Designer: Philip Mackenzie Ross
Mackenzie & Ebert
At the turn of the 20th Century, the Third Marquess of Ailsa hired Willie Fernie from Royal Troon to layout a golf course across his vast estate in Ayrshire. Thanks to Lord Ailsa’s position as director of the Glasgow & Southwestern Railway, train service soon arrived to the course along with a second links and a grand resort then known as the Station Hotel. The resort quickly became a popular destination for the leisure-seeking masses, until the onset of both World Wars saw it requisitioned by the military for use as an airstrip.
When peace returned in Europe, Philip Mackenzie Ross undertook the enormous task of bringing golf back to what was left of the Turnberry links. The aircraft hangers and concrete runways were removed, and the natural characteristics of the property crafted by Mother Nature were restored as best as humanly possible. After two years of painstaking work, the outcome was an overwhelming success, punctuated by the arrival of The Open Championship in 1977.
Fast forward to the modern era, a well-publicized change in ownership has brought with it the latest transformation of the Turnberry Ailsa course. The architects Mackenzie & Ebert – the same design firm overseeing Royal Portrush’s alterations ahead of the 2019 Open – were given a wide berth by both the R&A and the resort’s new owner. As a result, almost no hole has been left untouched, starting with a wider 1st fairway and culminating with a new oceanfront 18th tee.
The changes at the heart of the course, however, are what’s sure to garner much of the attention. The idea of transforming the par-4 9th to a par-3 is one that’s been discussed for decades. At last, that change has come to fruition, and the new green in the shadows of the famous lighthouse is an awe-inspiring target. The 10th, meanwhile, has been converted into an all-world par-5, with its putting surface now pushed right up to the water’s edge. Finally, this spectacular three-hole stretch comes to an end on the par-3 11th, where we again have the thrill of launching our tee shot across the bay.
The less publicized changes to the Ailsa have been no less impactful. The par-3 4th, for example, has been moved closer to the sea, while the tee for the par-3 6th is now perched on top of the dunes adjacent the bay. Then there’s the entirely new 14th hole, which returns us to the sea once again. Not all of the changes, however, have been made in the name of dramatic play or ocean views. The famed “donut bunker” short of 10th green is a perfect example, as it has been restored to its historically accurate and far more interesting shape.
The transformation of the Ailsa course is just one important piece of a sweeping renovation of the Turnberry resort. The hotel has undergone a head-to-toe overhaul of its interior, new dining outlets have been introduced, and the delightful pitch & putt has been redesigned. Even the lighthouse received a facelift with the arrival of the Ailsa’s new halfway house. In short, this historic property is finally getting the meaningful investment it has long needed. And while this may not be Tom Watson’s or your grandfather’s Turnberry, the Ailsa stands ready for the next “Duel in the Sun.”
Perfect Pairing with golf at Turnberry: on a sunny evening, take a seat just before 6:00 PM on one of the benches at the back of the hotel, aged single malt in one hand, a fine cigar in the other. Out strolls the piper to seranade you as you gaze across Ailsa Craig resting on the shimmering waters of the Firth of Clyde. Ah, memories that last a lifetime!
Major Basil Haversham, OBE
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