mine, resides in the past, or who struggles to break 90, or the golfer 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.
I have always said that one of the great attractions of golf is that while I could never hope to play football at Wembley or rugby at Twickenham, I can (and have) played every Open venue, walking in the footsteps of the golf immortals.
At Turnberry I, and anyone else, can actually get ahead of the said immortals by playing this unbelievably improved course immediately, and if that is not a definition of perfection, I don’t know what is.