Western Gailes Golf Club
Designer: Fred Morris,
Every golfer at one time or another has suffered through the frustrating experience of a frost delay. While most of us simply wait them out with exasperated contempt, a group of four Glaswegians had a far more audacious solution to the problem. In 1897, the group leased a tract of linksland from the Duke of Portland with the intention of building a new course; one adjacent the sea where golf could be enjoyed year round and frozen turf would largely be a thing of the past. As such, Western Gailes may be the only golf club in the world that owes its very foundation to the frost delay.
Like the other historic links of Ayrshire, the heritage of Western Gailes is also closely tied to that of the railroad. The Glasgow & Southwestern Railway, which ferried members from Glasgow to Prestwick and Troon as well as vacationers to Turnberry, had a station outside the clubhouse of Western Gailes. And although the last train left Gailes Station long ago, that connection is still a looming presence on the links where the tracks provide numerous opportunities to hit 3 (or even 5) off the tee.
The course at Western Gailes was laid out by their first greenskeeper, Fred Morris – no relation to Old Tom – and is sandwiched on a sliver of land between the railway line and the sea. The practice of tank maneuvers during World War II prompted the redesign of a few holes, but it’s the hands of Mother Nature that largely crafted the Gailes links. Unlike most out-and-back courses, where the outward holes all run one direction and return home the opposite way, the clubhouse at Western Gailes is found at the center of the layout. This means we change direction multiple times, adding a little variety to a brand of golf that can, at times, grow monotonous. See: Royal Troon.
After opening with several holes that parallel the railway line – many times, too close for comfort – we turn on the 5th for one of the great stretches of golf in Ayrshire. The blind approach to the par-5 6th is thrilling, as is the magnificent par-3 that follows, aptly known as “Sea.” As we head south on this run of holes, however, the wind will naturally dictate much of our play. If it is out of the northwest, holding many of the greens will be problematic at best. On the other hand, the dreaded southwesterly wind can turn this seaside stretch into a losing battle of attrition. In this case, relief finally comes as we turn again, this time for home along the railway line. Although the flat and less interesting ground leading to the clubhouse may soon have us longing for that taxing stretch by the sea.
Western Gailes may lack some of the notoriety of the other great links courses in Ayrshire, but it is a worthy addition to any itinerary on Scotland’s west coast. After a day spent battling the westerly winds on this sliver of links, however, chances are you’ll agree it is the most appropriately named course in golf.
Major Basil Haversham, OBE
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