The reputation of Royal Troon’s Old Course largely precedes it.
A nine-time Open Championship host venue, the stage for the 2020 edition of the AIG Women’s Open, the site of five Amateur Championships, a Senior British Open, and much more besides, the Ayrshire links is truly one of the most iconic destinations in golf.
Established as a five-hole course in 1878, it was extended to 18 in 1884 by George Strath, its first professional, before Willie Fernie and then James Braid modified and lengthened it.
Their efforts had the desired effect.
The Royal and Ancient Golf Club of St Andrews took notice and, in 1923, Troon hosted its first Open, won by England’s Arthur Havers.
Subsequent greats of the game have gone on to hoist the Claret Jug there: Arnold Palmer, Bobby Locke and Tom Watson to name just three.
The roll call of champions is testament to the quality of the test posed by the Old Course.
A mostly ‘out and back’ archetypal links, it is a thoroughly demanding test that bears its teeth from the get-go. The first six holes run parallel to the beach, frequently bringing stiff crosswinds into play. Keeping your ball in play is critical as there are many deep bunkers to negotiate. Seven, eight and nine play through taller dunes and thicker vegetation.
It is the back nine, though, for which Troon is most notorious. The 11th, for example, is widely considered to be one of the most difficult holes in major championship golf – you need to take a look at the view from the championship tee – whilst the 13th begins arguably as tough a finishing stretch as you’ll find on any course: three long par-4s, two devilishly difficult par-3s and the exacting par-5 16th.
The immense and seemingly relentless challenge of Royal Troon’s Old Course is an enormous part of its appeal. It’s not easy but it’s an Open Championship host venue – it shouldn’t be a pushover. There’s not a single bad hole and, pleasingly, there’s enough variety to keep you engaged throughout. It is a course that demands your full attention and one that you will be desperate to play again.
Much is made of the fact that the course is home to both the shortest and longest holes on the Open rota: the 123-yard, par-3 eighth – the internationally-acclaimed ‘Postage Stamp’ – and the 601-yard, par-5 sixth. However, there is a strong case to be made for the hole that is sandwiched between them being the pick of an exceptional bunch.
The seventh, Tel-el-Kebir, takes its name from a battle that was fought in 1882, just prior to the hole’s creation.
From an elevated tee, which perches on top of the dunes and offers probably the best views on course, the hole doglegs sharply to the right with a sandhill and bunker set into the angle. If you try to get too cute with your drive and cut off a little too much, you’ll pay dearly. The left-hand side of the fairway, meantime, is dominated by four fearsome pot bunkers. Getting the ball in play off the tee is absolutely paramount. If you don’t, you will almost certainly drop shots.
The green, meanwhile, sits between two imposing sandhills just beyond a slight gully, with trouble all around. It is, quite simply, a phenomenal golf hole.
Did you know...
The club was granted its royal designation during its centenary year, 1978, whilst James Montgomerie – the father of Scottish golf great Colin – served as secretary during the 1980s
And another thing
The welcome is first class. If you’re operating under the presumption that the club is dominated by stuffy, blazer-wearing old boys, you are going to be very pleasantly surprised. It might be a ‘traditional’ club on the surface but it has a very modern, forward-thinking attitude.
Between April 12 and October 5 this year, a round on the Old Course will cost £260 per golfer (or £195 if you are a PGA member). Tee times are available on Mondays, Tuesdays and Thursdays.
Alternatively, you can purchase a day ticket for £300 per golfer (£235 for PGA members) which includes one round on the Old Course and another on its sister course, the Portland.