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Turnberry's Ailsa course in Scotland is gearing up to welcome back the Open Championship in 2009.
Turnberry's Ailsa course in Scotland is gearing up to welcome back the Open Championship in 2009. (GolfPublisher.com)

British Open host Turnberry at the top of its game after a century of golf

Brandon TuckerBy Brandon Tucker,
Managing Editor

TURNBERRY, SCOTLAND — Some things get better with age. After turning 100 this year, there's no time like the present for the Ailsa golf course at the Westin Turnberry in South Ayrshire, Scotland.

The legendary Ailsa has been home to three British Opens prior to 2009, including the epic "Duel in the Sun" of 1977, pitting Jack Nicklaus against Tom Watson. The two played together Saturday and Sunday — and Watson never led until his two-putt birdie on the par-5 17th on Sunday. He then tapped in a two-foot birdie on the 18th to upset the Golden Bear.

If you didn't catch the action that sunny summer day, never fear, the duel is looped on a flat screen in the lobby in the clubhouse and is quite nostalgic.

Turnberry remains a favorite Open spot for many pro golfers.

"So many of the world's best golfers have told me they enjoying to Turnberry as one of the best Open venues in the world," Turnberry General Manager Stewart Selbie said.

Greg Norman's first of two Open titles came at Turnberry in 1986 and Nick Price won when the Open returned in 1994. Course officials are expecting a big name will win in 2009 once again.

"It is not by accident hat previous Open winners have been the best players in the world at the time," said Paul Burley, director of golf. "It is a reflection of the way the course was set up, its fairness and like all great golf courses, the Ailsa responds to superlative play."

Minor changes are being implemented between now and the tournament to add length, but this isn't the first time the Ailsa has received a facelift. The course was closed during both World War I and World War II in order to serve as a military airbase.

Much of the land was smoothed over so runways and hangers could be built. Architect Mackenzie Ross then came in after WWII and not only restored the course, but turned it into arguably the finest in the isles and now a favorite stop for The Open Championship.

As a result of the transformation, older clubs refer to Turnberry as a "modern" course. Course history books even admit the Ailsa probably wouldn't be the renowned course it is today had it not been pummeled then rebuilt.

While the Ailsa is sure to offer a quintessential test of links golf in 2009, the course isn't necessarily back-breaking for the amateur resort player. It's just 6,440 yards from the men's tees and plays just a par 69. Simply playing bogey golf puts in you in the mid-80s.

Women golfers, on the other hand have a 5,757-yard, par-75 course to navigate. Most red tees are on the same tee box as the white and yellow tees. Women actually tee up behind the men on the par-3 sixth and play the hole as a par 4.

On a fair weather day, the course won't be grueling, especially given its sheer beauty. Whereas finding the rough in the British Open often mean a lost ball or a simple pitch out to the fairway, balls are usually sitting up and easy to find, so long as you can navigate the gorse and certain areas with tall heather.

The most dramatic stretch of holes for both genders kicks off on No. 7. It's a long, 475-yard par 4 that doglegs left, nudging ever so closer to the sea. The eighth isn't much shorter at 431 yards and finishes on the doorstep of the lighthouse, where the ninth tee sits perched over the rocky shores playing inland, then the 10th goes right back to the coastline.

You must also wait patiently until the 17th for the only par 5 on the course, a short but tricky one, with subtle contours that make each shot a little blind. The 18th tee features a stunning backdrop of the hotel, but finding the fairway is a little more difficult, with small dunes peaking up just enough to block your vision of the landing zone. Gorse runs all down the right side and is where Nicklaus' ball landed on Sunday in 1977.

Turnberry Ailsa: The verdict

Turnberry's Ailsa course is rightfully among the finest of links courses in Scotland and is set to host its fourth Open Championship in 2009. Amateurs and tourists shouldn't expect a daunting challenge however. After all, it's a resort course at heart and does receive a good deal of play from all skill levels. This course is just too attractive to show its fangs.

The golf course is undergoing a series of changes to make it more challenging to the professionals, but the course won't appear too much different for the rest of us. It's the gem of the South Ayrshire and holds its place among the finest in the world and with the conditions, facilities and hotels, it's no wonder the pros can't wait to come back.

Golf practice in Turnberry

The Colin Montgomerie Links Academy is a modern full-service practice center and features a series of themed practice sessions. If Turnberry is your first links course, consider the "Introduction to Links Golf" session.

There's also a fundamentals review and short game lesson among others. The nine-hole Arran course recently opened and there is also a pitch-'n'-putt course just beneath the hotel in the front yard as well as an 18-hole putting green just outside the restaurant.

Turnberry hotel options

The Westin Turnberry Resort hotel towers over the Ailsa and Kintyre and provides stunning views of the course and sea.

What's inside is no slouch, either. There are 219 guest rooms and nine two-bedroom cottages. The Spa at Turnberry features eleven treatment rooms, two hydrotherapy suites, heat experiences and relaxation rooms, fitness center and a 20 meter swimming pool.

Other outdoor activities available include rifle shooting, 4x4 off-road driving, archery, horse riding and falconry.

Turnberry restaurants

Turnberry has several dining options. The first floor of the clubhouse features Tappie Toorie, an informal bar and dining room with sandwiches and steaks.

The Terrace is another informal restaurant located in the spa and features seasonal cuisine and an outdoor patio. For fine dining, the Turnberry restaurant marries traditional French cuisine with classic Scottish dishes.

Fast fact

The Turnberry Lighthouse was built in 1873 and is 24 meters high and has 76 stairs to the top. The foundation of the lighthouse stands where the Turnberry Castle used to and is believed to be the birthplace of Robert the Bruce in 1274.

Brandon Tucker is the Managing Editor for Golf Channel Courses & Travel. To date, his golf travels have taken him to over two dozen countries and over 500 golf courses worldwide. While he's played some of the most prestigious courses in the world, Tucker's favorite way to play the game is on a great muni in under three hours. Follow Brandon on Twitter at @BrandonTucker.

Any opinions expressed above are those of the writer and do not necessarily represent the views of the management.

 
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