Turnberry, where last week’s Open was played, is regarded as one of the World’s very special links courses.
Turnberry, where this week’s Open Championship is to be played, is regarded as one of the World’s very special courses.
And for some very good reasons
As the birthplace of the great Scottish King, Robert the Bruce, as Britain’s first-ever man-built golf course, and as the site of RAF air stations during both the World Wars of the 20th Century, it is steeped in history.
That’s for starters.
There is also the fact that its natural setting, its design and its always superb conditioning also happens to make it one of the great British Links courses.
As the home of three classical links course of high repute, it is greatly significant that since it’s first and finest course, the Ailsa, was opened in 1901, Turnberry has hosted many of Great Britain and Ireland’s most important amateur and professional tournaments including the three memorable Opens won by Tom Watson after an epic battle with Jack Nicklaus in 1977, by Australian legend Greg Norman in 1986 and by Nick Price, one of the great Open champions to come out of Southern Africa, in 1994.
But to go back to the beginning…
Most students of the game believe that golf first began in the 12th century with shepherds entertaining themselves by knocking stones into rabbit holes and it is thought that this type of game was born nearby on one of nature’s own courses in 1751 in Girvan, not more than 10 miles away from Turnberry as well as in other areas along Scotland’s sunshine coast.
However, lack of formal transport isolated many of these areas and their local contests and golf was not come to Turnberry for another 150 years.
When it did it was thanks to Archibald Kennedy, the Third Marquess of Ailsa (Lord Ailsa).
He owned Turnberry’s 76,000 acres and in 1896, by which time he had become a keen golfer and an active member of the South-Western Railway board, Lord Ailsa saw financial opportunity in building a course at Turnberry and a railway line from Ayr to Maidens, Turnberry and Girvan.
And so on July 6, 1901, Britain’s first man-made links course, designed by Willie Fernie, was opened for play at Turnberry. The clubhouse followed soon after, with a match between two teams headed by the club captain and vice captain to mark the occasion.
The Club reports on it’s official web site, that “although the course opened four years before the railway came to be, it was an immediate success.
“As the longest course in the west of Scotland at 6,248 yards, Turnberry was so well regarded that after just seven years, it held its first professional tournament and attracted a strong field that included the reigning Open Champion, Arnaud Massey.”
Two world wars, both of which turned Turnberry’s fairway and greens into aircraft runways and it’s famous and distinguished Turnberry Hotel into a war hospital brought further change that was to further improve Turnberry’s links courses, notably after the second World War of 1939-45.
It is thought that as many as 200 died at Turnberry during the that second war and certainly the great advances made in the weapons of war in the air caused much heavier and more severe damage to the Turnberry course than had been the case in the First Great War..
But with it’s war devastation came the opportunity to enhance the already famous Ailsa course and the outstanding work of the brilliant Suttons designer Mackenzie Ross transformed it into one of the most important venues in world golf.
Ross turned the very tools of the course’s destruction to more enlightened uses, and in less than a year, bulldozers and diggers had reshaped the natural dunes, hillocks and valleys that had been lost during the war.
While ensuring that the natural beauty of the course and the “hideous beauty” of its naturally occurring hazards was not lost, Ross made spectacular use of the coastline and its knolls.
The new 4th, 9th and 10th holes were taken so close to the beach says the Turnberry web site, that ‘players would forever feel at risk of taking an early dip and when the wind rises, the mind plays tricks, and there can be few more challenging holes anywhere’.
Ailsa today is a par-70, 7,211-yard storied championship course that has hosted the three Open Championships already mentioned and is described on the club’s official web site thus:.
‘Its first three holes pose a fairly tough opening, particularly when the wind blows from the direction of its namesake, the brooding isle of Ailsa Craig, some 11 miles distant out to sea.
‘From the 4th hole to the 11th, the coastal scenery is magnificent and the course is demanding.’
Calling for solid accurate stroke play, the 5th to the 8th holes are framed by sandy hillocks, while the 9th, 10th and 11th are flanked by craggy rocks.
On its stony ridge on the edge of the sea, the 9th is Turnberry’s trademark hole.
The landmark lighthouse there casts shadows over the nearby 13th-century ruins of Bruce’s Castle, the reputed birthplace of Scotland’s hero king Robert the Bruce, and the narrow path to the ninth tee and the drive across the corner of the bay fills most players with feelings of uncertainty and even a little fear.
The back nine, like the front nine, also demands sound course management and swing control.
The steep incline of the plateau green on the 13th hole – Tickly Tap – makes one of the largest putting surfaces on the course look rather puny.
Likewise, the subtle contours of the 17th hole, Lang Whang, slightly obstruct each shot – characteristic of the trickery of Turnberry. On the 18th, with the elegant, red-roofed Turnberry Hotel in sight to distract, gorse running down the right side and small dunes are just sufficiently tall enough to block your view of the landing zone and make finding the fairway something of a guessing game.
AILSA: HOLE BY HOLE: To see the course hole by hole on the club’s official web site, click here click here
– The Colin Montgomerie Academy: Turnberry has forged a partnership with Colin Montgomerie, perhaps Scotland’s most famous golfer of all time. The current European Ryder Cup captain has established an academy at Turnberry which apart from the other skills and secrets of the game, teaches the special skills required to handle classic links courses with their, on and off shore winds, waving sand dunes, deep pot-hole bunkers and high bounce on the harder fairways and greens
The academy offers state-of-the-art driving and pitching ranges, some with covered bays, simulators and swing analyzers, an audio visual theatre for group tuition and makes good use of the nine-hole Arran course which has been put at its disposal.
The distinctive character and design of the Turnberry clubhouse reflect some of the history of Turnberry, of Ayrshire and of
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