Things To See And Do
It is shortly before noon on the morning of Wednesday, October 17th, 1860. A small group of roughly dressed individuals make their ragged way towards a pre-determined spot among the wind-strewn sandhills of Prestwick. All are dressed in rough tweed coats buttoned over baggy trousers, with "cheesecutters" or bowlers on their heads and hefty "tackety" boots on their feet, better to retain a solid grip of the Ayrshire country side. There are eight in number. Under one arm each carries a strange assortment of wooden implements. The eight march, like prisoners under guard, accompanied by four members of the gentry whose role it is to make sure that none among them shall transgress.
They are about to make history. They are about to play the first ever round of the Open Golf Championship.
Golf has come a long way since that historic meeting at Prestwick more than 140 years ago. The roll call of great champions on this mighty Ayrshire links simply confirms how definitive an examination it is.
As if one spectacular Open Championship venue was not enough Ayrshire coquettishly lays claim to a second. Turnberry - the very name sends a shiver down the spine of those who love traditional links golf - is one of the truly great championship links golf courses of the world. This world famous resort, with its beautiful hotel enjoys commanding views across the Firth of Clyde fit to take your very breath away.
But how amazingly rich is this west coast of Scotland for the visiting golfer! There is almost an embarrassment of treasure, for among the great Open venues there is intertwined a ribbon of wondrous links golf courses that can be counted by the dozen. There are the Gailes courses, Glasgow and Western, scene of many great events in their own right. There is Kilmarnock Barassie with 27 classic holes across the fence from Troon and Prestwick, and Irvine Bogside. All four are Open Championship qualifying courses.
Just down the coast and only six miles from Turnberry is the delightful layout of the Girvan Golf Club. At Troon are the delights of Lochgreen and Fullarton, public courses which, if they did not live in the shadow of their famous Open Championship cousin, would command even more notoriety. Then there is Ayr Belleisle, a classic inland layout from the hand of the master golf course designer, James Braid. Many miss it in their headlong rush to reach Prestwick and Troon but the discerning take time to relish this wonderful setting and delight in the challenge of one of the finest inland public links courses in Britain.
For even more golfing pleasure take the ferry from Ardrossan and sail the short crossing to the Isle of Arran. Make the short journey across the island to Blackwaterfoot to the gem of gems, the Shiskine Golf Club. Twelve holes only here, but what joy! This is the true heritage of Scottish golf; golf as it was played by Old Tom Morris and Willie Park and Willie Fernie too, who laid it out. It is the challenge against wind and weather and nature and not against lumbering earth movers, computerised irrigation systems and $1 dollar design fees. Fiona Brown, a delightful lady who has run the Shiskine pro shop for more than a decade, will explain to you how to play the 'Twa Burns', the 'Shelf', 'Hades', 'Paradise' and the others, she'll even give you a map. But even the redoubtable Ms Brown will not be able to tell you how to play the famous Par 3 'Crow's Nest'. That is a matter for you, your mashie and your imagination.
Visitors to Ayrshire, Arran and Cumbrae can take advantage of no fewer than three golf passes that will make their visit even better value than it will be anyway. The 'Arran Golf Pass' (tel 01770 860226) includes Shiskine and six other courses including Machrie Bay. The Ayrshire Open Qualifier Card (tel 01383 629940) offers guaranteed tee times at Glasgow Gailes, Barassie, Irvine Bogside and the Kintyre course at Turnberry, while the South Ayrshire Golf Breaker Pass (tel 01292 616255) offers six rounds over seven consecutive days on eight courses including Ayr Belleisle, Girvan and Lochgreen.
Come and take advantage of the joys of Ayrshire and Arran golf. You won't be disappointed.