Famed British Open rota courses Prestwick, Turnberry and Royal Troon make Ayrshire, Scotland a world-class golf destination. There are other lesser-known gems in the area as well.
AYRSHIRE, Scotland -- Fans of British Open history and scholarly disciples of Romantic poetry alike will find their own song along the southwest coast of Ayrshire in Scotland.
Three Open venues line the southwest coast, including Prestwick, the stage for the first Championship in 1860. Ayrshire is also the birthplace of 18th century poet Robert Burns -- now regarded as the "National poet of Scotland" and a pioneer of the Romantic movement.
Today, the towns and respective links of Ayrshire are a quick drive from the metropolitan hubs of Edinburgh and Glasgow, though they are far less populated than these city centers. Small towns, farms and old abbey ruins line windy, two-lane roads through vibrant towns like Troon and Ayr. You can stop off at the Robert Burns Heritage Park in Alloway and visit the birthplace of Scotland's most beloved scribe.
Turnberry, Royal Troon and Prestwick next door anchor this region for traveling golfers, but there are plenty other links worth visiting while you're here -- enough for a week or more.
Locals will also tell you their weather on the southwest coast of Scotland is better than the east coast -- warmer and drier. Turnberry's 1977 "Duel in the Sun" between Tom Watson and Jack Nicklaus is their Exhibit A.
South Ayrshire: The British Open courses
The Old Course at Prestwick: One of the world's oldest clubs and the birthplace of the Open Championship, Prestwick dazzles with history and frustrates first-time visitors with numerous blind shots, heavy gorse and the evil 17th hole and massive "Sahara" bunker. Willie Park won the inaugural Open in 1860, staged on just 12 holes. The club has since been expanded to 18 holes and a championship yardage. Be sure to stop into the clubhouse after your round to examine the many historical artifacts preserved here over the club's incredible history.
The Ailsa Course at Turnberry: Turnberry is the farthest south of the Open Championship courses in the region, just less than an hour's drive from Prestwick-Glasgow Airport. The Ailsa Course is famous for its lighthouse on the rocky shores and the Ailsa Craig volcanic rock about a mile into the sea.
Though a century old, the course is considered more of a "modern links," having been rebuilt by Mackenzie Ross after World War II, when it was flattened to serve as a military air base. The result is a course less head-scratching and quirky than Prestwick and Royal Troon down the road.
Royal Troon: A relative newbie compared to its older, next door neighbor Prestwick, Royal Troon is a longer, more modern championship links (though it was established in 1879). It's home to one of the most recognizable par 3s in the world, the 123-yard "Postage Stamp." The outward nine can play relatively easy (Greg Norman birdied the first six holes here in 1989), though the inward nine, playing into the wind, commands all your respect.
Playing Royal Troon, unless you're with a specific golf package, requires you to purchase a 36-hole ticket including a round on the Portland course next door.
Other recommended golf courses in southwest Ayrshire
Western Gailes: Like Prestwick and Troon, Western Gailes is just a couple miles from Prestwick Airport in Ayrshire, and on clear days it's possible to see the faint outline of the Ailsa Craig in the distance. This 19th century links serves as an Open Qualifying course whenever the Open is held at Turnberry or Troon, and is a frequent host to the U.K.'s top amateur competitions.
Machrihanish: Though technically in the southwest of Scotland, getting to Machrihanish requires a roundabout journey up from Glasgow down about three hours to Campbeltown -- or by one-hour ferry from Androssan in Ayrshire. Golfers who make the voyage are greeted with a raw, coastal links with what has become known as one of the finest opening holes in golf: "Battery," a dramatic dogleg left over a sandy beach.
The Kintyre Course at Turnberry: The newer, second fiddle to the famous Ailsa is the Kintyre, which was recently built by Donald Steele. It shares the same coastal property bordering the Ailsa to the north. There is also a nine-hole Arran Course and the Colin Montgomerie Academy, which offers themed lessons and golf schools.
Where to stay in south Ayrshire
The Old Course Hotel sits right across the street from Prestwick and is within walking distance to the beach and town center. It's a small hotel in an old Scottish house but features a full lunch and dinner menu, as well as a bar that stays open into the night.
The five-star Westin Turnberry is worth a stay for a night or two. This century-old classic hotel overlooks the golf courses, and a little 12-hole pitch-n-putt sits at the base of the hill as well. Have dinner in the restaurant overlooking the courses and sea, then take a stroll through the hallways and soak in all the famous names in golf who have stayed here. A full list of spa treatments and relaxation rooms await those who spent all day on the links.