The ferry from Arran to Ardrossan is less than an hour. Before you drive south along the A78 to the many good courses on offer, you must first head north just a few miles to the often overlooked links West Kilbride. Situated at the little village of Seamill this delightful links is on a narrow strip of easy walking seaside land. I played it just the one time in June and it was in excellent condition. It is not long but still represents a good test.
There are so many good courses on this coastline down to Ayr you will need plenty of time to even play them all just once. Heading south you have the following choices -
Prestwick St Nicholas
I would happily recommend any of these links courses. Irvine is probably lower profile but is an interesting course. I love the short par 4, 4th where you hit your second shot to and an elevated green right beside the railway line. The first time I played there I managed to dispatch my ball into the passing express to Prestwick.
Glasgow Gailes is one tough golf course when the wind is blowing across the links. Plenty of rough and gorse on relatively narrow fairways. All the par 3's are very strong.
Would be much higher profile if it had sea views.
(photo Glasgow Gailes)
On the opposite side of the railway line and adjacent to the sea is Western Gailes. I clearly remember my disappointment when the round came to an end. The course is set out on a narrow stretch of classic links land with holes 5 to 12 right beside the shoreline. Western Gailes is every bit as good as Troon and should be on your definite play list.
Side by side with Western Gailes, but slightly inland, is the relatively new Dundonald which is also for the members of Loch Lomond. Designed by Kyle Phillips this is a long course that stretches to 7300 yards from the back tees. It is a tough test and you get the feeling that it was purpose built to hold professional tournaments.
Kilmarnock Barassie is usually a qualifying course when the Open is at Troon. There are three nines to choose from and it is an enjoyable and easy walking course. Apart from the 4th hole, I feel that the par 3's are a little on the non memorable side.
The championship course at Royal Troon has become more endearing to me each time I have played it. Mind you, playing there for the first time in 90 mile winds wasn't a good introduction. It was also in May and they had recently experienced frosts so the greens were rather furry and slow. The last two visits in July had the course in first class condition. You definitely must keep on the fairways here. Whilst you are playing, keep your eyes open for the tiny tiger tees hidden away in the gorse and which are basically only used for the Open.
The Old Course at Prestwick is a trip back in time (the first Open was played here in 1860) and is lots of fun to play - provided you don't get behind 4 groups of four Americans plus their 16 caddies. When my wife and I first played Prestwick we got to the par 3,5th (the famous blind hole -Himalayas) and ,you guessed it, there were 32,including caddies, banked up on the tee. What should have taken no more than three and a half hours became a 6 hour round. We joined up with 2 guys playing behind us and they walked off in disgust after the 14th.
I implore you to play Prestwick but just hope you are not behind a large group. Every hole has great character with the possible exception of the 18th -the weakest hole on the course.
Prestwick St Nicholas nearby is a little hard to find and is generally not on the travelling golfers itinerary. Well it should be because it is a fun course, not too difficult and some very interesting holes.
( photo Prestwick St Nicholas)
You now keep heading south along the A77 to the famous links at Turnberry. The Ailsa Course is rightly on everyone's wish list with great scenery and scarcely a weak hole. Now that the Kintyre Course (formerly known as the Arran Course) has been improved with some work from Donald Steel it too should be on your play list. Look for the new 8th hole with it's green right on the water's edge.
If you plan on continuing along the coast till you reach England then there are still a few more treats awaiting. First is Stranraer near the busy ferry terminus. This was the last course ever designed by the ubiquitous James Braid and opened as recently as 1952. Several holes are near the sea but it is not a links. The 5th and the 14th are the most scenic and there is the mandatory burn in play on at least five holes.
A short detour from Stranraer will lead you to the fishing village of Portpatrick. Sometimes referred to as Dunskey, it is a clifftop course with views over the village and then the nearby cliffs beyond the spectacular 13th ,Sandeel. The day I was there the wind was blowing strongly in from the Irish Sea so at the 13th you had to aim your tee shot out of bounds above the cliffs and then let the wind bring your ball back.
The A77 becomes the A75 as you head towards the Solway Firth and the Scottish border. You should make the coastal detour and play Southerness which has been regarded as a hidden gem primarily because of its isolation. Mackenzie Ross did the design work here whilst he was involved in the post war reconstruction at Turnberry. There may not be any large dunes but this is a links of the highest order. I recall playing there the morning after 24 hours of heavy rain and the course was near perfect. The 12th is memorable with the green right on the waters edge.
There are other courses you might consider whilst in Scotland but these recommendations should keep you very busy.
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