From Royal Troon to Prestwick, courses in southwest of Scotland provide history lesson for golf fans

Because the Open Championship was first played at Prestwick, the southwest of Scotland occupies a special place in the hearts of many.

Although Prestwick is no longer on the British Open rota, Troon and Turnberry most definitely are, and there are probably more outstanding courses in this most beautiful corner of the country than there are anywhere in the world.

Traveling southwest 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 Irvine, there's Glasgow Gailes , which recently celebrated its centenary.

Built on gently undulating links land, it comes complete with numerous tough bunkers, gorse bushes, heather, quite a number of trees and the inevitable wind blowing in from the Firth of Clyde. An Open Championship qualifying venue since 1973, it has also hosted the British Amateur Championship. The only slight disappointment is that it's about half a mile from the sea.

Right next door is another lovely links course, Western Gailes . Just like its neighbor, it was created so as to offer golfers living in industrial Glasgow somewhere to escape the smoke. Incidentally, "Gailes" has nothing to do with the wind that frequently howls around these parts but is believed to have derived from the name of the family from whom the land was purchased at the end of the 19th century.

Squeezed between the railway line and the sea and never more than two holes wide, the course has hosted the Scottish Amateur Championship no fewer than seven times, and in 1972 witnessed the United States 10-8 Curtis Cup victory over Britain and Ireland. Pot bunkers, meandering streams and great sea views all add to the experience.

A little further south along the coast lies magnificent Royal Troon. Having hosted the Open eight times -- the last in 2004 when Todd Hamilton sprang a surprise -- the course is one many visitors want to play. However, it's not easy to get on and prior booking, as with all the famous courses, is absolutely essential. Although the dunes are comparatively modest in size, the links is pure class.

In fact, there are three courses at Troon including a par-3 nine holer. However, Royal Troon's Old Course is the famous one. It used to boast both the longest and shortest holes on the British Open rota, but the sixth -- which is a putter's length more than 600 yards -- has been overtaken. And the eighth, affectionately known as the "Postage Stamp," is barely more than 120 yards and is still the shortest.

Glorious Prestwick last hosted the British Open in 1925. The principal problem, if indeed it is a problem, is that it's too short. The rather eccentric blind par-3 fifth is possibly another reason why it was dropped, but that need not worry the visitor, who is sure to enjoy this gorgeous course where history oozes out of every pot bunker.

For a genuine taste of what golf was like in the days of the good ol' gutty, this is the place. Narrow fairways, heathery mounds, blind shots over dunes ... it's all there. And the historic clubhouse, with its sepia photos, must not be missed.

Travel south along the increasingly rugged coastline, and you'll eventually arrive at what for many is the greatest of them all, Turnberry. 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 iconic hotel, this is pure golfing heaven. The course starts gently enough with four comparatively straightforward holes, and then the next eight take you alongside the sea and out to the lighthouse and back.

Throughout, there are towering dunes and inviting canyons betwixt them. Watson and Nicklaus staged their epic "Duel in the Sun" here in 1977. It doesn't get more thrilling than that, and golf courses don't come any better than this.

Although in his 60s, with a handicap of 15 and lifetime earnings comfortably below $100, Clive Agran nevertheless still believes he can win a major. Arguably England's most gifted golf writer, when not dreaming of glory he's scouring the globe simultaneously searching for lost balls and great golf courses. Follow Clive on Twitter at @cliveagran.
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From Royal Troon to Prestwick, courses in southwest of Scotland provide history lesson for golf fans
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