TURNBERRY, Scotland -- I'm back on the Ailsa Course at Turnberry Resort for the first time since its centennial in 2006. And this time, I sense the ghosts.
In 2009, something supernatural decided Tom Watson would come up one firm, unfriendly bounce shy of becoming the oldest major champion in history. Was it the spirits of the Ailsa Craig offshore that summoned Watson's demise? Or was it Martyrs' Monument? Maybe it was the ruins of Robert the Bruce's home by the lighthouse?
Throughout my two days at Turnberry, moments from the 2009 Open raced through my mind. It's tough to walk by the 18th green on the way to the first tee and not size up Watson's 72nd hole chip shot and missed putt, visualizing thousands of fans waiting to break into one of the wildest cheers a golf course has ever known.
Starting at the fourth hole on the Ailsa, the course winds beside the sea but hides mostly behind a wall of dunes until you arrive at the ninth tee, which is perched beside the coast's black rocks and plays closest to the lighthouse. Here, I tried to grapple with how Tiger Woods could have slammed clubs and let expletives fly in such a setting -- as he did here en route to missing the cut.
My caddie, veteran looper Lee McCallan, was one of three locals to earn a player bag in the '09 Open, caddying for Ryo Ishikawa, who was paired with Woods the first two rounds. That gave McCallan a front-row seat to Woods' meltdown, to which he recalled memories to our group.
When Woods blew a tee shot so far right on No. 10 that it ended up closer to Muirfield, Lee kindly suggested he re-tee, much to the dismay of Woods and Steve Williams, who walked off the tee. They would be stopped by officials en route to the stray and told to head back toward the tee; there would be little hope of finding this Nike, and Woods would head home shortly afterward.
Turnberry's '09 renovations bring new dining concepts and guest rooms
Staff members at Turnberry seems to have their own '09 stories of Woods, and they can also tell you exactly where they were when Watson walked up the 72nd hole and how the subsequent deflation could be felt throughout Ayrshire.
But the five-time Open champ's grace in defeat only solidified his status as Turnberry's most beloved.
When the resort reopened after extensive renovations the week of the '09 event, their new lounge was named "Duel in the Sun," which has TVs, a snooker table and a first-class whisky menu.
Also, four suites have been named after each of Turnberry's Open champions, and Watson's, complete with a private balcony overlooking the Ailsa, is the most popular of the lot. All but Stewart Cink's suite will be occupied by their namesakes when Watson, Greg Norman and Nick Price compete in the Senior British Open from July 26-29.
The major renovation also revamped the lobby, which was redesigned back to the days when guests would step off the train (where the parking lot is located now) and head through the doors and into the lobby, where they could have a welcoming cup of tea. Today's guests can do the same after making the transcontinental flight and drive down the coast to the resort. For a post-round or pre-dinner beer, you can order up an Ailsa Amber Ale, a new offering brewed locally for the resort at the nearby Strathhaven Brewery.
For dinner, the resort strives to use as many ingredients from within 50 miles of Turnberry as possible. The kitchen buys scallops off the shores of Arran, grass-fed lamb and beef from the island of Orkney, halibut from the North Sea, shrimps and Dungeness crabs caught that day in Troon, or whatever else is fresh out of the sea.
Once prepared, the resort has made an effort to bring showmanship back into dining. In their main restaurant (called 1906) certain entree dishes are made at the table. Guests can inquire about an evening at the "Chef's Table," an eight-course menu drawn up that morning based on what arrives in the kitchen. Or select guests, by invitation only, can dine in the kitchen at "The Pass," a granite countertop where meals are prepared, and get a front-row seat to the back-of-the-house operations. An invitation to this experience can be achieved by becoming a regular guest to Turnberry. The easiest way, however, is by buying a bottle of Krug Champagne (starting at 175 pounds).
Of course, winning an Open here would probably get you a standing invite, too.
Golf at Turnberry Resort: Beyond the Alisa Course
Turnberry's golf product, managed by Troon Golf, is as complete as Scottish resort golf has to offer, with perhaps only Perthshire's Gleneagles Resort in a similar class.
Beside the Ailsa course is the Kintyre Course, a championship links designed by Donald Steel that is tough enough to host Open qualifying. Boasting a few seaside holes of its own, the lighthouse is in view and holes circle around the last remaining wartime airstrip on the property.
In addition to the two championship courses is the Colin Montgomerie Links Golf Academy, which includes a short-game area with multiple greens, complete with the deep, sod-walled bunkers you'll eventually encounter on the Ailsa or the Kintyre. This facility, along with the nine-hole Arran Course next door, is used often by the instruction staff to teach links golf primers to Scotland first-timers. Or, golfers can receive tour-caliber club-fitting at the TaylorMade Performance Lab, which uses body and club sensors with 3D technology to analyze the golf swing from all angles to produce a most precise fit.
And for the most casual golf at Turnberry, a pitch 'n putt on the front lawn is always open and free to anyone. Hotel guests can ask the concierge for a couple of clubs and enjoy a post-dinner match while taking in a gorgeous sunset that falls over the isle of Arran and Kintyre Peninsula.