It's not the most historic. That's St. Andrews. It's not the most scenic. That's Turnberry. It's not the toughest. That's Carnoustie. But Royal Troon may be the purest of the links courses on the British Open rota. Not naturally pure, some of Royal Troon has been shaped by man. But the course is pure because it gives the golfer what might be the truest test of a style of golf played on road-hard fairways, in howling winds, and amongst gnarly gorse. It's where the world's best will play July 15-18 and where you can play, too. And the members will even serve you lunch in the clubhouse.
Just a few weeks before the 1997 Open Championship, the last time Troon hosted, I spent some time playing as many Open courses as my aging body would tolerate. And though I revered St. Andrews, was stunned by the beauty of the views at Turnberry, tolerated nasty old Carnoustie, and praised Muirfield, I fell in love with the straightforward nature of Royal Troon.
Royal Troon does not have a knockout landscape. It instead has a stark appeal only those who appreciate links golf can love. You might call it golf beauty - at its most breathtaking in the waning light of day when the sun's shadows show off the course's ruggedness.
The course layout is in the traditional links style - nine out and nine in - with the ninth green at the farthest point and about a 45 minute walk from the clubhouse. From there you can look across the Firth of Clyde and see Prestwick - the site of the very first Open Championship. This is also one of the windiest spots on the course. Yes, wind, is pretty much everywhere, although Troon is not considered the breeziest of Open courses.
The first few holes of the outward nine are a tease. They usually play with the wind at your back and although they give the usual links golf headaches - unpredictable bounces, bunkers in the middle of the fairways, and moonscape topography - they can be had if you're on your game. Watson drove the first green during the 1982 Open and Greg Norman in 1989 birdied the first six holes.
But then comes the inward nine.
Brutal. Every par-4 is over 400 yards. The 11th is the longest at 490 yards. It has a blind tee shot that has to carry at least 230 yards to the fairway, a railway line next to the green, and out-of-bounds to the right. The 17th is a 222-yard par-3 with a six-foot deep bunker protecting the green. And 18, a 457-yard par-4, has four fairway bunkers that will force you, if you are unfortunate to find your ball in one of them, to play out sideways.
Oh yeah, almost forgot. You have to play this nine into the wind.
Also at Troon, you now get to tackle the longest and the shortest holes of the British Open courses. The sixth hole is a par-5 that muscles its way to 601-yards. And the eighth, the most famous hole on the course and one of the most recognizable par-3s in the world, is just 123 yards. The "Postage Stamp" is proof that golf is not all about brawn but also about skill. Depending on the wind, you could go with a wedge or a 4-iron.
There's a big clock that hangs from the wall of the clubhouse that faces the 18th green. I'm told that clock, which telegraphs the time just a few yards from the edge of the putting surface, takes one heck of a beating. Errant golf balls regularly smash its face forcing some at the club to think about putting the local repairman on retainer. Why not move the clock? Never. It's tradition.
That's an overwhelming force at Troon - tradition. The club has been around since 1878, a youngster relative to other clubs in the British Isles, but still there's a stately, gentlemanly manner about the place. Members are polite, but not necessarily welcoming. The men-only club has that old club smell, and could use a little interior decorating help from the reality TV's "Extreme Makeover."
But at least, and almost surprisingly, they do allow guests inside the main clubhouse. Something many other Open venues wouldn't dream of doing. In fact, the only way to get on Royal Troon is to agree to the package deal - a round at the sister course, the Portland, a round at the old course, and lunch in the clubhouse. Yep, they feed you in the club's dining room. That's a nice touch. How much for all this? It comes out to about $300 U.S. dollars. Incidentally, the food is not bad. Didn't see any haggis, but I'm sure if you ask they'll whip something up in the kitchen for you.
Outside the front door of the clubhouse on any given day when guests are permitted to play, you'll find a horde of caddies waiting to be hired. They mill around, talking, smoking and waiting for the caddie master to call their names and pair them with a player. Playing with a caddy at Troon is a treat and nearly a necessity if you want to know the lay of the land. Most of these guys are locals from Troon and nearby towns - seaside spots that are steeped in golf and literally breed players and caddies.
In the Scottish summer, Troon's weather is just like spring in the Carolinas - maybe two, three days of spring. Yes, you will get 65-degree, sunny days, with light breezes. But the rest of the time summer weather in Scotland's southwest corner could best be labeled changeable. The skies can turn gray fast. The wind can get wicked. And the temperature can find its way into the 40's. Rain, although rarely thunderous, can be nasty and annoying.
Still, Troon is a destination. It's a seaside resort town with grand hotels, bed-and-breakfasts, boating, fishing, great seafood restaurants, and lots of pubs including the most golf friendly of them all - Caddy Shack. Golf is clearly the centerpiece of the Ayrshire area. There are more than two dozen courses to play within a 35 minute drive from Troon including another Open course, Turnberry.
Troon is also an easy place to get to and from. The Glasgow airport is less than an hour away, there's a railway station in town, and even daily ferry service to Ireland.
The Royal Troon Golf Club and the town of Troon aren't on the level of St. Andrews when it comes to golfing significance. But Troon is unquestionably a worthy, challenging, and memorable place.
1923 Arthur Havers 1950 Bobby Locke 1962 Arnold Palmer 1973 Tom Weiskopf 1982 Tom Watson 1989 Mark Calcavecchia 1997 Justin Leonard.
The first six holes at Royal Troon were laid out by the greenskeeper at Prestwick. The rest of the holes came over time as the club purchased more land, but who designed those holes is not clear. History does note, however, that Alister Mackenzie did have a hand in some course alterations. And since we're throwing around famous names, Troon's most famous member is Colin Montgomerie.
July 9, 2004
Dave Berner is a long-time journalist for CBS radio in Chicago and has freelanced for CNN, National Public Radio, and ABC news. He created and produced the popular radio feature "The Golf Minute" for CBS-owned radio station WMAQ in Chicago along with writing a regular column for Golf Chicago Magazine. He is also author of "Accidental Lessons: A Memoir of a Rookie Teacher and a Life Renewed."
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