The eyes of golf fans around the world will fall on Ayrshire & The Isle of Arran this summer, as the south west of Scotland gears up to host two consecutive weeks of top-class women’s professional golf.
The Aberdeen Asset Management Ladies Scottish Open relocates to Dundonald Links (below), near Irvine, having spent the last five years at Archerfield Links on the opposite side of the country. The likes of Solheim Cup stars Catriona Matthew and Charley Hull, as well as two-time major winner Suzann Pettersen and Cheyenne Woods, Tiger’s niece, will be amongst those honing their skills on the Kyle Phillips-designed course from July 24-26 before making the short journey down the coast to Trump Turnberry (above) for the RICOH Women’s British Open the following week.
Scheduling these events – two of the most celebrated tournaments in women’s professional golf – to the end of the July and start of August prolongs what is shaping up to be a spectacular summer for Scottish golf fans. It will also turn the spotlight back on one of the most iconic and historic golf destinations in the world.
A place unlike any other
Between them, Ayrshire & The Isle of Arran are home to almost 50 different courses and enjoy a prominent place in the annals of golfing history. It was in Ayrshire, for example, that the first-ever Open Championship was contested back in 1860.
In fact, Prestwick (above) staged the first 12 editions of the tournament before it started to travel around the British Isles. However, its roots remain in Ayrshire, with Royal Troon and the Ailsa Course at Trump Turnberry having also been used to host what is golf’s oldest professional championship. Indeed, when the battle to become the ‘Champion Golfer of the Year’ resumes at Royal Troon next year, it will mark the 36th time that the event has been held in the region.
The aforementioned Trump Turnberry, incidentally, is now under the ownership of American tycoon Donald Trump and is set to undergo a major transformation in the next year, bringing it to up the calibre and standards that its perfectionist owner demands. You can read more about those changes here.
No matter whether you have £20 or £200 to spend on a green fee, you will find something to match both your budget and your tastes.
However, there is far more to golf in Ayrshire & The Isle of Arran than Open Championship host venues. In fact, aside from its obvious tournament pedigree, two of the biggest selling points of golf in this particular area are its accessibility and affordability.
No matter whether you have £20 or £200 to spend on a green fee, you will find something to match both your budget and your tastes. Prestwick St Nicholas is a good example of that. Not especially long, it is in many respects the quintessential links course, defined by blind shots, narrow fairways, firm greens, deep bunkers, heather, gorse and a stiff sea breeze that can have you hitting a 9-iron into the par-3 second hole one day and a 3-wood the next. It is golf at its most pure and invigorating.
The same goes for West Kilbride – where out of bounds comes into play on no fewer than 12 holes, testing your accuracy to the max – and Western Gailes. Glasgow Gailes, Kilmarnock Barassie and Irvine (Bogside) are other ‘must plays’ for anybody visiting the region.
The three municipal courses at Troon – Darley, Lochgreen and Fullarton – provide great thrills and great value in almost equal measure, whilst Belleisle and Seafield in Ayr are also worth checking out. The latter is a part-links, part-parkland layout that is full of charm and personality, whilst the former is widely considered to be one of the best public courses in the country.
Ardeer, Routenburn (above) and the Colin Montgomerie-designed Rowallan Castle are three more Ayrshire gems that deserve further investigation. Rowallan Castle, in fact, is one of the newest additions to Scotland’s golfing portfolio, having only opened in 2009. It is reported to have cost as much as £55m to build!
You don’t, however, need to be a millionaire to play golf here. As mentioned, affordability is one of the key features of golf in this part of the country and there are a selection of tremendous golf passes that will help bring your costs down even further. The Prestwick Golf Pass, South Ayrshire Golf Pass, Ayrshire Open Qualifier Card and Gailes Golf Experience all offer enticing subsidies at some of the top courses in the region.
And so to Arran…
From Ardrossan, you can take a ferry over to Arran. It takes just under an hour, costs very little thanks to recently introduced fare reductions, and will open your eyes to a wonderful island that you will never tire of exploring.
The largest island in the Firth of Clyde, it is also the seventh largest in Scotland. Culturally similar to the Hebrides, it is separated from them by the Kintyre peninsula. It is also divided into highland and lowland areas by the Highland Boundary Fault, earning it the reputation of being a ‘geologist’s paradise’.
It could also be described as a golfer’s paradise, with seven different golf courses for you to sample. There are three 18-hole courses in Brodick, Lamlash and Whiting Bay; three nine-hole courses in Corrie, Machrie Bay and Lochranza; and one completely unique 12-hole course in Shiskine (below).
All of the facilities are in fantastic condition and, perhaps best of all, there is a real relaxed vibe around the whole island. Some of the courses, for example, allow dogs and kids may be able to play free of charge when accompanied by a paying adult.
As with golf over on the mainland, great value for money enriches the experience of playing on this magnificent island and the Arran Golf Pass might just be one of the most appealing deals of its kind. For just £99, you can play one round of golf on all seven courses on the island. That represents a considerable saving on paying to play each of the courses individually and access to the driving range is also included in the price. Value, quite simply, doesn’t get much better than this.
Away from the golf course
It is not just in the quality and abundance of courses they have where Ayrshire & The Isle of Arran deliver. They are also culturally rich, diverse and vibrant, offering a multitude of things to do when you’re not playing golf.
Pic: Paul Tomkins / VisitScotland
From exploring historic buildings such as Culzean Castle (above), Portencross Castle and Dalgarven Mill, to looking around the Robert Burns Birthplace Museum in Ayr and the Scottish Dark Sky Observatory near Dalmellington, there is plenty to do.
‘Foodies’ will particularly enjoy themselves here and, with this being the ‘Year of Food & Drink Scotland 2015’, the already high standards have been raised, giving you the opportunity to sample the very best locally-sourced produce.
There is plenty to see, explore and, most importantly, sample.
This includes exceptional seafood – such as freshly-caught langoustines, crabs, lobsters, hand-dived scallops and oysters – as well as haggis, Ayrshire potatoes, Arran cheese, and fabulous craft beers and ales.
Pic: Paul Tomkins / VisitScotland
There are also numerous distilleries if you like your whisky. From Girvan and Ailsa Bay – which produces the well-known Grant’s Scotch whisky – to Lochranza on Arran, and A.D. Rattray’s Whisky Experience and Shop in Kirkoswald, there is plenty to see, explore and, most importantly, sample.
What to do now…
Whether you want to watch or play golf in Ayrshire & The Isle of Arran, you can rest assured of one of the most exciting, exhilarating and unforgettable short breaks you’ll ever have.
To find out more, log-on to www.visitscotland.com/ayrshire-arran