Image by Kevin Murray.
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Formerly the Kintyre course, Turnberry’s ‘other’ links was never actually without merit in its own right. Outside of St Andrews where the New and Jubilee courses upheld the ‘auld grey toon’s’ reputation, the Kintyre course outranked Scotland’s other apex courses that maintained a ‘second’ track such as Carnoustie’s Burnside, Dornoch’s Struie, or Troon’s Portland course. Even so, there was clearly scope to improve it, and this is what began when Donald Trump purchased the world’s first golf resort. The change of name from Kintyre to King Robert the Bruce needn’t be a gimmick. Alongside the tee at the tenth hole on the Ailsa course are the ruins of an ancient castle, reputedly the birth place of Robert ‘the Bruce’. The Kintyre course was duly renamed in honour of the hero of Bannockburn when it re-opened in 2017.
With such an illustrious neighbour taking the best coastline, the slightly more inside lines could feel decidedly second-rate. This isn’t the case however. The ascension of the old Kintyre course to a higher status was recognised relatively quickly when it first hosted final Open qualifying. The upgrade moved the Turnberry, King Robert the Bruce Course on a step further
|Yardage||Championship course white tees 7203 yds|
|Ranking||54th in Scotland|
|Handicap Restrictions||No handicap restrictions apply|
Turnberry, King Robert the Bruce Course
The Course itself
Changes have been made to the courses character first. In a nod to 21st century eco-design principles, a new wetland area has been created between the fifth and thirteenth greens with the expressed purpose of attracting wildlife (perhaps we should point out that ecologists are often left red-faced by wildlife’s frequent refusal to co-operate with designer habit), so perhaps it remains to be seen how successful Turnberry will be in persuading its fauna to oblige.
A lot of the gorse has been removed to reveal more natural waste areas. You might see similarities in concept with the waste bunkering at Castle Stuart, but the traps on the Bruce course has become something of a feature as a consequence. The fairway bunkers have been fringed with marram and begin to look a little bit like the famous ‘whiskered bunkers’ of Royal County Down. By contrast, the greenside bunkers are much more in the links tradition of revet faced pots, albeit not so deep as those encountered on the east coast. They are in keeping with the Ailsa course however.
The burn that used to be a feature of the first hole has now been removed, but otherwise the first seven holes, played on the most inland sections are all solid. The course really springs into life at the eighth, where four holes have now been incorporated onto Bains Hill. The old eighth, which involved a blind shot into the cove, with a second to an infinity green overlooking the Atlantic, has been removed. To some this will be a relief, to others it will be a retrograde step. The replacement hole however is still stunning, as you’d expect it to be given the landscape that Martin Ebert had to work with. It’s a downhill par 5 playing towards the Stevenson lighthouse and ultimately a green that sits below the 12th fairway of the Ailsa course.
The ninth is a new hole and probably took some visioning from the architect, as you immediately double back and play along the side of the hill. The tee shot requires a forced carry over the cove that used to host the old 8th green, to a narrowing fairway that taunts you into biting off too much. The penalty for misjudgement is probably a lost ball, for failure to make the carry will land you in all sorts of tangled jungle. The green itself is then perched precariously on the headland. Your approach shot will be determined by how much you were able to steal from the tee. The hole is both heroic and strategic, and rates number 2 on stroke index.
The new tenth hole is a par 3 that requires a demanding glory shot off the tee. It’s comparatively short at about 150 yds but requires you clear a sandy gully below. Failure to do so really spells trouble. As we’ve seen on plenty of occasions elsewhere, the length of a par 3 needn’t be the issue, the size of the landing surface, and the penalty for missing is what sets them on fire. The 10th on the new Bruce course is no exception.
The final hole in this quartet was once a par 4 on the old Kintyre course, but has now been lengthened to a par 5. The eleventh elegantly heads down and off Bains Hill, playing into the flatter parts of the property. It is the first of a trio of long holes on the inward nine, which also features three short holes too.
The remaining holes probably lack the drama of the middle section around the turn, but they’re still good golf holes, and couldn’t be accused of making up the numbers. One thing that did cause us at Faraway Fairways to pause slightly however, was the treatment of the eighteenth.
The redesign of the Ailsa course was met with near universal approval. We concur with the plaudits handed out. The only minor quibble we occasionally heard concerned the way the closing hole had been altered, which had hitherto been a dog-leg par 4, the only one of its sort on the Open Championship rotation. To some, the closing hole should always have been straight, and with the iconic white-stone, red-roofed hotel sitting atop the hill overlooking the links below, we kind of understood that Turnberry’s eighteenth leant itself particularly well to the task with a natural focus on this vista. For others however, the dog-leg eighteenth was quirky, and its uniqueness should have been preserved. We can only imagine the architect agonised on this, and was perhaps torn a bit, for the closing hole of the Bruce course is now a dog-leg
It will be interesting to see if the Bruce course can overtake the St Andrews Jubilee course when the new rankings are published, along with Gullane’s No2 course, it could easily have both within its sights. We suspect the target of the St Andrews New course however will remain out of reach, but don’t be shocked if its gets a little bit closer in the next few years as people learn to recognise that it’s actually a fine design now.