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TURNBERRY’S ‘AMEN CORNER’ – THE BEST IN LINKS GOLF?

Marketing can be tough sometimes. Teams spend hours and not inconsiderable amounts of budget trying to conjure up straplines that they hope we’ll adopt. Sometimes however, the most enduring come about by accident, a spontaneous expression that is instinctively understood. To some extent this is what happened when Warren Wind, writing in Sport Illustrated, described something from the 1958 Masters that people could immediately relate to by way of sentiment

“On the afternoon before the start of the recent Masters golf tournament, a wonderfully evocative ceremony took place at the farthest reach of the Augusta National course—down in the Amen Corner where Rae’s Creek intersects the 13th fairway near the tee, then parallels the front edge of the green on the short 12th and finally swirls alongside the 11th green.”

Originally called ‘Ailsa’, the 8th hole at Troon is another example. Writing in Golf Illustrated, Willie Park Jnr lamented that the seemingly innocuous short par 3 was akin to “A pitching surface skimmed down to the size of a Postage Stamp”. Encapsulating as it does a hint of both protest reinforced with a readily accessible visual image that left little to the imagination, it resonated. Another golfing icon was born from seemingly humble origins.

When Turnberry’s Ailsa course was renovated in 2016, the run of holes 9-11 were subject to major revisions. When they looked at what they’d produced it was impressive. The sequence was screaming out ‘Amen Corner’, but herein lay the problem. Imposing an artificial name is difficult. These things need to gain traction organically. In casual conversation we became aware of consideration being given to the ‘Turnberry Triangle’, a nod to the famous one in Bermuda where things go missing. Faraway Fairways preferred ‘the three witches’ by way of reference to Macbeth; “the Scottish play”. Perhaps lending the trio a degree of elegance whilst acknowledging the adjacent village of Maidens was the answer; ‘the three graces’ needn’t be inconsistent?

To the best of our knowledge the three holes remain nameless. We’re sure that if a journalist is able to make something stick, or if anyone can conjure up a collective name that meets with approval, Turnberry will be grateful or open to suggestion. For now however, we thought we’d take through Turnberry’s very own ‘Amen Corner’

9th BRUCE’S CASTLE
248 YDS, PAR 3

For years Turnberry’s ninth would be an obligatory inclusion in any ‘fantasy’ compilation course. It was always regarded as a world class hole. Perched precariously on a crag overhanging the sea, the exposed tee was one of the most dramatic in golf. Viewed from the fairway looking back the distinctive outline of Ailsa Craig cut the horizon line, whilst the Stevenson lighthouse stood watch on the right. Yet for all this wild majesty, there was a sense that the hole might still be failing to achieve its full dramatic potential

The problem with Bruce’s Castle is that it was a par 4, with the tee shot played back inland and into a hogsback fairway that had developed a reputation for randomly spitting balls all over the place. Links golf has always trusted a little bit to fortune, but perhaps there was a sense that the fairway at the ninth had pushed this beyond what was really acceptable

The solution had been hypothesised for years, but it still needed someone to bite the bullet and put right this historical oversight.

The ninth has always been the signature hole of the Ailsa. The Championship tee is further to the left requiring a shot over more of the sea
– Image by Kevin Murray

The ninth was realigned and turned into a par 3 playing over the sea, crags, and coves towards a new green that was created broadly on the site of where the lighthouse keepers walled garden used to be. The old fairway was simply allowed to return to nature

The ninth retains its status as Turnberry’s signature hole and has met with universal approval. Even the forward tees have been positioned in such a way as to extend the shorter hitter the thrill of driving over the intimidating crags below. The lighthouse helps frame the field of view and is very much more a feature of the new hole than it was the old one too. If we at Faraway Fairways had to raise any question mark over the new ninth it would be restricted to purely whether or not a piece of the old stonewall could have been retained as an additional hazard? Stonewalls are a feature of Scottish links, most notably on the 17th at St Andrews, and the 13th at North Berwick. This is minor issue though, and perhaps it was considered and rejected for good reason

The graphic illustrates the shot from the back tee. The forward tees are on the raised ground to the right. The new 14th green can also be seen to the right of the 9th green on a raised area

10th DINA FOUTER
565 YDS, PAR 5

When Donald Trump said he was going to build the best par 3 in the world, we kind of realised straight away that it was possible and needn’t be an empty grandiose statement. As we at Faraway Fairways began playing about with Google Earth however we started to realise that the potential existed to follow it with the best par 5 as well. The old 10th hole was a par 4, and after being subject to some re-profiling was itself gaining a deserved reputation in its own right. Some seasoned judges had now begun to nominate Dina Fouter as Turnberry’s best hole as it threatened usurp its more celebrated neighbour. With the new 9th green being built where it was, the scope existed to push the 10th tees further towards the sea, ultimately they came to rest in the shadow of the lighthouse and in close proximity to the ruins of Bruce’s Castle itself.

The first at Machrihanish is regarded by many to be the finest opening hole in Scotland, and will usually feature prominently in any global list seeking the accolade. It involves playing over a beach with the waves rolling in, and towards a fairway that falls away from you as it wends its way on a dog-leg left. The geometry of the shot as you stand on Turberry’s tenth tee is similar in concept, except that Turnberry trades in less forgiving rocky crags and long rough, Machrihanish does at least deal in sand and shingle (even if you can’t find a ball on it)

There is a definite risk and reward equation to reconcile with from the tee. Positioning the ball in such a place as to permit you the option of going for the green in two requires you to bite off the angle. The further you push onto this, the longer the drive required. If you miscalculate and take too much, then you fall short of the landing strip and all sorts of punishment awaits. The safer option will set you further back in the fairway and makes you third, the pitch to the green, the crucial engagement of the battle.

Cut off what you dare from tee. Take too much though, and you’re on the beach

The player who has let it hang out there and safely found the fairway on an obliging yardage is entitled to feel satisfied with their effort. They are by no means home and hosed though. Repositioning the green closer to the shoreline means they still have to execute a lofty blow with their second to finally cash in, let it leek too far to the right and you’ll have a nasty recovery. Should it take a real hook, well, the sea is by no means out of consideration

The more conservative choice has already closed down the option of going for the green in two. This is where the hole switches from being ‘heroic’ to becoming ‘strategic’. The old doughnut bunker (aka Muirfields 18th) has been removed and a larger hazard has be reinstalled which is more faithful to that photographed in the 1920’s. This sits on what would be a perfect yardage for many to flick their third shot onto the putting surface. Strategists now need to judge how close they’re prepared to flirt with this with the view to setting up their final approach pitch. It’s still worth remembering that the green is set tight against the shoreline. Even the third could become problematic if over hitting it

Take off too much and you end up on the beach. The green is also set right back as well. The tenth looks great

Regardless of how you play this quixotic hole, you’ll still be permitted the glorious view looking back towards the sweeping downhill fairway towards the lighthouse that cuts the skyline. Permit yourself a turn and take it in before moving onto the final hole of this trio

The classic view from behind the 10th looking towards the lighthouse and the sweep into green is still one to be admired on completion of the hole
– Image by Kevin Murray

11th MAIDENS
215 YDS, PAR 3

The new 10th green had taken up some of the old eleventh tee, but as Faraway Fairways had first noticed when looking at satellite imagery as we tried to plan out our solution, there were two unused nubs of land running along the shoreline that were crying out ‘tee’ and ‘green’. Separated by a little over 200yds, they also screamed ‘par 3’. Now we had no idea just how playable these pieces were, but clearly Mackenzine Ebert were on the same wave length. It always seemed possible at the presentation stage that the eleventh could emerge as the ‘hidden gem’ on the course, when we saw the result, we concluded it had surpassed this test

The eleventh is an ingenious addition to the portfolio
– Image by Kevin Murray

The eleventh is an altogether more intimate par 3 and very different in nature to the ninth. It involves a tee shot played along the shoreline and might be disconcerted further by a prevailing wind that can mean you needing to consider starting it on a line that overhangs the waves and the beach.

If the 9th has an element of savagery about it, the 11th as an altogether more intimate encounter

The only comparable stretch of coastal golf we can think of is the seventh and eighth at Pebble Beach, two undoubtedly world class holes, which possibly suggests that Turnberry’s place at the top of the pile might very well rest with the acclaim that their third offering, (the eleventh) is able to establish

It’s perhaps worth mentioning that despite having a name which suggests divine intervention is needed to navigate a safe passage through it, the scoring through the real ‘Amen Corner’ isn’t actually that punishing. The secret probably lies with the fact that so many different scores are possible over the three holes. To some extent the same might happen with Turnberry’s version. A risk and reward par 5, sandwiched by a couple of dramatic par 3’s has plenty of scope for dramatic scoreboard action.

Now all we need is catchy brand name. How about the ‘Rocky Horror!’ No?

Turnberry features prominently in many Faraway Fairways itineraries. Click below to discover more.

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