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.

This infamous dish is a boogeyman to American golfers, causing equal parts fear and perverse excitement in the uninitiated.

My verdict? It's quite nice, especially after you pour a little Scotch over it to loosen the fat and mix it with the sides of bashed 'nips and champit tatties (mashed turnips and potatoes) -- just imagine corned beef hash without the sweetness.

And even better was the preliminary ceremonial reading of Robert Burns' To a Haggis:

"All hail your honest rounded face/Great chieftain of the pudding race..."

Recent additions and upgrades have made the 221-room, five-star Turnberry a truly modern hotel, plenty luxe, with a lovely spa and fitness studio -- but you aren't there for the modernity.

You're there for Turnberry's grace, sophistication and, lest you forget, the Ailsa course.

That said, there is also great trout and salmon fishing nearby, too, as well as horseback riding and target shooting -- you might even consider taking the crash course in falconry.

On To Ailsa

Turnberry's place in sporting history was established beyond dispute by the famous 1977 British Open "Duel in the Sun," in which Tom Watson shot a weekend 65-65 to Jack Nicklaus' 65-66 to win by a stroke.

I had seen only the briefest of highlights and thus came to Ailsa with no preconceived notions, only the faintest fear that it would perhaps be too stern a test for my 8-handicapper's game.

Wrong, wrong and wrong. First and foremost, Ailsa has an exceptionally fair and straightforward layout; it would be navigable even for the player daft enough not to take one of the charming, grizzled veteran caddies on offer.

The vast majority of the course's trials are plainly evident -- so, too, from the fourth through the 11th holes, are the coastline, the ocean and the granite dome of Ailsa Craig off in the distance (which is where curling stones begin life).

The Turnberry Lighthouse

The ninth hole, with the iconic Turnberry lighthouse within a stone's throw and the hills of Arran on the horizon, is as thrilling a setting as you'll find in the sport.

And whether or not your game lives up to the surroundings, you can, as I did, head over to the Colin Montgomerie Links Golf Academy for some inside tips on the shots and strategy that can help you conquer this seaside U.K. version of the game, from treacherous pot bunkers to marathon-long bump-and-runs.

Really, though, the main thing is to let the salt air fill your lungs, the whiskey fill your belly and golf's joy fill your heart.

That's what Turnberry's there for, bag tags be damned.



Enjoy the Good Life? Email us with what you'd like to see in future articles.

Evan Rothman is a freelance writer living in Brooklyn. A former executive editor at Golf Magazine, his work has appeared in The New York Times, Sports Illustrated, Esquire, Men's Journal and other leading publications.

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