Enthralled and enchanted in golf’s own country

Dundonald Links
Dundonald Links

On the road to Troon our tour-bus is surrounded by golf courses, with more beyond them and beside them, stretching inland and seawards - green, undulating fairways and neat, sandy bunkers - an immaculately tended golfers’ paradise.

It is beautiful to see, and though I’ve never played the game in my life I’m in Ayrshire on a golfing trip hosted by Ayrshire Golf and VisitScotland.

‘‘Is there anything like this anywhere else?” I wonder aloud, gobsmacked by the ubiquitous greens.

“No! This is special,” mused an experienced golfer beside me, similarly enthralled.

After a delightful dinner, a restful night and a full-Scottish breakfast in Prestwick’s 4-star, handily-located Carlton Hotel, even for a complete non-golfer the wind and rain didn’t begin to overshadow the beauty and magnificence of North Ayrshire’s Dundonald Links.

Located near the town of Irvine, Dundonald Links hosted this year’s Ladies’ Scottish Open and is busily preparing for the Aberdeen Asset Management Scottish Open next July.

“The sun will be out shortly,” smiled course-starter Raymond Girvan optimistically, sheltering in his cosy, wooden cabin beside Dundonald’s first tee.

“Two loops of nine,” he explained, “and at the ninth there’s a menu and a phone to order a drink or a snack at the clubhouse when you pass.”

‘‘You can hit a golf ball on the west coast of Scotland, from Irvine to Prestwick, for nine or ten miles all along the coast, and you’ll always be on a golf course,” said David-Ross Nicol, the club’s resident professional.

Club manager Ian Ferguson from Belfast is extremely busy liaising with the European Tour organisers and co-ordinating the mountain of preparations on-going for next July’s Scottish Open.

“We’ve got a big gig,” Ian smiled confidently.

There’ll be 450 million homes globally, watching 2,500 hours of television coverage beamed by 40 broadcasters from 160 countries.

“The two important things,” said Ian “are that the players like it and the public like it.”

Then Dundonald will host the Ladies Open: “It’ll be the first time any venue has the Scottish Open and the Ladies Open back to back,” he added proudly.

This is the home of golf!

Prestwick’s club-history stretches back over 160 years to at ime when golf was in its infancy.

In 1851 a group of enthusiastic players met regularly in the Red Lion bar where they made the momentous decision to form a golf club.

I visited the bar, and the simple stone cairn to the west of Prestwick’s clubhouse which marks the spot where the first Open Championship tee shot was struck in 1860.

The cairn identifies the opening hole of the original 12-hole course - where modern golfing history began.

The first Open was held for one day on 17 October 1860.

Eight professional golfers played three rounds.

There was no prize money, but in 1863 the winner ‘earned’ the now-famous red leather belt with a silver buckle.

The second, third and fourth players shared a booty of £10.

How times have changed!

Next day the sun is shining and I’m at another of the 50 exquisite golf courses in the vicinity - Lochgreen at Troon, where Jack Nicklaus qualified for his first ever Open in 1962.

The breathtakingly beautiful Scottish coastline boasts three Open Championship venues and five of the UK's top 100 golf courses.

Troon Links is a collection of three adjacent courses, occasionally ‘crossing-over’ and sharing a clubhouse.

They’re Darley, Lochgreen and Fullarton, located alongside Royal Troon, Portland and Barassie, forming a group of six courses that encircle the famous golfing town of Troon.

And this very beautiful countryside is just 10 minutes, 30 minutes and 90 minutes from Prestwick, Glasgow and Edinburgh airports, in that order.

After a short visit to Dundonald Castle - built in 1371 and a splendid example of a medieval tower house - all too soon it was time for the 1½ hour, picturesque bus-journey to Cairnryan and the ferry home.

I left as a golfing atheist.

I’m a believer!

l Golf at www.dundonaldlinks.com and www.troonlinksgolf.com

l Accommodation at www.carlton-prestwick.com Larne to Cairnryan with P & O ferries at www.poferries.com

l Full information at www.visitscotland.com andwww.ayrshiregolfscotland.com