The Trump Turnberry Resort, is the revamped Ailsa Course still worthy of an Open Championship?

Turnberry Open Memories

Many of us have great memories of Turnberry, mainly from TV coverage of the Open Championship. Those of a certain age will remember the “Duel in the Sun” the epic battle between Jack Nicklaus and Tom Watson in the last round of the 1977 Open. It was the first time the Open was played there and their televised duel gave Turnberry an almost legendary status right away.

Some may remember Greg Norman’s first victory, with a fantastic second round of 63 in the 1986 Open or Nick Price’s only Open Championship win in the 1994 Open, when he sank a 50-foot putt on the 17th green to pip Jesper Parnevik.

Heartbreak for Tom

However, most will remember the drama of the 2009 Open, when Tom Watson had the chance to win a sixth Open Championship at the age of 59. Needing a par at the last for victory, Watson bogeyed the hole after what looked like a great shot into the green took a hard bounce and finished through the green. Watson couldn’t get up and down for what would have been a historical and record-breaking win and then lost the playoff to Stewart Cink. 

It’s safe to say that everyone watching both onsite and on TV, apart from those in the Cink camp, were gutted. Many shed a tear for Tom, who handled the disappointment with great dignity and class.

New Owner, New Upgrades

In 2014, ownership of Turnberry changed and it is now owned by the Trump Organisation.  The hotel received a welcome upgrade in the traditional Trump style and both the Ailsa course and the renamed King Robert the Bruce course were renovated by Martin Ebert in 2016.

In our opinion, both courses have been improved by the changes, both in playability and in use of the coastline to dramatic effect. Whether the Open Championship will return to Turnberry in the future is a question for the R&A, all we know is that after playing here, the renovated Ailsa course is definitely of Open Championship standard.

Playing The Ailsa

There is no better feeling than standing on the first tee of an Open Championship venue, and especially so at Turnberry. With the distinctive hotel to your left, the clubhouse and 18th green behind you, the sun on your back and a light zephyr of a breeze, it’s a perfect day to take on the links.

A longer shot into the first green

Playing off the white tees, the first hole is a strong 400-yard opening hole which meanders to the right. On the tee shot, four deep bunkers guard the landing area so pick a club that will leave you short of the one on the right. From there it’s a medium iron to a green protected by three bunkers at the front and multiple run-off areas on both sides and at the back. If you can make par, you are off to a great start.

Holes 2 and 3 are par 4’s of under 400 yards and with good approach shots, give decent birdie opportunities.

Dramatic Coastline

The short 4th Hole

The fourth is the first of the short holes. At only 140 yards, the tee sits next to the beach and you play across a sandy waste area and tall wispy grass to a green that sits above you. It’s only a straightforward hole if you hit the green. Don’t go left or long if you want to make par. This hole is the start of an eight-hole stretch that plays along the coastline and the first that gives you a view of the famous lighthouse.

Beautiful bunkering on the approach to the 5th green

The fifth is the first of the par 5’s. Playing just over 500 yards, you might think it’s a potential birdie hole but to do that you need to negotiate the ten bunkers on the hole. There are four to catch your drive followed by another four in the layup area and two more green side to “trap” those who take on the green. It’s a cracking hole and one of our favourites. The bunkering frames the hole magnificently. The walk from the 5th green to the 6th tee gives you spectacular views of the beach and the shoreline of the next few holes.

Don’t be short on the 6th hole

The short 6th is a lovely-looking hole that runs parallel to the beach. The tee is up on the dunes and looks down on a green protected by 3 bunkers. If it is windy, you can hit a wide variety of shots to find the putting surface. Thankfully, it was calm and our 8 iron gave us a look at birdie.

Play Safe

The famous lighthouse in the background on your second shot into the 7th

Every time we stand on the 7th tee, we think we can cut the corner on this dogleg left par 5. The tee shot is deceiving, it doesn’t look that far to the corner, but trust me, it is!! The ideal line is the two bunkers on the right, don’t go left at any point on this hole. Once on the fairway, you can decide whether to go for the green or to layup. If you play it as a 3-shot hole it’s an easy par.

The 8th, a 430-yard par 4 is tricky. The fairway slopes from left to right and the right side of the fairway has 3 deep fairway bunkers. Avoiding these bunkers gives you the chance of a birdie. Take enough club for your second shot as all the trouble is short and be mindful of the pin position on the two-tiered green.

The stunning 9th hole from the championship tee

The front nine ends with one of the most photographed “new” holes in golf. From the championship tee, this par 3 measures 248 yards, with about 220 of that, a carry over the rocks and the Atlantic Ocean. Thankfully, from the white tees, it’s ”only” 187 yards and a much more enjoyable hole. With the Turnberry Lighthouse in the background, which doubles as the halfway house, you can’t help but smile at how lucky you are to be playing here.

Homeward Bound

Don’t miss left on the second shot on the 10th

After a quick coffee and comfort break in the lighthouse, the challenge of the back nine awaits. The 10th is a cracking hole. From the elevated tee, the hole stretches out in front of you. It’s a 500-yard par 5 and it plays round the bay. Again, left is not an option. Play to the right off the tee, avoid the fairway bunker and you can consider going for the green in two. However beware of the fairway cross bunker, 100 yards short of the green. If you bail out right you can still chip and putt for birdie.

Rocks everywhere on the 11th hole

The 11th is the last hole on the coastline. At 178 yards, distance isn’t the problem here. Your tee shot is played over rocky outcrops and glimpses of the beach. Anything left or short is dead. The right centre of the green is the line.

Heading Inland

Avoid the heavy rough on the 12th hole

Holes 12 and 13 are shorter par 4’s at around 380 yards but both require your tee shots to be threaded between fairway bunkers to secure pars.

The 14th is the last par 5 and at 500 yards can give you a birdie chance. You must avoid the deep fairway bunkers both left and right in the landing zone. There are another two deep bunkers about 90 and 70 yards short of the green so if you are laying up, try and leave around 100 yards to a green that sits above you.

Take enough club on the 15th hole

The 15th is the final par 3. 183 yards to the centre of the green and it’s probably a 3 club difference from a front pin to a back pin. The green slopes from back to front and from left to right. Hit the green, take 2 putts and run to the next tee!!

The Closing Stretch

The sloping 16th green

The 16th is one of the standout, memorable holes on this outstanding championship course. A 420-yard par 4, you MUST hit the fairway to go for the green on two. Hit the fairway and your second shot is fraught with danger. It plays downhill to a green that slopes left to right. A wide burn crosses diagonally in front and around and up the right-hand side of the green. Make a par here and you will be smiling heading to 17.

Through the valley to the green on the 17th

The penultimate hole plays as a 450-yard par 4 from the white tees. A ridge of dunes on the left means that you should aim your drive down the right centre but make sure you are short of the bunker. This leaves you an uphill second shot through a narrow shute of fairway to the green. Take enough club as anything short will roll back down the slope.

The 18th green with the hotel as a backdrop

The 18th is one of the iconic holes in golf. Earlier we talked of the drama in 2009, but in 1977, Watson hit the fairway and Jack was in the edge of the bushes down the right. What followed were two of the best shots ever seen on the final hole of an Open. Nicklaus powered a shot out of the bush onto the green from almost 200 yards. Watson then hit a 7-iron, 178 yards to three feet. Jack then holed from 30 feet and Tom then knocked his in to win by a shot. Our playing of 18 wasn’t as epic as theirs but we made par.

The Clubhouse

The view of the clubhouse from the hotel

The Clubhouse at Turnberry was renovated in 2015. The ground floor is dedicated to an enormous pro shop and locker rooms. The pro shop is stacked with branded gear from all major stockists.  On the upper floor, there are numerous meeting rooms and the Duel in the Sun restaurant. There is also a wrap-around walkway with hundreds of photos and memorabilia from the Open Championships and other tournaments the resort has hosted. It’s well worth spending the time to look at all the history on the walls.

At a Glance:

  • Just over an hour from the centre of Glasgow
  • The Ailsa plays between 5406 and 7489 yards
  • Double-ended driving range
  • Excellent short game area and putting greens
  • Wonderful clubhouse with historic memorabilia
  • Outstanding pro shop with a full range of branded gear

The revamped Ailsa course is a masterpiece. We rank it as one of the best and we have been fortunate to play on the majority of the Open courses. The eight-hole stretch from the 4th to the 11th is magnificent and the closing stretch is iconic. It brings back memories of previous holes and shots played by the world’s best golfers. There is something magical about that in itself. Even if you have no memory of previous Opens, a visit to Turnberry, one of the world’s best golf destinations, must surely be on your bucket list.

Will the new Ailsa make it back onto the Open Championship rota? Time will tell but we hope so.

Next time, we stay at the Trump Turnberry Hotel and get to play the King Robert the Bruce course.

Jim Callaghan has been a Category One Golfer for over 45 years. Recently retired from Club Management, he now walks the fairways of some of the best golf courses in the UK, Ireland and Europe and writes about the experience of playing and staying at them for

Now in his 60’s, he is still carrying his bag, although maybe not for much longer!

If you would like Jim to write about your venue, email him at [email protected] or call him on 0044 (0) 78522 88732