Scotland’s Ayrshire Coast Ready to Shine

Royal Troon Golf Club (Image: The Open Championship)

Royal Troon Golf Club hosted its ninth Open in the summer of 2016. (Image: The Open Championship)

The Open Championship’s return to Royal Troon and Trump Turnberry’s $500-million re-do has the golf world focused on the fabulous links of Scotland’s Ayrshire coast.

Home to Royal Troon, Prestwick, Trump Turnberry and other hallowed links, Scotland’s Ayrshire coast enjoyed its most exciting golf season in 2016 since the first-ever Open Championship was played here in 1860.

On June 1, Donald Trump relaunched the famous Ailsa course at his rebranded Trump Turnberry Resort. Ailsa’s almost complete redesign by star golf architect Martin Ebert is part of a $500-million makeover of a 149-room luxury property acquired by the U.S. president in 2014.

Easily the most anticipated of all the changes made to Ailsa, which has hosted four Opens, is the transformation of the iconic par-four “lighthouse” hole into what Trump with typical immodesty calls “the most spectacular par three in the world.”

Willie Park Sr. Open Champion 1860

Willie Park Sr. won the first-ever Open at Prestwick Golf Club in 1860.

An even bigger story was the Open’s return to Royal Troon Golf Club. In one of the most thrilling final rounds in the history of the Open, winner Henrik Stenson shot a record-tying score of 63, besting runner-up Phil Mickelson by three strokes. Royal Troon, which has hosted nine Opens, is a brilliant links where the first nine holes run entirely alongside the sea. But the course is best known for its evilly bunkered par-three eighth hole, called the Postage Stamp. Just 123 yards long, it’s the shortest hole in Open Championship golf.

Set on the shores of the Firth of Clyde in southwest Scotland, the district of Ayrshire is steeped in history, with links to William Wallace, Robert the Bruce and Scotland’s national poet, Robert Burns. The clay and thatch cottage where Burns was born is now a museum in the village of Alloway.

The seaside towns of Ayr, Girvan, Irvine, Largs, Prestwick and Troon are all popular with visitors. Others make nearby Glasgow, Scotland’s largest and most vibrant city, their home base. Glasgow essentials include a shopping spree on Buchanan Street, a grandstand seat at a Celtic or Rangers soccer match, and a tour of Kelvingrove Art Gallery and Museum, the most visited museum in the United Kingdom outside of London.

Glasgow is an easy drive from most of Ayrshire’s 44 18-hole golf courses, including three more that rank alongside Royal Troon and Trump Turnberry among the world’s outstanding seaside links.

Founded in 1897, Western Gailes Golf Club is a wonderfully natural design that wends through dunes on a spit of land by Irvine Bay. Some greens fold as if organically into the rumpled landscape, with others protected by sentinel-like dunes.

Prestwick Golf Club 17th Hole (Image: Prestwick Golf Club)

Prestwick Golf Club’s famous 17th hole, Alps. (Image: Prestwick GC)

Just across the railway tracks from Western Gailes is Dundonald Links, which opened in 2003 but feels a century older. This acclaimed design by Kyle Phillips will host the European Tour’s Scottish Open for the first time in 2017.

But the granddaddy of all Ayrshire courses is Prestwick Golf Club. Full of blind shots, crazy bounces and other quirks, Prestwick has hosted 24 Opens, including the first 12 ever played. Designed by the immortal Old Tom Morris, the course features six of his original greens, as well as three original holes.

Though no longer in the Open rotation, Prestwick is still a must-play for everyone who loves the game.