Great Courses of Britain & Ireland: Glasgow Gailes

Surrounded by some of the finest links courses in the world, this lesser-known is very much in their august league

With the current difficulties surrounding international travel recede, a visit to the west coast of Scotland is likely to be high on a lot of golfers’ lists. In truth, mere mention of the name “Ayrshire” can set pulses racing, thoughts usually focusing on the region’s great triumvirate: Prestwick, Royal Troon, and Turnberry.

In a part of the country where golf courses exist cheek by jowl, another trio of very fine links courses can be found close by. Many will have heard of Western Gailes and Dundonald, but fewer, I suspect, will be familiar with Glasgow Gailes. This is presumably a consequence of the club’s confusing name: The links was established as a winter venue for members of Glasgow Golf Club, 30 miles away. But in terms of history, character, and challenge, Glasgow Gailes bears comparison with any of its neighbors.

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17th hole (photo by Mark Alexander)

The parent club provides the history. Founded in 1787, Glasgow Golf Club is the ninth oldest club in the world. The links, together with its atmospheric red sandstone clubhouse, date from the late 19th century. It was initially designed by Willie Fernie, but in 1912 Willie Park Jr., son of the first Open champion and creator of Sunningdale and Olympia Fields, substantially remodelled the course. It is essentially Park’s layout that greets—or confronts—today’s golfer.

In physical character, it has a somewhat mixed identity. For sure, this is bona fide links occupying very sandy terrain, but an abundance of heather and gorse, along with the railway line that separates the course from the sea (the same railway that torments golfers playing the 1st at Prestwick and the 11th at Troon) lend the layout a slightly heathland flavor. Ganton in North Yorkshire, one of England’s greatest courses, is sometimes called an “inland links”; by the same measure, Glasgow Gailes might be described as a “links inland.”

As for the level of challenge, for four successive years, between 2014 and 2017, the course was selected by the R&A to stage Open Championship Final Qualifying events; in 2022, it will host the Scottish Amateur Championship. As regards the nature of that challenge, as on any links the strength of the wind will often be the defining factor; moreover, because Glasgow Gailes doesn’t possess a traditional “out and back” layout, the wind is likely to both attack and assist (never mind change direction!) throughout the course of 18 holes.

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5th hole (photo by Mark Alexander)

Golfers often highlight the quality of the putting surfaces at Glasgow Gailes, praising their subtlety and variety of form as well as their typically superb year-round condition. As for individual holes, most remark on the strength of the par threes—holes 6, 12, and 15. By contrast, while few can agree as to which are the pick of the par fours, everyone seems to consider the 593-yard par-five 5th to be not just the best hole at Glasgow Gailes, but one of the finest three-shot holes in Scotland.

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