This was the second GIGS tour to the area, the first being quite a few years ago. On that tour we had played Turnberry and Prestwick, but not Royal Troon as it had been booked out. Those on that trip were keen to revisit the region, despite the weather not being particularly kind.
There were six golfers in all this year: Neil Block, David Hunt, Chris McKay, Phil Reeves, Geoff Solomons and Jeff Widdup. The tour was organised superbly by Geoff Solomons, who not only booked the golf and accommodation but also the restaurants in the evening and taxis to and from. The weather was remarkably kind to us, and we really did not need the waterproof clothing we all diligently packed. It was at times blustery but that was to be expected and appreciated.
After meeting the previous evening, we started the tour at Kilmarnock Barassie which is a small members’ club. It is not perhaps as famous as some of its neighbours, but we all found it great fun to play as long as you stayed out of the plentiful gorse. It was lightly bunkered, which certainly was not the case with subsequent courses. It was certainly to the liking of Jeff Widdup, who won the day with a fine total of 37 points.
On the second day we played at Gailes Links, which used to be the old Glasgow Golf Club before it moved out to the Troon area. Gailes Links was very convenient, as it was walking distance from our hotel and the clubhouse was most welcoming. The course was certainly playable but avoiding the many, many bunkers was difficult. If you thought you had just missed one there were plenty more hidden behind to catch your ball. Phil Reeves won the day with a useful 38 points.
We returned to Dundonald Links on the third day, where we had played on the previous tour. This is perhaps not a links course for the purists as it is a little inland and has raised greens. The course and new clubhouse has an American air about it but we all enjoyed playing there….save for those of us who visited the many small and carefully sited burns. Chris McKay mastered it well, coming in with a winning score of 36 points.
The courses were getting tougher by the day, and appropriately for Western Gailes the wind blew rather. The starter told us, with some relish, that the course was now the toughest in Scotland apart from Carnoustie. It is a traditional links, just two holes wide between the sea and the railway line. It was heavily bunkered and any shot off line found tough rough. Scores were all down on previous days, reflecting the difficulty, but Neil Block won with a highly creditable 34 points in the conditions.
We saved the best until last, as Royal Troon was our final venue. This historic links, founded in 1878, has been home to the Open championship ten times with Arnold Palmer, Tom Watson and most recently Henrik Stenson winning there. The imposing clubhouse is welcoming as long as you are expected. We teed off with much to play for as it was all very tight for the tour trophy. The wind was blowing hard off the sea which made hitting fairways and greens very tricky indeed. We gained at least some appreciation of how good the professionals are as many of the shots we had appeared impossible to play. The Postage Stamp is perhaps Troon’s most famous hole. For us it played just 118 yards, fortunately into the keen wind, and the slightest misjudgment meant you fell off the tabletop green and faced a tough return chip.
All in all, we managed the course pretty well but needed quite a bit of luck in some cases to get round. The greens were not unduly fast but all had tricky borrows and there were very few straight putts. Phil Reeves managed a birdie, par finish to come in first with 37 points.
It was a wonderful day and we took lunch in the ornate dining room. Geoff Solomons totted up the scores for the five days which ended up being a combination of team and individual scores. In third place was Chris McKay, second Neil Block but Phil Reeves just took the tour trophy by a shot or two. We then embarked on our drives home.
Next year’s tour is likely to be in the St Andrew’s region and details will appear when available.