Ask Golf Advisor: What are the best courses in southwest Scotland?

Turnberry, Royal Troon and Prestwick - all former hosts of The Open - anchor a fantastic golf destination.
This menacing bunker guards the approach to the new 10th green on the Ailsa Course at Trump Turnberry Resort in Scotland.

My recent Instagram post about Ballyliffin, a great 36-hole links facility in Ireland, inspired an interesting question from a friend about golf in Scotland.

What are your top 7 courses in SW Scotland?
Tom Jaronski, The Golf Connection

The comment from Jaronski, a golf industry veteran who I've traveled with to the Caribbean and Mexico, brought back a flood of memories. A hole in one at Turnberry. A ferry ride across the Firth of Clyde to reach the Mull of Kintyre. Getting lost mid-round at Prestwick. The topic is a good one for #AskGolfAdvisor - I'm sure other readers planning a trip would be interested in knowing, too.

I've been to southwest Scotland twice. The abundance of Ayrshire's links courses is relatively easy to cover in one trip. They're less than a two-hour drive from Edinburgh and simply an hour from Glasgow. Trump Turnberry Resort is the ultimate home base, if you can afford it. The Marine Hotel, Troon along the 18th fairway of Royal Troon's Old course is a more centralized location.

Escaping to the Kintyre Peninsula for a couple days requires some additional planning involving the ferry schedule (or you can drive around!), but experiencing Machrihanish and Mach Dunes is definitely worth the effort. Here goes:

  1. Ailsa course at Trump Turnberry

    Donald Trump's decision to hire Martin Ebert was the best thing to ever happen to the iconic Ailsa links. All the landmarks are still there - Bass Rock off the coast, the lighthouse between holes 9-10, the World War II monument above the 12th green. Ebert tweaked every hole, although the most inspiring changes brought holes 4-11 more in harmony with the seaside cliffs.

    The new 248-yard, par-3 ninth hole, once a par 4, sits in the shadow of the lighthouse, which has been converted into a halfway house and luxury two-bedroom suite. Even a guy who aced the old 11th can admit that the replacement, a new 215-yard par 3 along the coast, is perhaps the biggest improvement of them all.

    What are your favorite courses in this special part of Scotland? Let us know in the comments below.

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  2. Old course at Royal Troon

    Royal Troon's Old course hosted its ninth Open Championship in 2016, where a dramatic duel between Phil Mickelson and eventual champion Henrik Stenson showcased the links in all its glory. The "Postage Stamp" at no. 8 -- an iconic, pint-sized par 3 of 123 yards -- might be the most dangerous green site in tournament golf. The 7,202-yard par-71 course dates to 1878.

  3. Prestwick Golf Club

    Bleary-eyed after a red-eye flight, a friend and I stepped onto the first tee at Prestwick's Old course without the customary caddie and set off on a wild adventure. Prestwick's maze of dunes and blind shots had us guessing where to go at times.The last of Prestwick's 24 Opens came in 1925, but the history lives on inside the clubhouse, home to a trove of artifacts worth seeing.

  4. Machrihanish

    Machrihanish is highly regarded for its opening tee shot over the beach - named among the scariest opening holes in golf. What follows is a deep dive into the dunes for a collection of blind shots that endears the links to so many. The 6,491-yard course dates to 1876, when Old Tom Morris designed the original 12 holes. That's more than a century older than the luxury cottages across the street, which were added in 2009 as part of the Village of Machrihanish Dunes.

    Machrihanish Golf Club is the most isolated of the many World Top 100 courses in Scotland.

  5. Machrihanish Dunes

    Architect David McLay Kidd fit holes naturally into a dunes-scape where no machines were allowed to go. The 259 acres are a Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI), an environmental designation protecting five rare types of orchid. It's the more scenic of the two links near Campbeltown Airport.

Jason Scott Deegan has reviewed and photographed more than 1,000 courses and written about golf destinations in 20 countries for some of the industry's biggest publications. His work has been honored by the Golf Writer's Association of America and the Michigan Press Association. Follow him on Instagram at @jasondeegangolfpass and Twitter at @WorldGolfer.
5 Comments
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Commented on

All wonderful courses. I might add that Prestwick has the friendliest staff I have ever encountered in Scotland.

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Loved Kingsbarnes (who doesn't) and North Berwick West, the favorite course of American pros to visit if they're playing in the area. It has many famous and memorable holes. Gullane #1 is another great course that doesn't get the attention that it deserves.

Commented on

Well you cannot have a conversation about Scottish Links golf without mentioning Royal Dornoch.
It’s not only a beautiful natural landscape but a beautiful natural golf course.

Commented on

Well!! I played the East Coast with The ladies of Carnoustie, Royal Montrose, Murrayshall , Drumoig, Strathtyrum Jubilee, and Panmure. Have played the old course on previous occasions and Piper Dam. Had a great time and would go again just for a golf holiday instead of visiting relatives. There’s better courses other than the Old Course.

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Thx JD, what a great list. I am taking a group to SW Scotland next September and we’ve got most of these great seaside links on the agenda. It will be the first leg of a 3-week Golf Adventure that will take us on to St Andrews, Evian France, Crans Montana Switzerland and Le Golf National in Paris. Hope you can join us, though, you’ve probably ticked them all off your list already. 😊⛳️

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Ask Golf Advisor: What are the best courses in southwest Scotland?