On a mirthless gray day, brow furrowed over, you find yourself in a depressingly familiar place: wondering, yet again, why you’ve willingly imperiled a perfectly lovely holiday by playing golf. This afternoon, when the day ebbed to it, seemed perfect for a walk in Kelvingrove Park, just around the corner from your hostelry in Glasgow. You could have sat on a bench, admired the daffodils, had a crack at the crossword with faint strains of a busker’s singing lighting up the mood; read some poetry perhaps. And when the skies darkened, dived into a quaint pub and warmed yourself by quaffing some obscure amber brew matured in old sherry casks. The possibilities in Scotland to make good, of a sunny day gone gray, especially a sunny day gone gray, will spoil you for choice.
Instead, you wandered lonely as a clod, on a brutal parkland layout in the Scottish capital city. And bereft of the humour that allows the Scots to see, literally, the sunnier side of things, your day quickly became irredeemable. Now that doesn’t make sense, you might think; why would an itinerant golfer play a parkland in Scotland? Could it be an ill-conceived attempt to sharpen the grooves, as it were, before hitting the links? Your playing partners; a couple and their pair of Aberdeen Terriers, are too polite to snicker. Thank God for the diehard Scotties.
Next morning, suitably chastised, and shorn of the little confidence you possessed before teeing it up in Scotland, you make the drive to Ayrshire—a golfing Valhalla on the West Coast of Scotland—a couple of hours from Glasgow. With over 50 courses, Ayrshire has a gorgeous coastline, and barely any coastal tracts of land which haven’t been fashioned into golf holes; one particular stretch of coastline runs 16 kilometres with the longest gap between courses being only 500 metres. Hypothetically, you could tee it up at Gailes Links—the ninth oldest golf club in the world and Scotland’s current Open championship qualifying course—and finish up at Old Tom Morris Club, Prestwick St Nicholas, meandering over 11 golf courses along the way.
Gailes Links, the first course on your itinerary, is hemmed in by Western Gailes, a fantastic, if slightly quirky, layout, and Brassie Links—a 27-hole layout that you’re told is extremely popular with visitors. It’s not hard to see why: a big board welcoming visitors sits on a tee from where it’s plainly visible from a distance. From the 14th tee of Gailes Links, a hole that runs alongside a railway line, this Brassie Links welcome is spelled loud and clear and looks back at you every time you turn to admire the landscape. You’re pretty certain that back in the day a board like that would have been cause enough to go to war. In these civilised times though, it seems reasonably well tolerated. Brassie Links also has its own train station which makes it perfect in case you’re coming in from out of town.
Royal Troon and its trio of gorgeous public courses sits right across the road. The Darley Course’s reputation as a stern test of golf has stayed intact ever since Jack Nicklaus shot an 82 here in Open qualifying, while tee times at Troon Fullarton and Troon Lochgreen are possibly two of the most sought after in Ayrshire.
Keen to see the big picture, you consider sending a drone up into the sky, but are discouraged to do so by well-meaning folk at The Jar—a most sociable watering hole in Troon where they will not hold your handicap against you—lest blokes from the security detail of Trump Turnberry, the new owner, knock it out of the sky, they say. Not with a golf ball, you presume.
It’s hard to pick and play courses in Ayrshire, what with the surfeit of Open Championship venues, and layouts with a longer history than your family tree. Your opening round at the yet-to-be-named parkland in Glasgow has blasted gaping holes in your latest swing theory, and your criteria is simple: pick courses that are pretty (not necessarily hallowed) enough to detract from your poor play, and play from the yellow tees.
Gailes Links is, in fact, quite legendary and looks less murderous than its neighbours—the gorse, for starters, seems much less spread out. It gets a wee bit windy all right, and chilly too, but the sun comes out by and by and Gailes’ rolling fairways beckon like a sea of calm. Thank God for the drams: a couple of quick draughts, check; favourite beanie, check; cardigan, check; alpine windcheater zipped up, check. Head to the pro shop, grab the clubs and wheel them out to the first tee looking like the abominable snowman much to the bemusement of these lovely ladies enjoying a spot of sunshine in May.
They’ve seen this before: a tropical fruit who has seen all these beautiful pictures of golf courses in Scotland in a brochure halfway across the world, and who flies across to the other side and lands up, in all earnestness, bang on time for afternoon tee. Capital. Now if only you knew how to play this game.
A golfer, Meraj Shah also writes about the game