Scotland Beyond St. Andrews: In the Southwest, the links are almost close enough to form a chain
Golfers the world over know St. Andrews is where the game began. Consequently, a pilgrimage to golf's homeland is high on the wish list of all those who care about golf's history and traditions.
There's much more to Scotland than simply St Andrews, however, and hundreds of fabulous golfing delights are located outside the Kingdom of Fife. Some are renowned throughout the world, while others are comparatively unknown. But because of the democratic nature of golf in Scotland, nearly all welcome visitors.
With that in mind, let's take a look at golf in southwest Scotland.
Glasgow Gailes Golf Club
Traveling west and south from Glasgow into South Ayrshire, after about 25 miles you reach the Irish Sea coast, which boasts a string of truly outstanding links. Just south of the town of Irvine is Glasgow Gailes Golf Club. In Scotland, a golf club and course are not always one and the same so there are clubs that exist independently of the course. Glasgow Golf Club, which is the ninth oldest in the world, owns another course in Glasgow. Founded in 1787, it didn't build the Gailes Course until 1892. In 1912, two-time Open champion Willie Park worked with the club professional to redesign the layout, which has survived pretty well to this day.
Just more than 6,900 yards from the championship tees, it's a great challenge created on gently undulating links land. The course has been a British Open qualifying venue since 1973 and is slated to host the 2012 British Amateur Championship.
Western Gailes Golf Club
Next door is another lovely links course, Western Gailes Golf Club. Founded just a few years after its neighbor, it too was built to offer golfers living in industrial Glasgow somewhere to escape the smoke.
Right next to the sea, the course has the considerable advantage over those inland because it's much less inclined to freeze in the winter. Squeezed between the railway line and the sea, it has hosted the Scottish Amateur Championship seven times and, in 1972, witnessed the United States' 10-8 victory over Britain in the Curtis Cup.
Never more than two holes wide, the course is a long, narrow loop with the clubhouse curiously more or less in the middle rather than at one end with seven holes to the north and 11 to the south.
Royal Troon Golf Club
A little farther south down the coast lies magnificent Royal Troon. Having hosted the British Open eight times -- the last in 2004 when Todd Hamilton sprang a surprise -- the course is one many visitors want to play. As with all the famous courses, it's absolutely essential to book tee times in advance. Although the dunes are comparatively modest in size, the links is pure class.
There are three courses at Troon, including a nine-hole par 3. Royal Troon's Old Course, however, is the famous one. It used to boast the longest and shortest holes on the British Open rotation. But the sixth, which is just more than 600 yards, has been overtaken, while the eighth, affectionately known as the "Postage Stamp," is barely more than 120 yards and is still the shortest.
Prestwick Golf Club
In 1860, Prestwick Golf Club hosted the first Open Championship, but it hasn't been used in that role since 1925. The principal problem with Prestwick, if it is indeed a problem, is that it's too short.
Yet another one that's sandwiched between the railway track and the sea, history oozes out of every pot bunker, especially the famous Cardinal that cuts the third hole in two. For a genuine taste of what golf used to be like in the days of the good ol' gutty, just inhale the final four holes. Narrow fairways, heathery mounds, blind shots over dunes -- it's all there. And the historic clubhouse with its sepia photos mustn't be missed either.
Keep traveling south along the coast and you'll eventually arrive at what for many is the greatest golf course in the world, Turnberry's Ailsa Course. The Kintyre Course is lovely, but the Ailsa is simply breathtaking. Spectacularly scenic with views out to the Mull of Kintyre, the monolithic Ailsa Craig and back up the hill to the famous hotel, this is pure golfing heaven.
Strangely, it wasn't until 1977 -- when Tom Watson and Jack Nicklaus staged their epic "Duel in the Sun" -- that the Ailsa Course broke into the Open rotation. Golf courses don't come any better than this.