Ireland has so many spectacular links courses, but if there’s one country that can match and possibly even surpass our Emerald Isle, it’s Scotland. From St Andrews to Carnoustie, from Royal Dornoch to Muirfield, Scotland has a number of the most renowned golf courses in the world.
Perhaps the most golf-friendly region of all, however, is the Ayrshire region, conveniently located closest to the Irish coast. There are an amazing 47 golf courses in the area, including three Open Championship courses. And they are all easily accessible via P&O Ferries, making it the perfect location for your next golfing trip away.
After arriving at Cairnryan, the road from the port to Troon was stunning. Reminiscent of driving along the Wild Atlantic Way, the views of the rugged western coast were spectacular. We were extremely fortunate with the weather (20 degrees and sunny in Scotland!), so the vast sea glistened, providing a lovely backdrop.
Off it was first to Dundonald Links, the host of this year’s Aberdeen Asset Management Scottish Open, just outside the town of Troon. A very playable course, Dundonald Links does not have too many hidden challenges from tee to green.
Wide fairways give the player the chance to score, especially off the shorter tees. Or at least maybe the illusion of scoring well. The greens at Dundonald are quite perplexing and provide the biggest challenge. Double and triple breakers are common, and if you mess up the line, the ball can easily travel 10 feet past the hole. That makes the approach into the green all the more important, and like all great links courses, they allow you to be creative.
The standout holes on the course were the 6th hole – a short par 3, similar to the Postage Stamp at Royal Troon, with a windmill in view – and the 13th hole, which should be interesting to watch at the Scottish Open, a hole which runs by the railway like a number of courses in Ayrshire. The approach is to a devilish green, the narrow entrance is guarded by deep bunkers each side and a burn around the green. The 18th hole at Dundonald, a par 5, is a fine finishing hole and should ensure a grandstand finish to the European Tour’s best golfers.
Returning to Troon after the round of golf, it’s clear that the town is made for golf. A very welcoming atmosphere is given to all visitors, with Royal Troon within walking distance of the town centre, the hotel staff are well prepared for the golf tourist. Great hospitality was to be had at the South Beach Hotel, Troon, where guests can enjoy a hearty Scottish breakfast, with Haggis included.
That evening, Scotts Bar on the Troon Harbour was the perfect place for a satisfying dinner, with top-class service, a choice of Scottish whiskeys and a fantastic view of the harbour.
The next day, it was Glasgow Gailes that was the venue for the golf, one of two top-class Gailes courses in Ayrshire. An R&A qualifying course for The Open, it claims to be the ninth oldest course in the world, so there’s no surprise that it was in classic links style. The greens were in immaculate condition, and are believed to be the best in the area. As famous golf writer Bernard Darwin said: “The turf is something softer – at least in my imagination – than that of the East Coast courses. The greens are wonderfully green and velvety.”
Given that the sunkissed fairways led to very dry conditions, the course played relatively short from the more forward tees, yet it was still consistently challenging to post a good score. Should you be off target with your long game, there’s no shortage of gorse and bunkers to catch wayward shots. There’s a nice old-style clubhouse at Gailes, with fine practice facilities available.
Its next-door neighbour is Western Gailes, wedged between Irvine Bay and the railway tracks on one of Ayrshire’s narrowest strips of land, with wonderfully varied holes, and greens sites that are cleverly locatged in naturally folded ground. It has hosted the 1972 Curtis and the 1964 British PGA Championship.
Head back to the beautiful town of Troon, where it is impossible to miss Royal Troon, which is of course the location of the Open Championship last year. It felt great to walk the same hallowed turf as that of great champions such as Arnold Palmer, Tom Watson, and of course Henrik Stenson, who beat Phil Mickelson in one of the greatest finales for the Claret Jug in history. If the Championship course is out of budget, then the Portland course also provides a great challenge.
As an avid golf fan, it was exciting to be among so many fantastic golf courses. Just down the road from Troon, for example, was Prestwick Golf Club. Another course that’s in the middle of the town, it felt like stepping back through history. The very first Open Championship took place at Prestwick, and the winner was Willie Park, who finished two shots ahead of its greenkeeper Old Tom Morris. Park’s old Championship Belt and memorabilia can be seen in the clubhouse.
Step out on the course, and it looks like how golf was invented to be played, rugged and natural, and the opening hole looked like hitting into nowhere. Yet what a spectacular course it was. The 17th hole with a massive Sahara bunker protecting the green, is the same since 1860.
Head further back down the coast towards the port and you meet Troon Turnberry, ranked the top course in the UK by Golf Monthly magazine. The President of America has put in massive investment and now the clubhouse and Pro Shop look like a mini Trump Tower inside, with even gold taps in the locker room.
Whatever you think of Trump’s lavish spending on the property, Turnberry Ailsa is one of the most stunning courses in the world, a true site to behold. With Ailsa Craig in the background and famous lighthouse in view, on a sunny day, it looks like golfing nirvana.
Truly it is that way all along the coast, with seven golf courses within a wedge distance from local train stations on the Glasgow to Ayr line. The Isle of Arran is even blessed with 7 golf courses, the most famous being the 12-hole Shiskine Golf Club, one of the best of its kind in the world.
Meanwhile, Troon Links is the envy of most councils as they provide three of the best public links courses in the country, including the tough Darley course, the beginner-friendly Troon Fullarton, and finally Troon Lochgreen, adjacent to Royal Troon. Don’t forget the 27-hole Barassie Links either, one of the area’s most popular courses due to its friendly welcome and perfect links greens.
In truth, there are too many great courses to mention. And all this is accessible with Stay & Play deals from Northern Ireland. Take advantage of some exclusive golf packages shown below, including return ferry tickets with car. For further information on Ayrshire Golf, check out https://www.ayrshiregolfscotland.com
David Gorman is a journalist from Monaghan who mainly writes about golf, football and GAA.
You can follow him on Twitter at – @DavidGorman20