Links golf Scottish style is closer than you think

Driving off the 13th tee at Dundonald Links

Driving off the 13th tee at Dundonald Links

IF you’re looking for a taste of links golf ‘Scottish style’ you shouldn’t automatically head for St Andrews.
Scotland has much, much more to offer and certainly, from a Northern Ireland perspective, you don’t have to travel far to savour the experience.
The West coast of Scotland often gets overlooked but South and North Ayrshire has a wonderful array of courses all within a short driving distance from the port of Troon.
Pack the car in the morning, hop on the P&O ferry at Larne and you can be playing at historic venues like Glasgow Gailes, Barassie or even the 2004 Open venue, Royal Troon.
On a recent visit I tackled Western Gailes and Dundonald Links, two courses separated by the Ayrshire Coast railway line and over 100 years of history. Western Gailes was founded in 1897 and retains an air of tradition while Dundonald Links, designed by Kyle Phillips, only opened for business in 2003.
Western Gailes is a classic old style links very much in the mould of Kirkistown Castle, or Castlerock. The course is squeezed into the land between the sea and the railway line but unlike many links courses where the sea is often blocked from view, at Western Gailes it is a constant presence, particularly on the stretch of holes from the fifth to the 13th.
Played off the tips the course measures just over 7000 yards, long enough to make it a challenge for some of the world’s best. Western Gailes has played host to the Curtis Cup and the Home Internationals. It is also a regular venue for Open Championship qualifying.

Western Gailes

Western Gailes

Thankfully, on our visit we played off the ‘visitors’ tees, which proved challenging enough particularly when facing into what my caddy helpfully referred to as a ‘light breeze’.
Coping with the wind and rain is, of course, all part of any links golf experience and Western Gailes, devoid of the huge dunes that frame the likes of Royal Portrush and Royal County Down, is more exposed than most to the elements sweeping in off the Fifth of Clyde.
The opening hole ‘Station’ offers a gentle start before the real challenge commences. The par four second ‘Railway’ plays to a small bowl-shaped green, hidden from view by the rolling mounds and hollows.
The par five sixth, ‘Lappock; plays along the water and requires two good shots to get into position to attack a large green which is tucked away almost at right angles to the fairway.
There is no let up on the back nine. The 13th ‘Barassie’ is the second of the three ‘short’ holes on the course and offers some respite in terms of length, but even it is surrounded by bunkers, gorse and heather.
The closing holes all play alongside the railway line bringing ‘Out of Bounds’ into the equation. The 16th, ‘Camp’ appears innocent standing on the tee but a hidden burn just short of the green makes for a treacherous approach. At the 17th, ‘Ridge’ the fairway narrows at 270 yards off the tee and the second shot is blind over a gorse mound to a narrow green. There is no let up at 18, which dog legs gently left. Golfers must play over one more burn and avoid the final bunkers to find the home green.
Western Gailes is a fantastic challenge and I certainly benefited from having a caddy who knew ‘where not to hit it’. On a course with so many hidden dips and hollows, that local knowledge was invaluable. If you get the chance to play it, and it really is worth a visit, investing in a caddy might also be a wise investment.
Thankfully, when you’ve been battered by the elements and the course, the clubhouse is warm and welcoming. You won’t find any stuffiness at Western Gailes. Instead you’ll enjoy superb hospitality in a relaxed atmosphere which only adds to the entire experience.
During our two-day excursion we stayed at the excellent four-star Menzies Hotel near Irvine, a mere five-minute drive from both courses. It’s a modern ‘golfer friendly’ hotel with comfortable, bedrooms, a contemporary brassiere restaurant, a stylish cocktail bar and a spacious lounge. More importantly, it is ideally located to make it is the perfect base for a golfing break.

Dundonald Links

So refreshed and ready for action we arrived at Dundonald Links for the second round of our visit to Ayrshire. Dundonald Links has been getting rave reviews since opening for business a decade ago and on a bright sunny day (the sun always shines in Scotland) it was a real pleasure to play.
Understandably, this modern links venue is a much different to Western Gailes.
For a start, there’s a fine driving range and practice facilities to get you ready for your round. On the course you won’t find any small bowl greens tucked away out of sight although you might find one or two sneaky pot bunkers. The green complexes are large and many of them are raised above the level of the fairway which makes running a shot in along the ground damn near impossible.

The 12th green Dundonald Links

The 12th green Dundonald Links

Dundonald is owned by the Loch Lomond private club and was acquired to give its members a taste of winter golf.
Since opening for play, this 7100 yard par 72 course has played host to pre-qualifying for the European Tour and the Senior British Open Championship.
The first offers a relatively benign opening tee shot to a wide fairway but the second shot to a narrow, two tiered green better be on target or you could be struggling for a bogey.
The difficulty ramps up at the 530 yard par-five third. The tee shot is protected by a burn, all the way down the right hand side, which then crosses the fairway creating a challenge on your second or lay up shot.  The enormous three-tiered green is protected short and back by bunkers and is a prime candidate for the dreaded ‘three-putt’.
The front nine closes with a really tricky par four. Two steep faced fairway bunkers stare at you from the tee and if you are lucky to clear them, the viciously sloping green is protected by a burn and two more green side bunkers. It’s stroke index two for a reason – if you manage a par take it and run to the 10th.
The back nine gets underway with a another difficult par four which plays towards the ever present backdrop of the Caledonian Paper Mill and is followed by a wicked, short (120 yards) par three that requires a pitch over marsh to a raised green guarded by three bunkers and a nasty pot bunker, 15 yards over the back. There’s no other option here, you simply must hit the green to even stand a chance of walking away with a par.
The round finishes with another testing par five measuring 540 yards. Generous off the tee, this hole gently dog legs to the right and requires more strategy than brawn. The key is getting into position to attack a narrow green guarded by yet another burn, but to do so you will have to avoid the fairway bunkers. Depending on where you place your second shot a four, five, or six might be a satisfactory finishing score.
I found the front nine at Dundonald Links the easier of the two to score on, but the back nine is certainly the more picturesque, with the 16th a wonderful creation. The club prides itself on being ‘visitor’ friendly, with tee times available at the weekend. The clubhouse is low-key but more than adequate while the service and attention to detail shown by the staff was simply first class and added to a really enjoyable experience.
Ayrshire may not have the historical appeal of St Andrews, but on the basis of my visit, it is very difficult to find fault with the golf on offer. This is prime golfing country and there’s enough variety in terms of price to suit almost everyone’s pocket.

*Visitors can now play three of Ayrshire’s finest courses – Dundonald Links, Western Gailes and Glasgow Gailes – in one visit. Go to










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