Scotland’s Ayrshire coast is home to a truly incredible number of great links courses – including three Open Championship venues. Turnberry’s redeveloped Ailsa course, Royal Troon and Old Prestwick understandably grab most of the limelight in this part of the country but several less-heralded layouts deserve attention, too. Meanwhile, a trip ever further west to the spectacular links at Machrihanish and Machrie is an unforgettable adventure.
Ailsa Course, Trump Turnberry, Ayrshire
Par 71, 7,448 yards
The course: The Ailsa course has staged four Opens and shaped some of the most remarkable moments in the Championship’s history, including Jack Nicklaus and Tom Watson’s epic ‘Duel in the Sun’. Running alongside the glorious Ayrshire coastline, with Arran and Ailsa Craig as a stunning backdrop, it is one of the finest golfing destinations in the world.
Signature hole: The 238-yard par 3 9th, ‘Bruce’s Castle’, is something special. Both tee and green are peninsulas and it’s all carry over a stony ridge and the Irish Sea below.
What makes it special? The Ailsa was already a great links. Recent changes which bring the coast in to play in a thrilling way, have made one of the world’s great courses even greater.
Royal Troon, Troon, Ayrshire
Par 71, 7,208 yards
The course: Troon’s Championship Links is one of the world’s finest golfing tests, having hosted the Open on nine occasions. It skirts along and tussles with the rugged coastline, and displays graceful views of the Isle of Arran and the famous Ailsa Craig. Make your score on the friendly front nine as the returning holes into the prevailing wind are relentless.
Signature hole: Royal Troon’s 8th hole, the ‘Postage Stamp’, is arguably the most famous par 3 in the world. Just 123 yards in length, the narrowness of the green and the severity of the bunkers make it a daunting task.
What makes it special? Royal Troon has both the longest and shortest holes on the Open circuit. The other 16 are just as memorable.
Prestwick (Old), Ayrshire
Par 71, 6,908 yards
The course: This time-honoured links hosted the Open on 24 occasions – including the inaugural Championship back in 1860. Most of the original features remain including cavernous bunkers buttressed by railway sleepers and the menacing Pow Burn which twists across several holes. With stunning sea views and rippling greens, Prestwick is a spectacular setting for a momentous game of golf.
Signature hole: The 3rd is a par 5 dominated by the legendary Cardinal bunker which cuts across the fairway at around 250 yards from the tee.
What makes it special? With its unrivalled history, charismatic course and warm welcome, there are few places like it in the world of golf.
Machrihanish, Campbeltown, Argyll
Par 70, 6,462 yards
The course: With firm, fast and true greens positioned in the most varied of locations, Machrihanish is a joy to behold. Blind tee shots, fabulous sea views, undulating fairways and rugged dunes all add up to a magical experience.
Signature hole: Standing on the raised 1st tee, a golfer’s opening shot must carry a corner of the Atlantic Ocean to reach a fairway which dog legs to the left. An exhilarating start to the round.
What makes it special? Arguably, the most natural, romantic and enjoyable place to play golf.
Western Gailes, Irvine, Ayrshire
Par 71, 7,014 yards
The course: This glorious links, superbly located between the railway and the sea, is up there with the best. Large dunes, cunning burns, fast greens and terrific views of the Isle of Arran combine to make it a beautiful challenge. An Open Qualifying venue.
Signature hole: The 7th, a medium-length par three played from a beach-side tee to a green enclosed by sand dunes and protected by six devilish pot bunkers.
What makes it special: While the links run hard and fast, the clubhouse should be played slowly as it is a classic, with a great locker room and a memorable club museum up the stairs.
Kilmarnock Barassie, Troon, Ayrshire
Par 72, 6,852 yards
The course: At least three different tracks can be played from the 27 holes available. By far the most challenging is the Barassie Links, which is used when the club hosts competitive events. This classic links has everything – great conditioning, humps, hollows, undulations, blind shots, penal rough and lightning-fast greens. An Open Qualifying venue that is definitely worth a visit.
Signature hole: The 18th is a short par 4 which may seem innocuous from the tee, but clever fairway cross-bunkering means it can be a card-wrecker.
What makes it special? Great condition, great golfing challenge, great people.
King Robert the Bruce Course, Trump Turnberry, Ayrshire
Par 70, 6,921 yards
The course: Opened in July 2017 on the site of the former Kintyre course, Martin Ebert’s design makes full use of a spectacular coastal setting to create a track which perfectly compliments the Ailsa course. Wide fairways and expansive greens can lull you into a false sense of security here. Playing to the well-protected green systems from the wrong position can be deadly while the undulating, ultra-slick putting surfaces demand respect.
Signature hole: The 9th is a spectacular par 4, featuring an approach shot over a valley to a green which seems like it is suspended in mid air above the ocean.
What makes it special? The King Robert the Bruce gives keen golfers a compelling reason to stay an extra day at Turnberry.
Dundonald Links, Irvine, Ayrshire
Par 72, 7,100 yards
The course: An exciting addition to one of links golf’s classiest neighbourhoods when it opened in 2004, Dundonald Links has matured into a championship-quality test. Squeezed into a compact pocket of land between Western Gailes, Barassie and Gailes Links, and designed by Kyle Phillips of Kingsbarns fame, this modern links stands comparison with its illustrious neighbours.
Signature hole: A decent tee shot at the par five 18th will bring the green into range but the narrow burn which wraps itself round much of the green has broken many a heart and wrecked many a scorecard.
What makes it special? Pristine fairways and hard, fast greens make for a challenging links test.
Gailes Links, Irvine, Ayrshire
Par 71, 6,903 yards
The course: Gailes Links does not have the seaside views of neighbouring Western Gailes. What it does have is velvety greens, tight fairways and acres of gorse and heather. One of the features of Gailes is its fairness; there are fewer random bounces than is usual on a links course and a good shot is almost always rewarded while the greens are wonderfully true.
Signature hole: The 12th is a par 3 to a plateau green which is flanked by an ocean of gorse. It’s a particular test of nerve when played in a cross-wind.
What makes it special? An Open qualifying venue and home of the Tennant Cup -the oldest amateur strokeplay event in the world – this classic links is graced with tight fairways, well-placed bunkers and an abundance of gorse and heather.
Machrihanish Dunes, Campbeltown, Argyll
Par 72, 7,082 yards
The course: Located on the edge of the Atlantic Ocean, this rugged links mirrors architect David McLay-Kidd’s love of the land, evident from the routing, as well the positioning of its tees and greens. Set on a Site of Special Scientific Interest, restrictions on the use of irrigation, fertilisers and drainage mean that you have to take your luck with fairway lies. What’s more, the rough is relentless. It’s like playing golf in the 19th century.
Signature hole: The 165 yard par-3 fifth hole has more than a hint of the signature hole at Royal Portrush about it.
What makes it special? Of the 259 acres on which the course sits, only seven were disturbed during course construction. As such, the fairways are just as they were found, making this an earthly experience.
Machrie, Isle of Islay
Par 72, 6,782 yards
The course: Set in the dunes of Islay, Queen of the Hebrides, Machrie Links is one of the most beautiful locations in world golf. Recently upgraded to 18 holes, the amazing positioning of the greens has virtually negated the need for bunkers. Playing it is a bewitching and exalting experience.
Signature hole: The par-5 2nd doglegs sharply to follow the path of a fast flowing burn that later forms one flank of a tight entrance to the green.
What makes it special? There are many reasons to relish the prospect of playing at Machrie Links, not least of which is the stunning surrounding scenery. When allied to the quality of the course, the natural hazards of the links game, a number of blind holes and the sense of history that effuses from the venue, any day spent here will be a memorable one.
Askernish, Isle of South Uist
Par 72, 6,259 yards
The course: This extraordinary, and on-going, project has seen an Old Tom Morris links that had been abandoned brought back to life. They are doing a good job as the course has been acclaimed as the most natural golf course in the world. For anyone with a love of links golf and its history, this is a must play.
Signature hole: The 410-yard par-4 7th is named Cabinet Minister after the fictionalised ship featured in ‘Whisky Galore’ that sunk in the bay between South Uist and Eriskay during the war. The hole has two drops in elevation towards a valley between the dunes.
What makes it special? In effect you are playing on a living museum, following in the footsteps of Old Tom Morris and playing golf as it used to be.
Southerness, Dumfries & Galloway
Par 69, 6,728 yards
The course: Tucked away in a quiet corner of Scotland’s south coast, the stately links at Southerness is a beguiling mix of tight fairways and well-protected greens. Designed by MacKenzie Ross, more famous for his work on the Ailsa course at Turnberry, the challenge at Southerness seems gentle until a wayward tee shot finds a tiny fairway pot bunker, or a slightly errant approach leaves a devilish difficult chip to negotiate. Southerness is a subtle test – but not one to be underestimated.
Signature hole: The 12th is a dog leg par four to a green perched on sand dunes above the Solway Firth.
What makes it special? Thoughtfully-designed Southerness proves that a links course does not need outrageous slopes or towering dunes to provide a captivating test.
West Kilbride, Ayrshire
Par 71, 6,523 yards
The course: The links at West Kilbride comes to life on the back nine with a thrilling succession of outstanding shoreline holes. Players get their first experience of the coast at the par 4 10th, where a hooked drive will find the beach. The routing returns to the coast at the 13th and a memorable stretch continues to the 16th with the beach to the right a constant menace.
Signature hole: Players must flirt with the beach on their approach to the long par 4 15th – a thrilling shot.
What makes it special? A chance to play along the shore, accompanied by stunning views of the Isle of Arran.