The Ayrshire Coast

No sooner did we disembark from the Stena Line ferry, we came to the first little hamlet. A minute later we saw the familiar sign: Haste Ye Back. No doubt about it — we’re in Scotland.

We rolled into Troon where we are staying at the refurbished Marine Hotel. Under new ownership, the landmark 19th century Ayrshire property features 89 guest rooms, a luxurious spa and fitness center, indoor pool, steam rooms and sauna. Our sumptuous room had views in three directions, including the fairways of Royal Troon and even the clubhouse, one prodigious 5-iron away.

For me, our accommodations ticked all the boxes. Dining in The Rabbit Restaurant with Gillian Black, Director of Sales and Marketing for the venerable hotel, which is now part of the Marine & Lawn Hotels & Resorts portfolio, was icing on the cake. Or maybe I should say it was the Salted Butterscotch Sauce on the Sticky Toffee Pudding, that we couldn’t resist.

Not only is the setting and menu exquisite, I love that you can also devour the facts about where so much of the outstanding food is from — like the Cumbrae Oysters, sourced from sustainable fishing boats and oyster farms just off the coast, and the Isle of Mull Cheddar, made by the Reade family using unpasteurized milk from cows fed on grass and whisky grains from the nearby Tobermory Distillery.

We had a lovely Dashwood Sauvignon Blanc from Marlborough, New Zealand to go with the Chicken Liver Parfait and Grilled Orkney Scallop starters. Gillian and Kevin both had the Grilled Middle White Pork Chop, Rainbow Chard & Rhubarb and I had the Roast Shetland Pollock, Capers Brown Butter and Herb Mash. Gillian was driving home to Glasgow, so only Diet Coke for her!

Before heading up to Prestwick, we popped into the Royal Troon Clubhouse so I could browse the selection in the pro shop. I did not leave empty-handed! Always fun to wear a Royal Troon item when home at Troon Country Club in Scottsdale, Arizona. I’m useless on the golf course, but I can hold my own in the “I’ve Been There” department.

Royal Troon will be hosting the 152nd Open in July 2024. I will often say a silent prayer for Tom Weiskopf, the winner of the 1973 Open at Troon, who had just passed away on August 20th. The course at Troon CC was designed by Tom Weiskopf — the first course he designed, with Jay Morrish, and it was named as a fitting tribute to his Open win at Royal Troon.

Interestingly, the first Tom Weiskopf-designed course I ever played was Loch Lomond Golf Club near Glasgow in Scotland. I still love that parkland course with stunning views of the loch. He certainly found his genius when his playing days were over. R.I.P. Tom.

Upon arriving at Prestwick, we were hoping for a few minutes with Ken Goodwin, the Secretary at the venerable club for over a decade. We wanted to get the latest intel on the re-creation of the original 12-hole course played in the first Open Championship in 1860. Thanks to a chance encounter with David Fleming, the Head Golf Professional, I learned the club just received the hot-off-the-press limited edition course guide of the historic layout. What a great souvenir to bring home with me!

When we caught up with Ken, with his characteristic Scottish humor, he said: “The original course was dangerous! Four holes intersected at one point. Old Tom obviously did not do a risk assessment!” Ken confirmed the demand to play the re-created original 12 holes for just a few short weeks in October “far outstrips the supply.”

Only members of Prestwick, Muirfield, the R&A and a small number of golf history enthusiasts will get the chance in October to play the 12-hole layout to commemorate 150th anniversary of the Open. They will all be walking in the footsteps of Open Champions — one being Young Tom whose score of 47 was recorded on his opening round in 1870. How did he do it? He started with playing the 578-yard first hole in three shots.

In the early days the golfers went around the 12 holes three times to determine the winner. Although he designed the course, Old Tom did not win the first time. That honor went to Willie Park, Sr. from Musselburgh, with a score of 174. However, Old Tom did win in 1861 and then went on to win three more times. He still holds the title of being the oldest golfer (at age 46) to win the Open in 1867.

We made one more stop at Dundonald Links before we crossed the country to St Andrews on the east coast. The course, designed by Kyle Philips, was always a treat to play. Now there is an outstanding clubhouse where there used to just be a fancy trailer. The reception area is very unique—full of fascinating books like: The Secret Life of Tartan, How a cloth Shaped a Nation by Vixy Rae.

Kyle’s best known course in Scotland is probably Kingsbarns in Fife. It is impossible not to like a course where you have had a hole-in-one as a couple of our clients have done recently (#8 and most recently #13). No hole-in-one for me but I had one of my best rounds ever (low 90s) with a caddie who was a student at Dundee University. I would have him be my caddie for life, except that job falls to Kevin!

We had a delicious lunch in The Canny Crow, on the second floor. Susie Sinclair Watson also showed us several of the well-appointed luxury golf lodges, ranging from 2-bedrooms to 6-bedrooms. Some very nice touches include the designated equipment room for storing golf clubs, and many of the lodges were clustered around a putting green for convenient practice. This is the ultimate in seclusion.

Of course being an art lover, I couldn’t help but notice the monumental sculpture of a wound ball made of corten steel. It is the perfect material for the marine atmosphere where the rust-like appearance resembles the rubber thread used in the ball-making of the early 1900s.