Thursday, 29 November 2012

Turnberry GC Ailsa Course - Course no 556

With many Scottish courses currently closed due to flooding or suffering more generally after one of the wettest Summers on record, I decided to play Turnberry Ailsa on 28 November 2012.  Polly was going to play as well but she's come down with flu, poor girl.  So, an early start was required and the 3 hour drive to the course wasn't encouraging, as there had been a heavy frost and my car was reading the outside temperature at -5C for much of the journey.  I needn't have worried, since there was no frost at Turnberry and with the low sun beating down and only a gentle breeze to contend with, the Ailsa course looked hugely inviting.  The course wasn't particularly busy so I was able to tee off (by myself) half an hour early.  That was to be important as I was also planning to play the 9 hole Arran Course and the 12 hole Pitch and Putt Course at Turnberry, light permitting. 
I'd played the Turnberry Kintyre Course a few years ago and was pretty impressed, particularly by the holes nearer the sea. Indeed, the Kintyre remains one of my favourite links courses.    However, it's no match for the Ailsa, which is of course best known as an Open Championship venue and is listed amongst the very best courses in the World, best in Britain, Scotland, best links course in the World, etc. "Best of" listings are in my view highly subjective, offering scope for endless debate.  Let's just say that having played the Ailsa on a bright late Autumn day in near perfect golfing conditions (well, +5 Degrees C with little wind and no rain is as good as we Scots can expect at this time of year), I'm not surprised that it gets such high ratings.  Ailsa is just a superb course (and by coincidence our youngest daughter's middle name!)  I played Ailsa off the Yellow tees, making the course 6100 Yards, Par 69.  Rather than go through this great course hole by hole, I'd refer my readers this link to the Turnberry website, which as you'll see covers each hole in great detail, with flyover videos etc.

I'd not played at all since my rounds in the Aberdeen area at the beginning of November due to a combination of bad weather, sodden courses and a nasty bout of flu, so I was concerned that my game might be a bit rusty and that tackling an easier course might have been more sensible.  Maybe it was just the benign playing conditions and some decent shot making but I played the opening holes reasonably well.  The 1st was only 340 Yards and a good drive set up a short iron to the green.  However, the bunkering is as tricky as you'd expect on a Championship layout, and finding one of the 4 bunkers protecting the opening green cost me a bogey.  At my level, par on a Championship layout is good, so opening pars on holes 2 and 3 were a relief after my long layoff.  The 4th was the first of several "should have" holes.  This is a 157 Yard Par 3 played to a bowl-shaped green with a severe slope to the left that carries anything mis-hit into heavy rough, leaving a  blind lob wedge chip.  I'd only slightly tugged my 27 Degree Rescue and needed almost the full 5 minutes to find my ball.  A great chip later and I'd a 6 foot putt for par.  I'd read that putts on Ailsa usually break towards the sea.  I just misread it slightly, but that was enough.
More bunker trouble at the 5th, a 392 Yard dog leg left Par 4.  I'd found a bunker in front of the  green and was delighted to find it designated as GUR.  My pitch and run looked good but the contours took it into another bunker, in play this time.  OK, maybe my pitch was slightly off-line but that's one of the joys/frustrations about links courses.  Double bogey followed. The 6th is a 187 Yard Par 3 with the green perched at the top of a steep slope and a large deep bunker lurking front right of the green, ready to swallow anything under-hit.  This is a view of the 6th looking back down the hole and across to the iconic Turnberry Hotel.  With the flag towards the front of the green, I took an easy swing with my 3 Wood and should have done better with my 15 foot putt.  Another misread but an easy enough par.

The 7th hole is Stroke Index 1 and at 463 Yards for a Par 4, it's easy to see why.  Good course management was needed to avoid real trouble and I was happy enough with a bogey.  This is a view back down the 8th, one of my favourite holes on the course.  The 8th is a 365 Yard Par 4.  The fairway was generously wide but the subtle contouring means that anything remotely near a bunker is likely to come to grief.  I'd found one of the 3 fairway bunkers off the tee, managed to get out, found a greenside bunker with my 8 iron 3rd, got out again, chipped on and holed a good single putt for double bogey.  The pin position was brutal, but I was loving the course, so who cares?  Nobody died and I knew that the famous 9th was next. 

Much has been written about the 9th at the Ailsa over the years and I couldn't resist wandering across to the Championship tee to have a look at what is undoubtedly one of the most daunting tees on The Open  circuit.  This is the view that Open Competitors face.  The 9th for hackers like me is a more manageable 388 Yards and far less difficult.  Hit your drive reasonably straight and this hole should be relatively straightforward.  However, if it's windy and/or wet, hang on to your hat and hope for the best!

This is a short 300 degree video that I took from the Yellow tee looking back down the 8th, out to the island of Ailsa Craig, down to the 9th Championship tee and up to the marker on the 9th fairway.  Remember I said my daughter's middle name was Ailsa?  She's married to a lovely guy called Craig!

I'd gone out in 42, so not bad.  Next was this, the 415 Yard Par 4 10th.  Anything left is dead.  Anything right risks finding  bunkering almost in the middle of the fairway  and a huge bunker with a grassy island inside it must be avoided if you manage to stay above ground from the tee.  I'd caught up with a couple of guys by this time and had to wait to play.  A passing walker suggested that I go for the left of the fairway, leaving a second shot to the left of the huge island bunker.  I'd seen that route myself and was delighted to find the green with Driver, 20 Degree Rescue and secure an easy par after a good long range putt.  I'd only a small audience, but the walker's "well played" comments were much appreciated.

The Course Guide mentions that on the 146 Yard Par 3 11th Hole the "most obvious the large steep faced bunker on the left." With the hole being slightly uphill and the flag seemingly stuck right behind this bunker I was tempted by the Guide's advice to play for the right half of the green. However, at my level I'm usually happy to hit any part of a green nearly 150 yards away, so I just aimed at the flag and trusted my swing. I'd finished inside 3 feet away, but missed the birdie putt. Bogeys at Holes 12-14 were slightly disappointing but I did at least get another easy par at this the 170 Yard Par 3 15th. This is a view from the left of the green looking out to sea and Ailsa Craig in the distance.

The Par 4 16th is another really tricky hole, with a burn running in a deep gully in front of the green.  The hole is only 385 Yards and although I'd only missed the fairway by a few feet I'd a lousy lie, so a lay up wedge was necessary and a scrambled bogey was slightly disappointing.  The 17th should have been a relatively easy Par 5, but there's a tiny pot bunker 88 Yards out from the green....hence the bogey!

And so to the last hole, renamed the " Duel in the Sun" in honour of the Watson/Nicklaus battle at the 1977 Open Championship.  I'd found a bunker off the tee, but luckily it was GUR after recent rains, so I'd a clear shot into the green.  I swung a bit too quick at my second and needed a good pitch to set up a closing bogey.  I'd gone round the Ailsa Course in 83, net 72 with 34 putts in just over 3 hours.  Net 3 over on such a grand course was pretty good.  I enjoyed every one of those 83 shots, some good, some bad, some lucky, some not.  It was just a privilege to play such a famous course on such a perfect Autumn golfing day.

Do yourself a favour.  Play the Ailsa Course.  Why? - you'll know well before you've finished and like me, you'll be itching to play it again.  Next time, maybe I'll be able to read the greens a wee bit better, so something under 80 is the target.
I work as a caddie so I'll not say any more about misreading the odd putt!  (Which reminds me of a caddying story I know to be true - "That's a great read you gave me on that last green" says the player, to which the caddie jokingly replies "I've given you a great read on every green so far, it's just that you canny bloody putt!)

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