There are some places where you simply need to utter the name and you instinctively know it is golf. St Andrews. Augusta.
And, in my humble opinion, Turnberry. Just the mention of the moniker, to those of us of a certain age, catapults to that glorious summer of ’77 and the Duel in the Sun.
Tom Watson is synonymous with the place – outlasting Jack Nicklaus 46 years ago before an awkward bounce and a missed putt were all that separated him from a miraculous second Claret Jug there in 2009.
The Ayrshire complex has been on the bucket list of many a golfer since those legends were made and, if I can confess, it has held a place on mine for years.
Finally, I’ve been able to tick the box.
I was invited to see Turnberry’s new Ailsa Club, which the resort says will allow founding members to “indulge in unparalleled luxury”.
Unlimited golf on the iconic Ailsa, the King Robert the Bruce, and the 9-hole Arran course comes as standard along with access to a private members’ lounge and terrace that overlooks the Ailsa’s 18th green.
There are four distinct Ailsa Club memberships which can be tailored to suit the needs of you and your family.
There’s far more than merely golf, though, to sample at the resort. With Turnberry Adventures, you can ride at the equestrian centre, try clay pigeon shooting, or even a simulated game shoot at a nearby estate.
You, and a few close pals, can also experience the majesty of the chef’s table – a snug enclave in the heart of the kitchen where a specially selected menu will be prepared right in front of your eyes.
But let’s start by dealing with the elephant in the room. For some of you, the notion of stepping foot onto the property will be unconscionable. For others, sport and politics will never mix.
I understand both points of view and I’m not going to spend this review taking sides but simply trying to tell you what Turnberry is like.
There is a sense too the resort itself is aware of the controversy it causes in some quarters. In the pro shop for example, said to be the biggest of its type in Europe, there’s a demarcation in the merchandise you can buy.
There’s a range with an historic Turnberry logo and another bearing the Trump coat of arms.
You pay your money, you take your choice.
Where sport and politics do firmly mix is on the championship Ailsa course. We all know it’s not going to host The Open any time soon. The golf course lover in me, rather than the pragmatist, can only tell you that is a shame.
I’ve either played, or spent considerable time, round all the Open host venues – except Muirfield. For me, Turnberry is right up there at the summit.
Martin Ebert has taken an already exceptional golf course and turned it into something incredible. It’s getting on for a decade now since he weaved his magic on this special piece of Ayrshire coastline and yet it still feels new. And the wonder doesn’t diminish.
Like you, I’ve gazed at all the pictures. They’re wonderful, they’re atmospheric, but they still don’t adequately capture how breath-taking it is.
That scene, a sunny day standing on the 9th tee and looking out over the crags, rocks, and coastline, with the iconic lighthouse in the background, will live with me forever. What you see, and more importantly what you feel as a golfer, is almost beyond description.
I played from the beach at 10, hit a stone outcrop on the equally brilliant 11th hole, and managed three birdies along the way. It’s a wonderful test of golf – the scandalously under-rated short 6th would be a treasure on any other links course – but fun and playable at the same time if you treat it with respect and take on a set of tees applicable to your ability.
I only feel sorrow that the best players in the world aren’t going to be able to experience what I did anytime soon.
The King Robert the Bruce and 9-hole Arran courses never seem to capture a photographer’s attention in quite the same way, but they should attract yours as golfers. Taken together as a trio, Turnberry essentially offers the complete golf experience.
The Bruce is tight, with gorse flanking fairways and surrounding greens at almost every quarter. There is a moment where you tread to slightly higher ground and it frames the golf course like a labyrinth – the fairways acting almost as tiny paths lighting the way in an otherwise maze of foliage.
The Arran is the perfect starter course, but don’t mistake it as your typical par-3 or academy outlet. The very short holes are capped by devilishly small and sloping greens. Hit the wrong spot and watch it jag at an awkward angle and propel your ball into some nasty cabbage.
The longer holes are serious par 4s. They pack a punch and yet you can still comfortably get round in 90 minutes. I haven’t even included the fun practice pitching greens that sweep down from the front of the hotel. You would never get bored playing golf here.
Away from the course, that huge hotel dominates the village. Turnberry is essentially a single street without it, and the venue is as glamorous as you’d expect.
Having said that, don’t mistake luxury for aloofness or an air of superiority. You’ll feel as comfortable having a meal in the dining room, or a drink in the bar (with the sport on the big screen in the background) as you would going out for a meal in town.
Those lucky enough to get a room with a view certainly have a spectacular arena upon which to gaze. The view of the golf courses, Ailsa Craig, and the Firth of Clyde, is worth the admission price alone.
The food is wonderful. The chef’s table is a genuine delight. The courses, I think there were seven in all, might look slight but you leave with a full belly all the same.
And an expert sommelier will cater to your every need – no matter your budget. It’s not all high dollar, wallet-wrecking, but there is plenty of that about if you want to treat yourself.
It’s a different story for the golf. A peak-time summer green fee on the Ailsa can set you back as much as £475 and £210 for the Robert the Bruce. That’s a chunk of change for most of us, although there are packages available and opportunities to play the championship course for £100 in the depths of winter.
But if you’re looking for something really exceptional, on a course that will genuinely take your breath away, the opportunity – as a once-in-a-lifetime trip – should be considered.
There will be complications surrounding a visit to Turnberry for some of you, but it cannot be denied that the experience is very special indeed.
Have you played Turnberry, or stayed at the hotel? What did you make of your visit, and how did you play the Ailsa course? Let me know with a tweet.
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