Having undergone a multi-million refurbishment, Ayrshire’s Trump Turnberry and its famous golf courses are attracting more visitors than ever. Rebecca Younger visited this often overlooked part of Scotland
Whatever your views on Donald Trump, he knows a thing or two about hotels – this year Trump Turnberry, in Ayrshire, was named Scottish Hotel of the Year.
When the now president of the USA bought the hotel and golf club back in 2014, it unsurprisingly caused a bit of a stir. However the £200 million investment has transformed the former station hotel and is doing a lot for the local economy of Ayrshire, as Jack Power explained when he took me and my partner on a tour. “Whatever people think about Trump locally, a lot are thankful to him for what he has done here; it has created jobs [500 people work at the hotel] and is bringing more people to the area,” he says. “Ayrshire and the west coast of Scotland are somewhat overlooked – people tend to head to Edinburgh and then the Highlands but we’re starting to see that change with more people coming to see what this area has to offer.”
Of course, the President has strong ties to Scotland – his mother grew up on the Hebridean island of Lewis before emigrating to New York in the 1930s – and he already owns Macleod House & Lodge Hotel in Aberdeen.
However he chose to stay at Turnberry during his last visit in July, which was not the first time a sitting American president had stayed at the hotel. The other was Eisenhower, who made nearby Culzean Castle his ‘Scottish White House’ after he visited and fell in love with the area in the mid-1940s.
It’s easy to see why both Eisenhower had (and Trump continues to have) a love affair with this coastal enclave. Apart from having arguably one of the finest links golf courses in the world, Turnberry sits on a hill overlooking the Firth of Clyde with far-reaching views out to sea and of Ailsa Craig, the island likened by many to a giant currant bun. It’s also known as Paddy’s Milestone because it lies almost halfway between Belfast and Glasgow.
I got my first proper glimpse of the volcanic outcrop from the seafacing drawing room of the Price Suite, named after Zimbabwean golf professional Nick Price (most of the suites are named after famous golfers). If you’re not lucky enough to have a sea-facing room then don’t despair, the hotel’s lounge, restaurant and bar are all positioned to maximise the views. It’s one of the reasons afternoon tea is so popular here. People come from miles around to sit in the Grand Tea Lounge and soak up the panoramic vistas while sampling dainty sandwiches, cakes and scones washed down with copious amounts of tea served from an old fashioned Samovar and, if
they fancy, a glass of sparkling wine from Trump’s winery in the foothills of the Virginia’s Blue Ridge Mountains or one of the many dozens of whiskeys available at the bar.
As the first ever purpose-built golf resort in the world and fourtime host of The British Open, one of the other major pulls to Turnberry is, of course, its golf courses. Despite being renowned for its 18-hole championship Ailsa Course, which was named the 2017/2018 number one course in the UK and Ireland by Golf Monthly, it also has the King Robert the Bruce Course – unveiled just last year – as well as the nine-hole Arran course.
As a golf professional, my partner vouched for the fact that the Ailsa course is top notch (he told me it’s one of the best he’s played). However, if you’re not a seasoned pro then you can book a lesson with one of the club’s professionals or even just walk around the course – the landscape is truly breathtaking and a stop at the lighthouse, which doubles up as the Ailsa Course halfway house, for a hot toddy is an experience in itself. There’s even a two-bedroom suite in the lighthouse you can book if you’re after an overnight stay like no other.
But it’s not just about golf here. With a glass-fronted swimming pool offering views out to sea, a hot tub, steam room, sauna and eight treatment rooms, you could easily spend a whole day in the spa (try the Top to Toe ESPA treatment for a real treat) and there’s a range of other activities on offer including horse riding, shooting and archery. That’s not to mention mealtimes – 1906 offers fine dining with a view, while The Duel in the Sun, found in the clubhouse, provides a less informal environment for lunch or dinner and overlook Ailsa’s 18th hole.
But, as is often the case, sometimes the simple, small touches are the most important in life and one of the most joyous parts of my stay was listening to the bagpipe player, serenading guests on the hotel steps each evening as the sun began to set behind Aisla Craig. For me, that summed up the subtle beauty of this unforgettable place.