“Does anyone fancy a round at Western Gailes tomorrow?” One of my group chats in WhatsApp went off with a message I was hoping to read. You see, for a long while I had been eager to play Western Gailes. Having heard so many people say it was one of the best courses they had ever played. I knew I needed to give it a shot and my chance had finally come. This is the story of my first round at a course that was high on my “must play” list.
From the moment you step foot inside the classic links clubhouse your experience has begun and you are in awe. The magnificent woodwork that adorns the walls lets you know that Western Gailes is steeped in tradition. The changing rooms are as classic as you would expect too.
There is something special about an old golf club changing room. The vintage wooden lockers, the wooden benches with spike marks and the slightly damp smell from years of golfers returning home soaked yet smiling.
This was all well and good but I was here to play the course, not take part in an episode of Grand Designs. After a quick bite it was time to face the 45 mph winds of the day and play some real links golf in proper links conditions.
The first few holes at Western Gailes will challenge and delight you in equal measures. The first is a fairly simple and a gentle opener, you can even hit a mid-iron to get you away.
The second hole is absolutely tremendous. It’s set in the classic rolling links land and the hole demands accuracy. This is one thing you experience when you play Western Gailes, the terrain changes as your round progresses.
As previously mentioned the first few play in very undulating land. Then you have the high dunes portion of the course, which I will come onto shortly. After that it flattens out again and doglegs are used to test your golfing skills.
There is something really special about links courses with high sand dunes. They remind you of the turbulent life of the land by the sea as they cocoon you and make you feel alone on the course. That day they also offered reprieve from the wind.
As you stand on the 5th tee, the sea is on your right as it will be for the next nine holes. The green sits in front of the backdrop of more stunning dunes that await you on the par five 6th, my favourite hole on the course.
Teeing-up across heather-decorated dunes the fairway runs across and away from the tee. The second shot is sublime as you aim for the fairway which is nestled between two huge dunes that stand guard to protect the green. The fairway snakes round into an incredible links green that demands precision. This is just a glorious par five.
The par three 7th is where the dunes become the most dramatic and it creates an arena-style hole. The dunes calm down after this hole but the course gets no less exciting
Western Gailes may be a links course that is close to perfection, but this hasn’t stopped them trying to improve it further. Under the discerning eyes of Tom McKenzie and Martin Ebert, the bunkering on the front nine has been refined this year.
Many traditional links fairway pot bunkers have been replaced with the rawer looking blowout bunkering. This looks so good on the eye and is less penal to golfers who find them. The bunkers have also been moved to be more in range.
Another thing that the internationally renowned design team have been doing is adding some new forward tees. This is a stroke of genius as the combination of these two changes has made the course easier for golfers who don’t hit it so far whilst making it more challenging for better players.
The eighteenth green complex has also been revamped which has created a beautiful closing hole. The dunes around the green frame it perfectly and there are some really tough flag positions available for disgruntled greenkeepers. More changes are due to start soon and I cannot wait to see what else they do with the back nine of this great course.
As you move into the back nine the course flattens out and burns start to appear in front of some of the greens. This is classic links terrain again but the beautifully and subtly contoured greens make it feel more special than your average seaside course.
The 14th hole was a great stand out on the back nine. There is something that feels so right about a railway line next to a links hole and this par five tees off almost on the tracks. From here you can see the beautiful clubhouse on the horizon.
One image of the course that will stay in my memory for a long time is the site that faces you as you approach the 17th green. The blind second shot up over a small escarpment is made all the more dramatic by the cross that gives you something to aim at. Golf is a religion and this seems to be a perfect metaphor for that.
They say never meet your heroes. Well in this round I met a hero of sorts and it did not disappoint. Western Gailes was founded by four men who were members at Glasgow golf clubs but who wanted to play away from the industrial air of the city and the boggy winter ground. The course has barely changed since it opened in 1897 and was completed a couple of years after that.
This is the beauty of Western Gailes, you can tell that it is a course that has been shaped by nature, by the elements of the links environment. It is a course that tests every aspect of your golf game yet puts a smile on your face while it does it.
This course should be in the top five of every golfers list of courses they want to play. It has a purity and an understated magnificence that has to be experienced to be described.
Words - Kenny Pallas
Photos - Graeme McCubbin
Video - Jamie Darling