Royal Troon GOLF CLUB - 17 POINTS
Royal Troon will be etched in the memories of golf fans around the world as host to one of the most spectacular finishes ever seen in a Major championship. In recent years the cast of champions had hardly been stellar -Todd Hamilton, Mark Calcavecchia and Justin Leonard weren't exactly the creme de la creme of golf. But Phil Mickelson and Henrik Stenson laid on one of the true spectacles of the modern age, much to the relief of the members.
This was the last course on the current Open rota for me to play. I first visited it in 1989 for the Open so I finally got to play there almost 30 years after having seen it for the first time! The course itself doesn't have a reputation for being one of the real classics on the rota. Conventional wisdom says it has 6 average holes, followed by 6 strong holes, followed by another 6 average holes. I would say that may be a bit harsh, but it's true that this course doesn't have the beauty of Turnberry, the intrigue of Muirfield or the majesty of St Andrews.
Having waited for 30 years, it is a shame that it was a rather horrible September day when I teed it up. There was a very strong sideways wind off the water and we got absolutely poured on from the 8th tee to the 15th green. Having said that, the Galvin Green waterproofs did me proud and the course stood up really well to the battering it got.
I had expected the course to be fairly brutal but it was actually far more playable than anticipated. Our host made a good call by suggesting we play off the yellow tees. It may have shortened the course to 6,150 yards but in the conditions was the right thing to do.
Positioning off the tee is absolutely key. By that I mean, keeping the ball in play. I left the driver at home and used my new driving iron all day. Making sure the drive was there or thereabouts around the fairway was very important. In the wind we had to contend with, anything that got in the air with spin was disappearing deep into the long stuff, often never to be seen again.
Of the early holes, the key characteristic was the strong bunkering, whether fairway or green side you really needed to pay attention to the sand and a strokesaver will definitely save you a few shots.
There is definitely a degree of building excitement as you head towards the 8th. The par 4 7th is a great hole which I was especially fond of as it yielded me a kick-in birdie after a driving iron and wedge. And so we climbed to the 8th tee. This is the hole after all which had its own twitter account in the 2016 Open! There is a good account of what awaits you here. It really is a proper spine-tingling moment standing on that tee. I'm not sure there is another par 3 in the UK which has such a mystique about it and there aren't many like it in the world - the 17th at Sawgrass, 12th at Augusta, 7th at Pebble Beach maybe. We played into a strong 2-3 club wind from the left as the rain started coming down. 3 of the 4 balls ended up on the right and those that made the coffin bunker ended in the pocket after a few attempts to get out. The member playing with us played short and left and had a no problems par!
After that, you really are into a lovely, but tough, stretch of holes. 10 and 11 are particularly good but it is amazing when you look at the new tees they put in for the 2016 Open championship - they have stretched this golf course to places which leave you shaking your head. No wonder some of the players felt that things had got a little out of control.
The rain was lashing down hard as we made the long walk back to the clubhouse but, despite that, the course never became overwhelming. Again, thank goodness we picked the sensible tees.
The critics are probably right that the high standard of the holes around the turn isn't really maintained over the last few holes, but neither is the intensity of the challenge, which makes for some relief. The finish at 18 was a pleasant one, right in front of the members having their roast lunches. Memories of Norman's efforts in 1989, which I had watched from the stands alongside, came flooding back.
It is a testament to the course that despite the atrocious conditions I really enjoyed the day at Royal Troon. The clubhouse is packed full of memorabilia (much of it Colin Montgomerie related!) and you really do feel the history of this place. The course had some great moments - the Postage Stamp will live with me forever and those back tees on 10 and 11 were a sight to behold. Would I rush back to play here again? Well, there are Open courses I would want to experience again before Royal Troon but this was a really pleasant course which I would definitely want to return to. Just remember to play the right tees and, if the wind is blowing and the rain lashing down, make sure you play it up!
BOOKING THE COURSE
This is one of those Open courses that takes a bit of planning to play. Tee times are available from mid-April to the beginning of October, for a couple of hours on Mondays, Tuesday and Thursdays and they get booked up far in advance. It is very expensive, at £250 a tee time in 2018, and frankly the website doesn't make you think you will be massively welcomed here (2.5% handling charge for credit cards and warnings about pace of play). You aren't going to be welcomed as a member for the day here like in North Berwick but, hey ho, each to their own. You can book online though which makes it an easy experience.
The Ayrshire coast is often overlooked but it is very accessible, easy to get around and a really fantastic links experience. Troon is right next to Prestwick airport and only 45 minutes south of Glasgow Airport. Where to base yourself probably depends which other courses you are looking to play but you could do a lot worse that using the small town of Troon as your base - it certainly has more to offer than Irvine and is less than 15 minutes away from Western Gailes, Glasgow Gailes and Dundonald. We stayed at the Marine hotel, overlooking the 18th tee and a short way from the harbour which has lots of eating and drinking options.
Western and Glasgow Gailes and Dundonald would all be good additions to any tour, and probably in that order. The obvious other big guns to add would be Prestwick, host to 24 Opens, and Turnberry, which is 40 minutes to the south.