The worldwide recognition commanded by Turnberry is due mostly to the Ailsa Course, regular host to the Open Championship. Founded in 1946 and designed by Mackenzie Ross, this golf course is better manicured than most courses in Scotland. The coastal stretch of holes, rocky crags, and intermingling turbulent dunes represent links golf at its finest. The 4th to 11th holes – named after the landmark rock “Ailsa Craig” and playing alongside the sea – are among the most demanding but most beautiful in the world.
Long considered as one of the best golf courses in the world, the Ailsa Course became popular in 1977, when Jack Nicklaus and Tom Watson battled for the British Open. In what was known as the “Duel in the Sun”, Watson claimed a one-stroke victory. Third placer Hubert Green (some 10 strokes behind Nicklaus) joked, “I won the Open – those guys were playing a different tournament”.
With holes flanked by craggy rocks and framed by sand dunes, the mighty Turnberry lighthouse stands stoically witnessing the many seafarers who have come to a watery grave off the rough coastline. The first three holes, all par 4, represent a very tough start. From the short 4th hole to the 11th, the course beautifully follows a rugged coastline.
The 454-yard, 9th hole is the Ailsa Course’s signature hole. Its remote tee is set on a craggy promontory on the edge of the sea, requiring a drive across the corner of the bay. The last 7 holes, while a little more inland, pose unexpected difficulties. Holes 15 to 18 can make or break your score. Worse, the weather often changes hourly, augmenting the challenges of this top-class Scottish golf course.