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In Praise Of . . . Southerness

The man who designed Turnberry created another great Scottish links which deserves more recognition, says Alan Greenwood…

It’s easy to understand why the Ailsa Course at Turnberry was named ‘The Best Golf Course in Britain and Ireland’ by a panel of experts at Golf World magazine last month. It’s a classic test in a stunning setting that stirs the heart and seduces the eye. But while Turnberry is recognised as one of the world’s greatest links, the only other course completed by its designer is still largely unknown.

Mackenzie Ross finished work on Southerness Golf Club in 1947. He did such a good job that the good folk of Turnberry asked him to rebuild their Ailsa Course, which had been destroyed during World War II. While Turnberry has achieved lasting fame as an Open Championship venue, Southerness is relatively unheralded, except by golfers who have had the privilege of playing it.

There are a number of reasons for this. Where the Ailsa course is dramatic and visually stunning, Southerness is restrained and unassuming. It’s built on a relatively flat piece of land and tucked away at the end of a dead-end road in a remote corner of Scotland’s sleepy southern coast. There’s no such thing as passing traffic here.

If anything, the feeling that you’re teeing up in the middle of nowhere simply adds to the pleasing sensation that builds as you play your way round. The keyword here is subtlety. Take the fairways. There are no dramatic dog-legs but almost every par four has a slight change in angle between 240-300 yards which adds a degree of complexity to every tee shot – particularly when it’s windy. There are no massive expanses of sand skirting the landing areas to catch the eye. Instead, Southerness’s bunkers are small and cleverly cambered to catch any shot that tries to roll through the neighbourhood.

It’s the same story on and around the putting surfaces. Pot bunkers abound and greens which appear relatively flat from the fairway are revealed to have numerous little humps, hollows and runoffs. Again, subtle.

If Southerness was to have something as brash as a signature hole, it would be the 12th, a 420-yard par four (pictured above) which curves through a swathe of gorse, heather and broom bushes to a green perched on the edge of a beach. But the charm of Southerness doesn’t depend upon an eye-catching tee shot or dramatic green site, it’s the cumulative effect of playing 18 holes that meld together quite superbly. A classic test of links golf and a fitting tribute to Mackenzie Ross.

Alan Greenwood is a founding director of College Links Golf