• hillhouse,

Trump Turnberry

Willie Fernie, James Braid, Mackenzie Ross, Martin Ebert
An Open Championship running-game links of undulating softness, around the iconic lighthouse.
South of Troon on Ayrshire coast. Post code:KA26 9LT
Ralph Parciani
01655 331000
Ricky Hall
Green Keeper
Allan Patterson
turnberry, donald trump, fine running game,
Access Policy:
Visitors welcome
Dog Policy:
welcomed when well-behaved
Open Meetings:
Fees in 1960s
Fees today
£325 - 2020


The Open Championship venue of Turnberry, was recently acquired by Donald Trump the golf mad, American entrepreneur, who fell out with First Minister Salmon over wind turbines off the coast of his new golf course in Aberdeen, and he has been welcoming his management team and associated financial backing to the magnificent hotel complex. Even more important is the expected investment into the 45 golf holes, managed until recently by Superintendent Euan Grant, an experienced, highly regarded, modern greenkeeper.

The Turnberry Hotel

The Turnberry Hotel

I was lucky recently to play with Martin Lothian, the Ailsa course manager, (we had a great game but I couldn’t quite hang-on and went one down!) who has given the last thirty years of his life to maintaining excellence at Turnberry and who welcomed the creative leadership of Euan.

They have used Compost Teas for five years to obtain naturalness to the soil around the roots of the grass on their greens. This has helped retrieve them from a domination of annual meadow grass (Poa annua) to some 50% browntop bent, and fescues are now also being oversown helped by the recent two comparatively dry summers.

Some suggest the Donald Steel (a member of FineGolf’s Advisory Panel) upgraded Kintyre course is the tougher challenge to a card & pen game with its avenues of whins (gorse) and that the holes around the lighthouse on the Championship Ailsa course do not take full advantage of the beautiful rocky seashore.

Following Donald Steel’s two ‘apprentices’ Martin Ebert and Tom Mackenzie coming out from under his shadow and setting up their own practice, they are now along with Martin Hawtree, surely the United Kingdom’s premier golf architects, increasingly being used to develop the finest running courses in the natural designs of the ‘golden era’ of the first thirty years of the last century.

Click to enlarge

The drive at the tenth

The Martins and Tom are now helping many fine courses maintain their challenge in the face of the ever increasing length the ball is being hit by the TOP players whether they are professional or amateur. Here at Turnberry Martin Ebert has helped locate the championship tee back on the rocks and re-configure the fairway of the tenth (‘Dinna fouter’) and created a Carnoustie like ‘Hogan’s alley’ with bunkers in the middle of the fairway. There are discussions about tucking the green round the corner to bring the beach more into play and perhaps giving it a Castle Stuart ‘infinity’ backdrop of the rocky coast. In addition the par three eleventh (‘Maidens’) green may be moved left, again to bring the shoreline and hillside rocks more into the picture.

Turnberry, an Open Championship venue in 1977, 1986, 1994 and 2009 needs to consider what further changes to make to help create as epic a championship as those four, with the ‘Duel in the sun’ between Nicklaus and Watson, Greg Norman’s 63 in strong wind and rain, Nick Price just beating Jesper Parnevik, an Open Championship rooky and Tom Watson almost winning when he was close to the ripe age of sixty.

I having not played the Ailsa since 1967, it was a treat to re-discover this running course that has an undulating softness about it and some great iconic holes with the lighthouse so often in the background.

The start can only be described as slow but fair with three dogleg holes going back and forwards and a fine short hole (‘Woe-be-tide’) played across the edge of the beach and usually in a cross wind, to a gathering-in bowl green.

turnberry, donald trump, fine running game,

Martin Lothian at the fifth

The fifth hole (‘Fin me oot’) is a continuously left-doglegging hole, 392 – 479 yards on whose green we were both on in two flying the protecting bunkers. When Martin sank his 25 yarder can you ever imagine that my ten footer was going to be slotted!?

After a very long prevailing downwind par three (‘Tappie toorie’) with a to-be-avoided front right bunker, the seventh (‘Roon the ben’) is one of Turnberry’s classic holes. It is a sharp left-hand dogleg to a valley fairway, from which one can wake up in the middle of the night from a dream or perhaps nightmare working out how much of the corner can be cut-off. From the white tees the carry over the corner is 265 yards which is too short these days for the TOP golfers! so the back tee is an extra 65 yards which makes the hole into an unremarkable par five, but then with McIlroy blasting over all the 330 yards of trouble on the Open Championship 17th at Royal Liverpool who can say?

The eighth (‘Goat fell’) another long par four to a raised two-tier green is all about staying out of the drive bunkers into which the fairway feeds your ball.

turnberry, donald trump, fine running game,

The seventh green

There is something magical about the three holes six to eight, each pointed at the lighthouse and with this image being the iconic emblem of Turnberry, it would be tremendous if the rocky area around the bottom of the lighthouse could be incorporated into the course more.

To be honest, it is almost impossible to choose at what length to approach the angle of the hogs-back fairway of the ninth (‘Bruce’s castle) to pitch on and stay on. One hopes nobody is going to suggest watering the fairway fine running grasses to make them more receptive!

turnberry, donald trump, fine running game,

Lorne driving at the ninth before it becomes a par three.

(update comment: It has just been announced that turning the ninth into a par three with a green under the lighthouse is being considered).

The twelfth (‘Monument’) named after the monument on the hill above the green commemorating the lost airmen stationed at Turnberry during the World Wars, is the first straight drive hole but into the prevailing wind may require an extra club to reach the raised green.

The thirteenth (‘Tickly tap’) has an elevated green with a steep incline at the front and all around, that makes the green sitting at 45 degrees to the fairway look particularly small but in actual fact it is one of the largest putting surfaces at 43 yards front to back!

The sixteenth’s fairway (‘Wee burn’) at 377 to 455 yards was moved left to give room to add length to the seventeenth hole. It now has a half-blind drive and is one of those holes one remembers with affection should your long iron second shot achieve the green over a very deep gorge with a wee burn at the bottom. I discovered that the ball will gather in helpfully from the left to another bowl green.

turnberry, donald trump, fine running game,

Wind turbines behind the seventeenth green

The seventeenth (‘Lang whang’) is now a good testing par five now that the ridge cannot be flown and two approach bunkers and a greenside one beyond, challenge one’s second shot. This is the last of Turnberry’s ‘valley’ holes that are so exciting to play, though it is doubtful that Donald Trump will be pleased that the backdrop is a windfarm.

The last, now named ‘Duel in the sun’, brings one along a plateau back to the white clubhouse and under the imposing façade of the five-star ‘railway’ hotel that sits magisterially looking down on proceedings.

The original course was designed by Willie Fernie from Royal Troon but through much damage from being requisitioned by the RAF during both World Wars, required a redesign by James Braid in 1925 and again by Cecil Hutchinson in 1938, while the course we love today was created by Mackenzie Ross in 1951, following his running-game masterpiece at Southerness  some 60 miles to the south, that he finished in 1947.

As Frank Pennink said in 1962, “Perhaps Turnberry’s charms of scenery have overweighed the true excellence of the golf. If so it is small wonder, for the views from the hotel, to Ailsa Craig, Arran, the Mull of Kintyre beyond, and, on clear days, the distant Antrim coast by the Giant’s Causeway, are all-absorbing and ever-entrancing.” It was not until 1961 that the Amateur Championship was played here when Sir Michael Bonallack won the first of his five wins. This was soon followed by the Walker Cup in 1963.

If the Open Championship attempts to create a challenge so that the best player in the world at that time wins, Turnberry has achieved this in its first three and this is testament to its quality.

We wait to hear whether Donald Trump has been convinced to take the ‘running-game’ route for the development of his Open Championship course! Let’s hope he respects history, though his belief there is no need for huts within which to shelter from the rain, because everybody now has excellent rainproof clothing, is a typical example of how he challenges that concept.

Reviewed by Lorne Smith in 2014.

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