Turnberry Golf Course
"The finest links course in the world." - Colin Montgomerie
References to "old air fields" is not normally complimentary when used in the context of a golf course, but in the case of Turnberry an exception must be made.
From its days as an airbase in both World Wars, this most beautiful of golfing venues has been transformed into one of the world's foremost places to play. Which was no mean feat. Particularly in the Second World War, much damage was done to the links. Several fairways and greens were dug up, many humps and hollows were levelled - all to make way for vast concrete runways.
When peace came in 1945 the place was a mess in golfing terms and remained so for four years. Then, in 1949, architect Philip Mackenzie Ross was hired to rebuild the pre-war Turnberry. He did that and more. A lot more. By 1951, Ross had sculpted what was soon recognised as one of Scotland's - and the world's - premier links. Within ten years Turnberry hosted an Amateur Championship, then 16 years after that, a long overdue Open Championship.
Of course, for most people the word "Turnberry" means one of two things - the world famous Ailsa course, venue for three Open Championships since 1977, or the magnificent five-star hotel sitting so proudly overlooking the Firth of Clyde.
Of the hotel it is enough to say that the accommodations are nothing short of superb. And, believe it or not, the golf on offer is just as good. Not only is there the famous Ailsa, its neighbour, the recently transformed Arran course has reopened to rave reviews from all lucky enough to play her.
There is too, for those for whom practice is as enjoyable as play, the Colin Montgomerie Teaching Academy. This state of the art facility is just the place to work seriously on your game or, indeed, warm up before a round. For all that, it is the Ailsa course around which Turnberry has built its deserved reputation. This is quite simply one of the world's best and most beautiful golf courses.
Indeed, it is a measure of its quality that ten golfers asked to name their favourite hole are more than likely to give ten different answers. There is the tricky par-3 4th, "Woe-be-Tide," with its punchbowl green. Or "Roon the Ben," aka the classic par-5 7th. Or the truly memorable 9th hole, with its tee cut on a small peninsula far below the level of the fairway and just across from the famous lighthouse.
Or the 16th, "Wee Burn," a hole where many cards have been ruined by the proximity of the water to the ndulating green. The list is almost endless.
But we digress. Let's talk golf. And golf at Turnberry brings us inevitably to the Open Championship of 1977, the so-called "Duel in the Sun." The record books tell us that Tom Watson won the title that year, by a single stroke from Jack Nicklaus. A closer look tells us that no one else was close. Watson, in fact, was 12 under par for the week, Nicklaus 11 and Hubert Green, in third place, a distant one under the card. But that is hardly the story. Not by a long way.
More to the point, Turnberry, in its first airing as a major championship venue, successfully identified the two best players in the world to the extent that the rest were nowhere. It truly was magical stuff.
For two days Nicklaus and Watson, playing together at the back of the field - went at it like the titans they were. Both held the lead on more than one occasion but, with two holes remaining, they were tied for the lead. At the 497-yard 17th Watson it was who found the green in two shots. Nicklaus, after a slightly pushed 4-iron approach, was just off the putting surface.
After the Golden Bear chipped to around four feet from the cup, Watson rolled his long putt stone dead. Whereupon Nicklaus missed. Advantage Watson.
Playing safe with an iron, Watson found the final fairway in perfect position just short of the left-hand bunker. Nicklaus, with nothing to lose, attempted the long carry with his driver. It was, to be honest, not one of Jack's better efforts. High and right, the ball sailed to the edge of the gorse bushes far off the fairway.
More advantage Watson, who then struck an 8-iron approach to no more than two feet from the cup.
Game over? Not quite.
Faced with an almost impossible shot, Nicklaus somehow found the edge of the putting surface with an animalistic heave from the bushes. He then, in what has to be one of golf's most memorable moments, holed across the green for a birdie.
Clearly shaken, Watson took little time over his own putt. And holed it, albeit not in the middle!
The pair then walked off the green arm in arm, to a sustained ovation from the packed grandstands. It is one the game's most enduring images and it happened at Turnberry.
While Turnberry's two Open Championships since then haven't quite managed to match the first for drama, that is hardly a disgrace. Besides, if a course's champions can be taken as a measure of its stature, Turnberry has nothing to fear. At the time of their victories, Tom Watson, Greg Norman and Nick Price were all clearly the best golfers on the planet. Beat that.
So what of the Ailsa itself? What makes it so special?
It isn't just the natural beauty of the place. It isn't just the peerless pacing of the holes, particularly those along the edge of the ocean. It isn't just the natural linksland on which the course is built. It isn't just the towering hotel.
It's all of the above - and more.
Try it and see. You won't be disappointed.