In the immediate aftermath of an event, there is a tendency to elevate it to a status beyond that which might befit its true place on the pantheon of greatness. As time passes though hierarchies are reassessed in line with more sober reflections caused by the subsiding of this initial euphoria. It’s over 40 years since Turnberry’s moment in the spotlight, the so-called “Duel in the Sun” (it actually rained briefly on the third day). That so many people still nominate the 1977 shoot-out between Tom Watson and Jack Nicklaus as their instantaneous answer to the question of which was the greatest head-to-head golf match in history, suggests that this has indeed endured, and long passed the mark where-by its nomination, could be accused of misplaced temporary sentiment and lacking context. Trump Turnberry market their offer as ‘walking in the footsteps of legends’, (as do many courses). In this case though, the Trump Turnberry claim has much legitimacy to it. This genuinely is your chance to do the same.

The Trump Turnberry, Ailsa Course is where Jack and Tom posted identical scores for the first three days and duly slugged it out. The pair were tied at the 16th and ten shots clear of third place (Hubert Green). Nicklaus missed a short putt at the 17th but made an improbable recovery at the 18th to heap the pressure back on Watson. Tom responded and holed out to claim his second title.

The name of Tom Watson is inextricably chiselled into Turnberry’s DNA. In 2003 he won his first Seniors Open title over the Ayrshire links. In 2009 however, he came within a whisker of rewriting not just golf history, but sporting legend on the same Turnberry, Ailsa Course.

It’s taken a few years to bring ourselves to commit the events of the 2009 Open to Turnberry’s summary, but if ever proof was needed that golf doesn’t do romance, it came here. At the age of 59, Tom lay one shot off the lead on the opening day. Most commentators thought it little more than a flight of nostalgia for the misty eyed romantic. Against all expectation however he improved. By the close on Saturday he ensured he’d go into the final the oldest person ever to lead a Major after 54 holes. His game never waivered. A typical Turnberry round of birdies and bogeys followed, but by the time he came down the 18th it looked like golf was going to deliver one of the greatest stories of all time.

Tom hit the fairway in ‘position A’, and was left with a pitch. Agonising over his club, he drew the eight-iron and actually landed it pretty well in the zone that Johnny Miller had used on the telestrator. Cruelly however, the ball took a capricious bounce on contact and fell through the back of the green to lodge mischievously on the swail. Tom elected to use the putter reasoning that his worst putt wouldn’t be as bad as his worst chip. The recovery slid on a few yards leaving a devilish eight footer coming back. Agonisingly it never really threatened the hole and a play-off with Stewart Cink was the result. Cink himself was only there because he holed a testing 20 footer on the final hole. If that had stayed out, well ……

The requirement to play an extra four holes proved too much for Tom Watson. Shots were dropped with enough regularity that Stewart Cink was presented the claret jug, and golf was denied what would have been one of its greatest ever stories of all time


Founded 1906 (club founded 1902)
Yardage Championship course white tees 7489 yds
Par 71
Golf Digest World Ranking 19th in the world
Handicap Restrictions No handicap restrictions apply

Turnberry, Ailsa Course

The Course itself

The Turnberry, Ailsa Course sits on a peninsula of links land and is the most aesthetically pleasing of all the courses on the Open roster. It offers spectacular views across the Firth of Clyde to the islands of Arran, Ailsa Craig, and the Mull of Kintyre. Standing like a watchful sentinel on the tip of the headland is the iconic lighthouse built in 1873 by Thomas and David Stevenson, the father and uncle of the famous writer, Robert Louis Stevenson, on a site amidst the ruined walls of Turnberry castle. Legend has it that Robert ‘the’ Bruce, King of Scotland, was born there in 1274.

The first three holes pose a fairly tough opening, particularly when the wind blows from the direction of Ailsa Craig, the dramatic cup cake shaped rock eleven miles out to sea. The stretch from the fourth to the eleventh now follows the shoreline and invites you to play some of the finest golf anywhere in the world on a beguiling stretch of unrivalled coastal links holes.

The fifth is one of the toughest assignments in the Open championship. Only Troon’s ‘Railway Hole’, and St Andrews’s ‘Road Hole’, exact a heavier toll on the golfers who tackle them. The green has been moved back into the wonderfully natural site of the valley behind the old green, creating a daunting amphitheatre to play into.


The fifth is the most difficult hole on the course
– Image by Kevin Murray

The sixth to the eighth are framed by dunes until you reach the turn when rocky crags take over the defence.

The ninth, tenth, and eleventh are a stretch of pure golfing wunderlust which perhaps only Pebble Beach could challenge in links golf. It is a thrilling passage full of stout hitting played in an exposed and wild landscape of crags, untrammelled grasses, and against the raw energy of the ocean. The ninth, ‘Bruce’s Castle’, is the course’s signature assignment and much photographed. When in 2015 Donald Trump announced that he was going to redevelop the Turnberry, Ailsa Course, he reserved a special place in dispatches for the ninth. Trump calmly announced he would build the best par 3 hole in the world. From the exposed back tees a drive over the Atlantic is required to the green beyond which is perched atop a craggy ridge line with the waves ready to devour anything under hit or sufficiently wayward to take a fatal ricochet. It is as memorable for its scenery as it is for its level of difficulty. Even from the forward tees the hole requires an intimidating drive across the corner of the bay.

‘Bruce’s Castle’. Instead of being a par 4 with a tee shot playing inland to a notoriously random fairway, the new ninth, is a par 3 played over rocky coves and when the tide is in, an intimidating Atlantic swell
– Image by Kevin Murray

If the ninth has legitimate claims to the title of the world’s best par 3, then the tenth might equally be crowned the world’s best par 5. Played in the shadows of the ancient ruined castle of legendry Scottish king, Robert ‘the’ Bruce, the back tee shot is another played over the sea. The carry required to gain the fairway gets longer the more of the angle you try and bite off to the left. It’s the identical predicament to the first at Machrihanish. In this case the reward is more tangible as you can reach the green in two. Get it wrong though, and it’s horrible! The putting surface has been realigned to be closer to the shore. A right hander catching a hook could find themselves heading into the surf. Those who elect the safer route needn’t find things too much easier. The old doughnut bunker has been replaced by a larger trap more faithful to the original course of the 1920’s. This sits in front of the green on the sort of yardage you might like to pitch your third from. The iconic view looking back from the green towards the lighthouse and Ailsa Craig at least allows the golfer to release a sigh of awe as they reflect over what they’ve just played.


The ‘Classic’ view of the 10th green looking back towards the tee near the Stevenson Lighthouse, and with Ailsa Craig on the horizon
– Image by Kevin Murray

The final hole in the trinity, the eleventh, is possibly the cleverest of the lot. When we first saw the plans for the Ailsa’s redevelopment we felt the eleventh had the capacity to become ‘the hidden gem’ of the course. We think we can probably say they’ve nailed it. ‘Maidens’ is an inspired par 3 which utilises some opportunistic nubs of land to create yet another coast hugging shot that needs to ride the breeze to an intimate target nestled on the shoreline.


The new 11th has a touch of genius about it. Imagine the excitement when you realise that you include a completely new hole that hadn’t previously been considered and add to the course, rather than building one as a routing solution
– Image by Kevin Murray

The twelfth hole is called ‘Monument’ and distinguished by a giant cross that sits atop a striking mound in honour to Turnberry’s service. In the first world war Trump Turnberry was as a pilot training centre (the RFC knew what they were doing!), and in 1940 she became part of coastal command with her runways used to attack German U-boats out in the Atlantic.

The fourteenth is another new hole, now playing on a new line. As you strike out from the tee the vista slowly, and dramatically unfolds before you as you walk up the fairway. An infinity green overlooks the new ninth below as you discover that your target sits on an elevated plinth looking out to sea with the lighthouse in the foreground and Ailsa Craig and the Isle of Arran on the horizon beyond. Wow!

All good things must come to an end but the eighteenth, now called ‘Duel in the Sun’, allows you to conclude in style. The closing hole used to be unique for being the only one in the Open rotation played on a dog-leg. Since the redesign however new tees have been introduced into the dune system on the shoreline allowing the golfer to blast from wild stuff and open up a straight processional drive to their coronation under the gaze of the iconic hotel. The Trump Turnberry Ailsa Course should be top-10 within a few years and we wouldn’t be shocked to see it ultimately ranked as the world’s leading links



Trump Turnberry

Buggy hire, Trolleys, Caddies and Clubs

When playing Scotland you are very much in the heartland of the sports traditions. In a lot of cases this won’t extend to 20th century inventions such as buggies/ carts. You are invited to take a step-back into history to a large extent and play a round in the manner more akin to how the game was originally conceived. This is quite normal for the top courses. Turnberry is no exception.


Driving Range Available Yes
Rental Carts Available No
Rental Trolleys Yes
Caddies Yes – gratuity at own discretion
Rental Clubs Available Yes
Pro Shop Yes


We don’t normally ‘do’ the ‘hotel thing‘ in a big way when focusing on the golf, but make an exception for Turnberry. The white-stone, red-roofed hotel that overlooks the course is one of the most iconic and glorious in golf

It’s probably not advisable for us to express a view as to which is our personal favourite course of those on the Open roster. So we won’t!!!


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