Let’s be honest: when you think of Turnberry, you typically think of the Ailsa Course and the incredible Open Championships it has staged.
From Tom Watson and Jack Nicklaus’ ‘Duel in the Sun’ in 1977 to the former’s heartbreaking near-miss in 2009, the Ayrshire links has produced some of the most enduring moments in the storied history of golf’s oldest major.
However, those who pay attention will know that the Ailsa is only a part of the proposition at Turnberry. A big part, but a part nonetheless.
Its sister layout, the King Robert The Bruce Course is a spectacular complement to the main attraction. The fact that many consider it to be even better and more fun to play tells you everything you need to know. This is no poor relation.
Known until recently as the Kintyre Course, the KRTB was immediately earmarked for a facelift when former US president Donald Trump purchased the Turnberry resort in 2014.
Those changes were funded by Trump, drawn up by Martin Ebert and carried out by the acclaimed course contractor, SOL Golf. The course re-opened for play in July 2017, with a new name to honour the man who was raised at Turnberry Castle before, in 1306, ascending to become the King of Scots.
The most notable changes were made around the turn. The short par-4 eighth – an absolute Marmite of a hole – was ripped up. Instead of playing down towards the Kintyre Cove, players now turn left on the at the top of Bain’s Hill and play towards the iconic lighthouse, before pivoting and coming back up the stunning ninth (more on that in a moment) and then back inland courtesy of a fantastic new par-3.
Much like they did with the ninth, tenth and 11th holes on the Ailsa, Trump & Co. identified that the strongest part of the land contained arguably the weakest holes… so they flipped that on its head. The changes are every bit as brilliant as they are dramatic.
Beyond that, there have been other notable changes. The burn on the first is gone, whilst every bunker on the course has been smartened up. The fairway traps have a more rugged, marram-fringed look, whilst the hazards around the green are smaller and revetted. The way it should be.
All the other hallmarks of a true links are there, too: undulating fairways, slick greens, humps, bumps, run-offs, swales, hollows, the works. And that’s to say nothing of the views. The clever way that the lighthouse has been incorporated into the design makes better use of arguably Turnberry’s most identifiable feature, whilst Arran, the Firth of Clyde and Ailsa Craig are a time-honoured stunning backdrop.
Make no mistake - lttle sister is all grown up.
As a huge fan of the Kintyre, I baulked at reports of Trump wanting to “blow it up” and start again from scratch. Whilst he didn’t exactly do that, he has made some pretty significant changes – and, in total fairness, they are all for the better.
He and the team involved in the remodeling have taken a really good course and made it a great one. The quality factor has gone up a significant number of notches. It's tidier, prettier, more 'finished'. It now feels like you are playing a top championship course as opposed to ‘the other one’.
It’s really up to you if you want to separate the baggage that goes with the name on the resort or not. Some people will, some people won’t. Your call. If you can and you do, you are in for a massive treat. If you can't and you don't, you're missing out - big time. This is a fantastic links golf course that deserves every single bit of acclaim it receives.
Or let me put it this way: take the Ailsa out of the equation and people would call this one of the world's best courses. Fit for a king, you could say.
Dramatic, strategic, spectacular, dangerous: there are many words you could use to describe the new, par-4 ninth, above. Taking its name from the rocky outcrop the green perches upon, ‘Kintyre’s Cove’ is a modern classic that wouldn’t look out of place on the Ailsa Course. Yeah, it’s that good.
Teeing off with your back to the lighthouse, your drive should favour the left hand side of the fairway to give you the shortest route to the green, cutting the corner of a sharp right to left dogleg.
You need to be precise with your approach. Anything short will tumble towards the beach; anything long will flirt with the gorse. And that’s to say nothing of the pot bunker that guards the right hand side of what is a severely undulating green.
Fortunately, when you do finally make it to the putting surface, you’re rewarded with spectacular views across the water towards the Mull of Kintyre.
It’s a modern masterpiece.
Did you know
As well as being the birthplace of King Robert the Bruce, Turnberry enjoys close links with another iconic Scottish figure: Robert Louis Stevenson. The literary great’s family – amongst them, his father Thomas – built Turnberry Lighthouse in the 1870s.
And another thing
There’s another course to play at Trump Turnberry – and no, we’re not talking about the Ailsa. The nine-hole Arran course is a secret few know about, and it’s an absolute gem. A mix of par-3s and par-4s, bearing all the classic hallmarks of links golf, it is an immense introduction to the original and best form of the game.
How to play
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