On July 27, the Senior British Open will return to the Ailsa course at Scotland's Turnberry Resort , but that's not the reason U.S. visits have doubled in 2006 to this gorgeous spot on the southwest Ayrshire coast.
Nor obviously is the feeble dollar, which has turned even the chintziest U.K. vacation into a wallet-emptying affair.
No, the reason for the recent popularity is the announcement that in 2009, the British Open itself, known here simply as the Open Championship and golf's most global and historic event, will be played on the links for the first time since 1994. And when it comes to bag-tag-collecting status chasing, Americans are peerless. As golfers, anyway, we have all the anxiety of the nouveau riche. But no matter what the reason for going to Turnberry, it's worth it. Late this spring, I visited the resort during its centenary celebration and enjoyed the kind of relaxed, spirit-replenishing trip that is the very reason for a pilgrimage to golf's home.
Teeing Off at Kintyre
I arrived on a red-eye from Newark into Glasgow, and was alone at the first tee of Turnberry's Kintyre course a short two hours later. Kintyre is Ailsa's sister course (there's also a challenging nine-hole design there called Arran), and she's no weak sister. If Kintyre doesn't quite have her sibling's stunning looks, she's nonetheless very, very pretty and with quite an agreeable personality. Kintyre's not especially quirky, although the little par-4 eighth hole -- with a blind approach to a wee green hidden in a hollow overlooking the Mull of Kintyre -- is as glorious and wacky as Lucille Ball. Mostly, Kintyre is a fair, straightforward test, as well as an excellent introduction to links-style golf, where the courses are designed for the ball to be played closer to the ground to minimize the effects of the often fierce winds.
Pass the Haggis
All the courses at Turnberry sit close to the sea, while the hotel itself rests magisterially upon the hill above -- the manor as lord of the manor. The hotel would be imposing were it not for the fact that it is sized just right: regal enough to merit its setting, yet as far from showy and excessive as imaginable. Remember, this is Scotland, where showy excess is about as beloved as are the English, which is to say not at all. In a word, the building's a stately offering. Inside, the friendly efficient doormen and bellmen all wear full Scottish regalia, including kilts, of course. During my stay, I attended a traditional Scottish dinner, for which I was fitted with just such an outfit. (In the interest of not-so-full disclosure, I did not opt to go commando, as true Scots are wont to do -- one of the knee-high socks had a stain, which got me to thinking, and thinking is the enemy of the would be commando-wearer.) Regardless, this meal was among the highlights of the trip, in large measure for my first exposure to haggis, a mixture of mutton and offal boiled and served in a sheep's stomach.