Trump Turnberry (Ailsa)

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What we say

The Ailsa course at Trump Turnberry is always one of the highest-scoring in the Golf World Top 100 Courses rankings. Chris Bertram explains why. 

It’s not so easy being both an evolutionist and creationist, but at Turnberry, Martin Ebert pulled it off. For his reworking of the Ailsa, at the behest of new owner Donald Trump, the R&A’s favoured architect delved back into the history of a course that had gone through seven previous incarnations, raiding the national archives for aerial photographs of the landscape, the routings, the former strategies long forgotten. 

Examining images of Philip Mackenzie Ross’s 1949 course – itself a post-war recreation of Cecil Hutchison’s 1938 design – Ebert discovered shaggy-edged, naturalised bunkers as opposed to 2014’s clipped and almost formal versions.

Maybe the best example comes at the new par-5 10th, where a circular and unimaginative doughnut bunker had replaced a beautifully unscripted and superbly angled expanse of sandy waste.

Ebert also discovered other lost sandy waste areas, for example to the right of the par-4 13th, whose reintroduction could contribute both aesthetically and tactically. On the par-3 4th recalling the sand area in front of the tee would be more cosmetic... joining a new tee in reminding golfers they are just a firm chip shot from the beach.

As Ebert himself says: “Reinstating lost features shows you have a respect and a regard for the history of the course, as well as looking at how it could be improved for the modern game.”

In reworking a traditional course, it was key. It paved the way for acceptance of potentially more controversial elements – the creation of new holes and routings. Trump and Ebert’s Turnberry contains no fewer than five completely new holes and nine new green sites. 

The famous lighthouse on the Ailsa course at Trump Turnberry.

Taking all the plaudits is the trio around the turn. The old par-4 9th took you from golf’s best tee, perched over Castle Port Bay, to its worst fairway, an unhittable hogs-back. A new green site some 220 yards hence, as close to the cliffs as buildable, keeps your eyes trained along the coastline and turns this into a breathtaking one-shotter. 

This is followed by, what to this observer is the best hole on the course, a downhill par 5 that sweeps left around the rocky shore to a raised area, hitherto used for the 11th tee, but that works so much better as a green perched thrillingly against the chaos of the Irish Sea.

At 192 yards, the all-new 11th is played over a series of inlets and the third hole in a row that asks you to skirt the bay. It’s hard to picture a more dramatic threesome of holes, anywhere in the world.

While these changes have commanded most of the attention, it is perhaps not where the course’s biggest improvements have been made. If there was a criticism of Turnberry, it was aimed at a handful of inferior holes, mostly on the front nine.

“I think the first hole had always been considered a weakness,” says Trump Turnberry’s director of golf Ricky Hall. “At around 360 yards it was really only two shortish irons. But a new back tee and greensite, pushed some 70 yards back and to the right, have turned it into more of a left-to-right dogleg and made the tee shot much more demanding, although the fairway is now wider.” 

But even better comes at the new par-3 6th. This was formerly a 230-yard slog to a raised green, complete with dastardly false front; but a wonderful new walkway, along the coast, takes you to a new raised tee that allows a far more engaging short iron to a re-reworked and beautifully crafted green. 

While the new par-5 14th joins the 1st, 6th and 11th as the course’s key improvements, every single hole has received some attention… and walking round, you quickly get the feeling the targets have been selected with unerring accuracy.

Bunkers have been cannily moved into the way, or out of it; the new green at the 5th, pushed a little more up into the dune valley, is a great example of how new sites add beauty and challenge. Already excellent holes – consider the marvellous par-4 8th or the famous burn-protected 16th – have been left largely untouched. Sympathy and intelligence characterise the whole process, and perhaps Trump and Ebert’s biggest achievement is to have so many changes blend so seamlessly with what was already here. 

Completing the course, the new 18th tee – afforded by the shortened 17th – now allows a grand, straight-in run under the shadow of the hotel and sets up the climax this superb redesign deserves. 

If there is a mild note of it’s in the feeling the quest for ‘fairness’ has underpinned many of these nips and tucks. Harsh run-offs or severe green contours have been softened, bunker bases shaped to throw you back from the lip. Hazards have been repositioned ‘correctly’, offering just penalty for the crime committed. It all feels, well, a bit ‘fair’.

For those who feel an innate quirkiness ought to be part of any authentic links experience, the course set-up might just jar slightly. Trump and Ebert might argue, of course, that there’s more than enough whimsy in the gusts off the Irish Sea to give you all the quirk you desire.

History shows us Trump and Ebert’s reworking is the eighth configuration of a course that opened in 1902. But it is the first that genuinely has experts and architects scratching their heads as to how any better use could have been made of this stunning piece of Ayrshire coastline.

 

  • Course Summary

  • Costs 5 out of 5
  • TG Rating 5 out of 5
  • Players Rating 4.6 out of 5
  • Address
    Maidens Road, Turnberry, GIRVAN
  • Tel 01655 334 032
  • Website www.turnberry.co.uk

Course Information

Course 71 par
Course Style -
Green Fees £175-£395
Course Length 6,474 yards (5,920 metres)
Holes 18
Difficulty Hard 0-10
Course Membership Proprietary

Course Features

  • Course has: Bar
  • Course has: Buggy Hire
  • Course has: Driving Range
  • Course has: Practice Green
  • Course has: Pro Shop
  • Course has: Restaurant
  • Course has: Trolley Hire
  • Course has: Dress Code
  • Course has: Club Hire
  • Course does not have: Handicap

Your Reviews

  • 5 out of 5 Golfing paradise

    By Dave

    Played 2nd April 2015 played previous 2 days at Carnoustie and old course at St Andrews. from arrival to departure it was 1st class we arrived earlier than expected and enquired about changing which was no problem before given free access to driving range, staff very helpful and informative the main club house is being refurbished at present so had to use academy. on to the golf course we where met by the very friendly starter given a pack containing planner,tees ball marker,pitch repairer etc as the course was quiet we had plenty of time for photos as the scenery was breathtaking the 4 to 11 especially so hard to find a weak hole we will be back.

  • 4.5 out of 5 Beautiful but maybe little too hard.

    By macim67

    I was lucky enough to play here yesterday, 30/03/12, and I find it hard to be critical, the whole set up is outstanding. The course is too hard for me personally, I play off 9, but I could not help but be blown away by the beauty and spectacle of many of the holes, the location is outstanding.

  • 5 out of 5 Ha Ha Ha

    By arm

    A year and a bit after playing it and I still smile at just how good this course is - £160 seems a lot but the course, ambience, welcome and service (free use of Montgomery Academy and cairngorms putting green (hillier than most courses)) soon make the worry of the money go away. Play this course, enjoy and experience how golf should be. A cheaper alternative could be Silloth on Solway.

  • 3.5 out of 5 Good

    By Anonymous

    Good course, appauling welcome

  • 4 out of 5 Jaw-dropping

    By Anonymous

    A complete course. Just amazing, jaw-dropping... can golf get any better than this?

  • 5 out of 5 So hard

    By Anonymous

    It is an amzing place... but so hard. I had to stop worrying about scores and losing balls and just enjoy the scenery - which was amazing

  • 4.5 out of 5 Fantastic

    By Anonymous

    Links golf at its absolute best. Staff friendly and helpful, scenery magnificant, course one of the greats and to top it all, we stayed in one of the lodges which are superb. Does it get any better?

  • 4.5 out of 5 Brilliant

    By Anonymous

    This is a magnificent golf course, worth every penny,if you ever get the chance you must play it. The par threes are especially memorable as is the scary 16th green.

  • 5 out of 5 Class

    By Anonymous

    Can't be beaten

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