Re­view­ing the re­vived Ailsa at Trump Turn­berry.

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Some­times, you just have to ad­mire a man’s balls. There are plenty of golf cour­ses in the world ripe for ren­o­va­tion, re­vi­sion or even re­ver­sion, but for pretty much ev­ery­one apart from Don­ald Trump, Turn­berry’s fa­mous and dra­matic Ailsa lay­out wasn’t one of them. Yes, a glut of own­er­ship changes at this Ayr­shire re­sort had left the course a lit­tle unloved and rough around the edges; and OK, that was re­flected in a plunge to 15th in Golf World’s 2016 rank­ing. But let us not for­get the course had been num­ber one or two for the four rank­ings be­fore this. The only Open venue where you don’t just see the ocean but ac­tu­ally en­gage it – that’s if you don’t count Dar­ren Clarke’s shank on to the beach off the first at Troon in 1997 – Turn­berry was al­ready, to most ob­servers, mag­nif­i­cent.

For many, the coast­line stretch from the 4th tee to the 11th, past the fa­mous light­house which sits on the re­mains of the cas­tle that spawned Robert the Bruce, is un­par­al­leled… not just in the UK but glob­ally.

Prior to the last Open held here, in 2009, golfers queued up to pay their re­spects. “All in all, it’s just a fab­u­lous golf course,” cooed Tiger Woods. “It’s prob­a­bly my favourite links course,” said Paul Casey. “It’s one of the finest links we play, and one of the best venues the Open can have,” added Greg Nor­man.

So when, on com­plet­ing his pur­chase of this fa­mous re­sort in 2014, Trump an­nounced his in­ten­tions to make wide­spread im­prove­ments to this hal­lowed turf, the ques­tion was not so much “Why?” but “How?” Well, five new holes, nine new greens and mil­lions of dol­lars later, we have the an­swer. Trump and his cho­sen ar­chi­tect, the R&A’s go-to tweaker Martin Ebert, have found a way to turn a mas­ter­piece into some­thing in­du­bitably su­pe­rior.

Back to the fu­ture

It’s not so easy be­ing both an evo­lu­tion­ist and cre­ation­ist, but at Turn­berry, Martin Ebert pulled it off.

For the re­work­ing of the Ailsa Ebert delved back into the his­tory of a course that had gone through seven pre­vi­ous in­car­na­tions, raid­ing the na­tional ar­chives for aerial pho­to­graphs of the land­scape, the rout­ings, the for­mer strate­gies long for­got­ten.

Ex­am­in­ing im­ages of Philip Macken­zie Ross’s 1949 course – it­self a post-war re­cre­ation of Ce­cil Hutchi­son’s 1938 de­sign – Ebert dis­cov­ered shaggy-edged, nat­u­ralised bunkers as op­posed to 2014’s clipped and al­most for­mal ver­sions. Maybe the best ex­am­ple comes at the new par-5 10th, where a cir­cu­lar and unimag­i­na­tive dough­nut bunker had re­placed a beau­ti­fully un­scripted and su­perbly an­gled ex­panse of sandy waste. Ebert also dis­cov­ered other lost sandy waste ar­eas, for ex­am­ple to the right of the par-4 13th, whose rein­tro­duc­tion could con­trib­ute both aes­thet­i­cally and tac­ti­cally. On the par-3 4th re­call­ing the sand area in front of the tee would be more cos­metic... join­ing a new tee in re­mind­ing golfers they are just a firm chip shot from the beach.

As Ebert him­self says: “Re­in­stat­ing lost fea­tures shows you have a re­spect and a re­gard for the his­tory of the course, as well as look­ing at how it could be im­proved for the modern game.” In re­work­ing a tra­di­tional course, it was key. It paved the way for ac­cep­tance of po­ten­tially more con­tro­ver­sial el­e­ments – the cre­ation of new holes and rout­ings. Trump and Ebert’s Turn­berry con­tains no fewer than five com­pletely new holes and nine new green sites.

Tak­ing all the plau­dits is the trio around the turn. The old par-4 9th took you from golf’s best tee, perched over Cas­tle Port Bay, to its worst fair­way, an un­hit­table hogs­back. A new green site some 220 yards hence, as close to the cliffs as build­able, keeps your eyes trained along the

‘It’s hard to imag­ine a more dra­matic three­some of holes, any­where in the world’

coast­line and turns this into a breath­tak­ing one-shot­ter.

This is fol­lowed by, what to this ob­server is the best hole on the course, a down­hill par 5 that sweeps left around the rocky shore to a raised area, hith­erto used for the 11th tee, but that works so much bet­ter as a green perched thrillingly against the chaos of the Irish Sea.

At 192 yards, the all-new 11th is played over a se­ries of in­lets and the third hole in a row that asks you to skirt the bay. It’s hard to pic­ture a more dra­matic three­some of holes, any­where in the world.

While these changes have com­manded most of the at­ten­tion, it is per­haps not where the course’s big­gest im­prove­ments have been made. If there was a crit­i­cism of Turn­berry, it was aimed at a hand­ful of in­fe­rior holes, mostly on the front nine.

“I think the first hole had al­ways been con­sid­ered a weak­ness,” says Trump Turn­berry’s direc­tor of golf Ricky Hall. “At around 360 yards it was re­ally only two short­ish irons. But a new back tee and green­site, pushed some 70 yards back and to the right, have turned it into more of a left-to-right dog­leg and made the tee shot much more de­mand­ing, al­though the fair­way is now wider.”

But even bet­ter comes at the new par-3 6th. This was formerly a 230-yard slog to a raised green, com­plete with das­tardly false front; but a won­der­ful new walk­way, along the coast, takes you to a new raised tee that al­lows a far more en­gag­ing short iron to a re-re­worked and beau­ti­fully crafted green.

While the new par-5 14th (see sig­na­ture hole) joins the 1st, 6th and 11th as the course’s key im­prove­ments, ev­ery sin­gle hole has re­ceived some at­ten­tion… and walk­ing round, you quickly get the feel­ing the tar­gets have been se­lected with unerring ac­cu­racy. Bunkers have been can­nily moved into the way, or out of it; the new green at the 5th, pushed a lit­tle more up into the dune val­ley, is a great ex­am­ple of how new sites add beauty and chal­lenge. Al­ready ex­cel­lent holes – con­sider the mar­vel­lous par-4 8th or the fa­mous burn-pro­tected 16th – have been left largely un­touched. Sym­pa­thy and in­tel­li­gence char­ac­terise the whole process, and per­haps Trump and Ebert’s big­gest achieve­ment is to have so many changes blend so seam­lessly with what was al­ready here.

Com­plet­ing the course, the new 18th tee – af­forded by the short­ened 17th – now al­lows a grand, straight-in run un­der the shadow of the ho­tel and sets up the cli­max this su­perb re­design de­serves.

If there is a crit­i­cism – and it has to be said, it’s a fairly churl­ish one – it’s in the feel­ing the quest for ‘fair­ness’ has un­der­pinned many of these nips and tucks. Harsh run-offs or se­vere green con­tours have been soft­ened, bunker bases shaped to throw you back from the lip. Haz­ards have been repo­si­tioned ‘cor­rectly’, of­fer­ing just penalty for the crime com­mit­ted. It all feels, well, a bit ‘fair’.

For those who feel an in­nate quirk­i­ness ought to be part of any au­then­tic links ex­pe­ri­ence, the course set-up might just jar slightly. Trump and Ebert might ar­gue, of course, that there’s more than enough whimsy in the gusts off the Irish Sea to give you all the quirk you de­sire.

His­tory shows us Trump and Ebert’s re­work­ing is the eighth con­fig­u­ra­tion of a course that opened in 1902. But it is the first that gen­uinely has ex­perts and ar­chi­tects scratch­ing their heads as to how any bet­ter use could have been made of this stun­ning piece of Ayr­shire coast­line.

Fake news

Back in 2015, in the wake of a se­ries of con­tro­ver­sial com­ments made by Repub­li­can pres­i­den­tial can­di­date Don­ald Trump, the In­de­pen­dent on Sun­day pub­lished a story that Turn­berry had un­of­fi­cially been axed from the Open rota by the R&A. “Turn­berry will be back,” an in­sider is al­leged to have said. “But per­haps not Trump Turn­berry.”

For the record, the R&A’s of­fi­cial po­si­tion is that Turn­berry re­mains on the rota. “They have con­tin­ued to in­volve us and we are happy to be so,” says Ricky Hall. “We are com­mit­ted to do­ing what­ever they need to bring the Open back here.”

That is beyond con­tes­ta­tion. When the R&A raised con­sis­tency con­cerns about the Ailsa hav­ing nine new greens, Trump au­tho­rised the costly re­con­struc­tion of all 18. All changes made have been with the full con­sul­ta­tion and ap­proval of the R&A, with de­tails such as fi­bre-op­tic ca­bling for me­dia cov­er­age con­sid­ered. Even the vast and per­haps un­sightly run­ways, a stark re­minder of Turn­berry’s role as a train­ing cen­tre for WWII pi­lots, have been left in place as use­ful hard­stand­ing for Open in­fra­struc­ture.

How­ever, the fact the Open has not vis­ited Turn­berry since 2009 and is not sched­uled to, plus the rather eva­sive id­iom com­ing from R&A chief Martin Slum­bers, must strike an omi­nous note for Trump, and for the le­gions of golfers who just want to see the world’s best golfers tackle this great course once more.

How wel­come it would be to take the ap­par­ently sim­ple step of award­ing golf’s great­est cham­pi­onship to one of its great cour­ses. But as Slum­bers ad­mits, the Turn­berry sit­u­a­tion is “com­plex”. As ev­i­denced by the furore over sin­gle-sex rota venues, the award of the Open ex­tends beyond golf to a po­lit­i­cal and sym­bolic state­ment of what the game be­lieves in. As­so­ci­a­tion with a world leader reg­u­larly ac­cused of racism and sex­ism has clear im­pli­ca­tions for a game that has al­ways strug­gled to shrug off sim­i­lar charges.

Maybe the R&A will wait to see what, if any, fall­out emerges from the 2022 US PGA, to be staged at Trump Bedmin­ster. But for now, if the In­de­pen­dent on Sun­day is to be be­lieved, the hopes of the Open re­turn­ing to Turn­berry would ap­pear to be dashed by the very per­son who has in­vested so much into turn­ing the Ailsa into what could just be the finest rota venue of them all.

90 Golf World Jan­uary 2018

Once a plod­ding par 4 but now a pul­sat­ing one-shot­ter, the 9th sym­bol­ises the new Ailsa.

The fa­mous light­house is now surely golf’s most spec­tac­u­lar halfway hut.

The dra­matic, new par-3 11th is the third con­sec­u­tive hole where you must play over the coast­line.

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