When it comes to bragging rights, the South West of Scotland has them in abundance. For a start, it is the home of Scotland’s beloved bard, Robert Burns, along with a rather healthy proportion of the country’s much-loved whisky. Aside from that, however, the South West also happens to be a particularly vast area, stretching all the way from Oban in the north to Dumfries in the south.
And, better still, it is the region that gave birth to the world’s oldest golf tournament: the Open Championship.
Prestwick first staged the Open back in 1860 where no less than eight golfers took part. Sadly, the picturesque links, pictured above, is no longer on the R&A’s rota of courses but, nevertheless, provides an immensely enjoyable round amid stirring beauty.
A short drive up the coast you will come to the town of Troon, home to a number of welcoming golf courses, most notably Royal Troon, venue for last year’s Open where American Todd Hamilton defeated Ernie Els in a captivating play-off. Royal Troon is an exquisite test of links golf and, depending on who you listen to, is an even better challenge than Muirfield.
Just a quick jaunt from Troon’s famous fairways reside a trio of municipal links, Darley, Fullerton and Lochgreen, believed by many to be the best collection of public links courses in the United Kingdom. The locals at Belleisle, though, on the south side of Ayr, may dispute that – best to find out for yourself!
Also nearby is Kilmarnock (Barassie) while lining the windswept coast is a quite sensational collection of courses, including Western Gailes, pictured below, Glasgow Gailes, Irvine and the Kyle Philips-design at Dundonald, the sister course of Loch Lomond Golf Club.
Heading north along the A78 you will eventually come to the seaside village of Largs, which is the home of Sam Torrance and his parents Bob and June. The local courses include Largs and Routenburn while up the road lies Skelmorlie, where Scotland’s First Minister Jack McConnell played his golf as a youngster.
Should you choose to head south from Troon then you’ll come to Turnberry, one of the most famous names in the golfing world. The Ayrshire links hosted the legendary ‘Duel in the Sun’ between Jack Nicklaus and Tom Watson in 1977, where the two fought their own battle for the Claret Jug. Watson prevailed on that occasion, but many point out that the famous links, with its views of Ailsa Craig, stole the show.
Southwards of Turnberry lies Girvan, an inviting, humble links while a little further down the coast towards Stranraer are the two courses at Portpatrick, the James Braid design in Stranraer itself – his last venture into course design, incidentally – and a number of relatively unknown but hugely entertaining layouts.
Turnberry hosted the legendary ‘Duel in the Sun’ between Jack Nicklaus and Tom Watson in 1977, where the two fought their own battle for the Claret Jug.
Eastwards lies Dumfries and Galloway, at the foot of the region, an area that is nothing less than a hotbed of golf. Southerness is probably the most reputed course in these parts and is often labelled ‘Scottish golf’s forgotten gem’ – make sure you don’t forget it.
Heading nearer to the town of Dumfries you will come across Dumfries and Galloway and Dumfries and County, both very popular courses with the locals and those from further afield.
For a neat nine-hole links examination of your skills then look no further than St Medan, a tricky short offering that’s set on a promontory just below Monreith Bay, and Wigtownshire, a links on the shores of the scenic Luce Bay.
Naturally, once you’ve sampled some of that you may be in the mood to set off on a another golfer adventure and where better than the Isle of Arran, affectionately known as ‘Scotland in miniature’. There are seven courses taking up various sections of the island and Lamlash and Brodick are the pick of the bunch.
Granted, Machrihanish, pictured above, on the edge of the Kintyre Peninsula in the village of Campbeltown, may be the UK’s most remote golf course but it is certainly one of the most visually captivating. Dunaverty, a little further southwards, however, isn’t too bad, either, and many believe it to be on a par with its more famous neighbour.
The Machrie, on Islay, should not be ignored as its setting is nothing short of spectacular. And, as with most of these enchanted isles, your round is certain to be played in an almost eerie, surreal silence.
If you’ve been to the South West before then you already know how special it is – but if you haven’t then the fun, as they say, is only just beginning.