Trump Turnberry: Reviving a Legacy

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Set along the picturesque Ayrshire coastline, Trump Turnberry is a golfing destination steeped in history and natural beauty. This iconic links has been captivating golfers for over a century, its windswept fairways and undulating greens bearing witness to legendary moments etched in the annals of the sport. Serving as backdrop are the iconic Lighthouse and the presence of Arran and volcanic island Ailsa Craig just out to sea in the Firth of Clyde, presiding over the links.

Turnberry’s story is one of resilience and revival—from its humble beginnings as part of the Ailsa estate, through the ravages of both World Wars, and its transformation into a world-class golfing resort. The Ailsa course has played host to four drama-filled Opens that are etched in the memories of fans worldwide, and it has recently undergone a renovation to ensure it remains vital for years to come.

In this post, we’ll visit Trump Turnberry, exploring its origins, defining characteristics, and the indelible mark it has left on the world of golf. We’ll relive the epic battles that have unfolded on its hallowed turf, and we’ll close with further reading suggestions and videos that will bring the course to life.

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Royal Dornoch Golf Club - The Greenside Gallery

Origins and History

Turnberry’s history is a fascinating tale that spans over a century, intertwined with the stories of kings, wars, and golfing legends. The land at Turnberry, situated on the picturesque Ayrshire coast in Scotland, was once part of the estate owned by Archibald Kennedy, the Third Marquess of Ailsa (Lord Ailsa). In 1901, Lord Ailsa commissioned Willie Fernie, the 1883 Open Champion, and a renowned golf course designer, to lay out the first golf course at Turnberry. The original 6,248-yard No. 1 course, along with a 1,690-yard nine-hole ladies course, opened for play on July 6, 1901.

trump turnberry origin

In 1906, the Turnberry Hotel and railway station were opened, creating the first purpose-planned golfing resort in Britain. Visitors from the UK would flock to the Ayrshire coastline, known as “the sunshine corner” of Scotland, to enjoy the luxurious amenities and the stunning golf courses. By 1909, Turnberry offered two 18-hole golf courses, the No. 1 and No. 2, designed by Willie Fernie.

Turnberry’s strategic coastal location led to its requisition by the military during both World Wars. In World War I, the Royal Flying Corps used the property for aerial gunnery training, while in World War II, it served as a torpedo training facility, including “bouncing bomb” practice. The hotel was also used as a military hospital during these periods. The heavy machinery and aircraft left the courses in disrepair, requiring extensive restoration after each war.

In the post-war years, the courses were rebuilt, and the hotel returned to its original purpose. The No. 1 course was renamed the Ailsa, while the No. 2 became the Arran. Mackenzie Ross was tasked with redesigning the courses in 1949, and the Ailsa reopened to great acclaim in 1951.

The Ailsa course has since become a fixture in the Open Championship rota, hosting the event in 1977, 1986, 1994, and 2009. Throughout its history, Turnberry has undergone several changes in ownership and renovations. In 2014, the Trump Organization purchased the property and invested heavily in upgrading the hotel and golf courses. The Ailsa course was renovated by Ebert & Mackenzie, and a new course, the King Robert the Bruce, was added. Today, Trump Turnberry remains one of the world’s most iconic golfing destinations, steeped in history and beloved by golfers for its stunning beauty and challenging links.

Did You Know?

During World War II, the iconic Turnberry Golf Links was transformed into a strategic military airfield. The Royal Air Force (RAF) requisitioned the property, utilizing the site for airstrips, hangars, and huts. Turnberry became an important training ground for RAF pilots, particularly those in the No. 1 Coastal Torpedo Training Unit, who learned the daring art of low-level flying over the sea while carrying torpedoes and bombs.

In addition to its role as a training facility, Turnberry also served as a hospital during the war years. The luxurious hotel, a symbol of leisure in peacetime, was commissioned as a medical facility to care for the wounded. The heavy aircraft and machinery used during this period took a severe toll on the grounds, causing even more damage than the First World War. It is estimated that as many as 200 people lost their lives at Turnberry during World War II.

Despite the extensive damage and the uncertainty surrounding Turnberry’s future in the post-war years, the property was eventually restored to its former glory. The courses were rebuilt, and the hotel was returned to its original glory. In 1951, the Ailsa Course at Turnberry was reopened, marking the beginning of a new era for this iconic golfing destination. The Open Championship returned to Turnberry in 1977, when Tom Watson famously defeated Jack Nicklaus in the “Duel in the Sun.” Since then, Turnberry has remained a fixture in the Open Championship rota, hosting the prestigious event in 1986, 1994, and 2009, cementing its status as one of the world’s most revered golfing venues.

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The Open at Turnberry

Trump Turnberry has been the stage for many iconic moments in golf history. The 1977 Open Championship, known as the “Duel in the Sun,” saw an epic battle between Tom Watson and Jack Nicklaus, with Watson emerging victorious by a single stroke.

In 1986, Greg Norman claimed his first major championship at Turnberry, with his second-round 63 rated among the greatest of all time. The 1994 Open at Turnberry was won by South Africa’s Nick Price, who triumphed over Sweden’s Jesper Parnevik by a single stroke.

In 2009, 59-year-old Tom Watson nearly made history again in chasing an historic sixth Open title, which would have tied Harry Vardon for the most all time. Watson came to the 72nd hole needing par to edge Stewart Cink by one. After finding the fairway, Watson selected an 8-iron for his approach, hit it through the green, and made a bogey. Cink would go on to win the playoff. Thinking of what might have been, Watson reflects, “that 8 iron will always live with me. ” 

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Duel in the Sun

The 1977 Open Championship at Turnberry is remembered as one of the greatest final rounds in golf history, forever immortalized as the “Duel in the Sun.” The two protagonists were former Open winners Tom Watson and Jack Nicklaus, both at the peak of their powers, setting the stage for an epic showdown. Heading into the final round, Watson and Nicklaus were tied for the lead, having distanced themselves from the rest of the field during the third round.

The stage was set for a head-to-head battle, which did not disappoint. The final round featured brilliant shotmaking and unwavering determination, with Watson and Nicklaus trading blows, momentum shifting back and forth over the first 16 holes.

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The defining moment came on the par-5 17th when Watson birdied and Nicklaus missed a 3-footer to keep pace. As they moved to the last, Watson held a one-stroke lead and had the the honor. He found the fairway with a 1-iron, dialing up the pressure on Nicklaus, who took out his driver and missed to the right. Watson proceeded to hit his approach to two feet, seemingly securing his victory.

However, Nicklaus, faced with a daunting shot from the gorse, produced a moment of magic, hitting a remarkable eight-iron to the edge of the green with a swing that Peter Alliss dubbed “animalistic.” Nickalus then sank the 35 foot putt for an unlikely birdie. In a fitting end to this incredible duel, Watson confidently stroked home the putt, securing his second Open Championship title and etching his name alongside Nicklaus’ in golfing folklore. Watson had played the weekend 65-65 to Nicklaus’ 65-66, leaving then 10 shots clear of Hubert Green, the only other man under par.

The event was documented in Michael Corcoran’s great book “Duel in the Sun,” the official film is in the videos section below, and you can also check out our post “Watson’s Winning Ways” for more. Decades later, Henrik Stenson and Phil Mickelson would wage an epic battle of their own, echoing the “Duel in the Sun”, this time at Royal Troon.

The Ailsa Course

Beyond the Open, Turnberry has played host to a number of notable events through the years. The Senior Open Championship has been played at Turnberry multiple times, with past winners including Neil Coles, Gary Player, Bob Charles, and Tom Watson. The Women’s British Open was also held at Turnberry in 2002, won by Karrie Webb, and again in 2015, won by Inbee Park. Other events include the Winter Series, sponsored by Galvin Green, where golfers compete on the King Robert the Bruce course to qualify for the Champion of Champions Final on the Ailsa course. 

During past Championships, the Ailsa played to a par 70 at around 6,900 yards. After closing for eight months of renovations by Martin Ebert, the course now plays as a par 71 at 6,474 yards. The changes implemented in consultation with the R&A have breathed new life into the course. It was named “Redevelopment of the Year” by Golf Inc. Magazine, stating it as “an iconic property that has been restored immaculately without losing the proud history created over hundreds of years.” 

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Five dramatic new holes have been created, while the remaining holes have been carefully enhanced to showcase the natural beauty of the surrounding landscape. One of the most notable changes is the realignment of the 14th hole, which has been transformed into a par-5, moving the green up to provide breathtaking views of the coastline.

The 12th hole, “Monument,” features a monument on the hill above the green commemorating the lost airmen stationed at Turnberry during World War II. The hole demands a brave tee shot down the left side of the fairway, flirting with the fairway bunkers, while the approach must account for the deceptively large elevated green.

The 17th hole has also been shortened to a par-4, while the 18th hole, renamed in tribute from “Ailsa Hame” to “Duel in the Sun,” remains a formidable challenge. The hole requires a precise tee shot to navigate the fairway bunkers and a precise approach to find the right half of the green, avoiding a tricky incline on the left.

With its strategic design, spectacular vistas, and historical significance, the reborn Ailsa course at Trump Turnberry has solidified its position as one of the world’s most iconic and sought-after destinations.

Visit Trump Turnberry online at https://www.turnberry.co.uk

PuttView Golf Books

PuttView Books are detailed yardage and green maps designed to help golfers save strokes, especially under tournament conditions. They offer precise visual representations of courses, including topographic slope percentages, fairway arrows for slopes over 4%, and a dual view of greens accurate to the millimeter. The books are printed on high-quality waterproof paper, sized to fit traditional yardage book covers, and are USGA legal. 

Customers praise PuttView Books for their stunning detail, stylish presentation, and the confidence they instill in decision-making on the course. With 30,000 courses represented, your home course is bound to be available, as is Trump Turnberry!

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Further Reading

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Classic Golf Links
by Donald Steel

Summary: Classic Golf Links of England, Scotland, Wales and Ireland by Donald Steele is a guidebook featuring 75 spectacular links golf courses in the British Isles, covering their history, design, and challenges. The book includes scorecards, hole maps, photos, and playing tips for each course, providing key information for golf travelers while celebrating these revered seaside tests.  With writing by Donald Steel and photos by Brian Morgan, Classic Golf Links is considered an essential reference for experiencing the best of links golf.

This book is a must for anyone with an affinity for links golf. I bought this book years ago and still return to it often. The pictures are amazing and they alone will make you fall in love with these courses.

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Sand and Golf
by George Waters

Summary: “Sand and Golf” explores how sandy terrain uniquely suits golf, studying similarities and differences between courses worldwide with sandy features. It examines all aspects of the relationship between sand and golf, from the sport’s origins in Scottish coastal dunes to its global spread onto sandy sites. Written by golf architect George Waters with a preface by renowned designer Tom Doak, it details through examples and illustrations why firm, rugged, windy sandy terrain makes creative shot-making integral to the game. The book appeals to knowledgeable golfers interested in course design and architecture, analyzing the art and science behind why golf belongs on sand.

Tom Watson Golf

Duel in the Sun
by Michael Corcoran 

Summary: The 1977 British Open at Turnberry was an epic showdown between golf legends Jack Nicklaus and Tom Watson, with Watson prevailing by one stroke after they battled over the final 36 holes; Michael Corcoran brings this dramatic moment in golf history to life through interviews with participants and evocative details about the Open’s rich tradition and origins; Duel in the Sun recounts Watson rising to defeat Nicklaus and claim his spot at the pinnacle of golf.


A Course Called Scotland
by Tom Coyne

Summary: For much of his adult life, best-selling author Tom Coyne has been chasing a golf ball around the globe. When he was in college, studying abroad in London, he entered the lottery for a prized tee time in Scotland, grabbing his clubs and jumping the train to St. Andrews as his friends partied in Amsterdam; later, he golfed the entirety of Ireland’s coastline, chased pros through the mini-tours, and attended grueling Qualifying Schools in Australia, Canada, and Latin America. Yet, as he watched the greats compete, he felt something was missing. Then one day a friend suggested he attempt to play every links course in Scotland, and qualify for the greatest championship in golf. 

The result is A Course Called Scotland, a hilarious golf and travel adventure throughout the birthplace of the sport and home to some of the oldest and most beloved courses in the world, including St. Andrews, Turnberry, Dornoch, Prestwick, Troon, and Carnoustie.

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Golf Courses of the British Isles
by Bernard Darwin

Summary: “Golf Courses of the British Isles” by Bernard Darwin is a classic text that explores and celebrates the unique beauty and challenges of golf courses throughout the British Isles. Darwin, a revered golf writer and grandson of Charles Darwin, provides insightful commentary on the architecture, history, and character of iconic courses, blending personal anecdotes with expert analysis. His vivid descriptions transport readers to the very greens and fairways of famous venues, highlighting their natural beauty and the intricacies of their design. The book, illustrated with evocative drawings by Harry Rountree, remains a timeless tribute to the game of golf and is considered a must-read for enthusiasts of the sport and its storied landscapes.

the open book

The 150th Open
by Iain Carter

Summary: The 150th Open is the official book celebrating the sesquicentennial (seriously, that’s a thing) of golf’s oldest major championship, produced in partnership with The R&A and capturing the history and stories that make The Open unique.  From its 1860 origins in Prestwick to today’s iconic venues, the book chronicles The Open through archival images and interviews with past champions, reflecting on characters, courses, and moments that have defined this revered event over 150 years. The comprehensive narrative and visual history in The 150th Open commemorates The Open Championship’s illustrious past and enduring prestige as golf’s most beloved tournament.

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True Links
by  Malcolm Campbell & George Peper

Summary: True Links by Malcolm Campbell and George Peper profiles over 240 of the world’s top links golf courses across the British Isles and beyond, examining their history, design features, and status as an authentic “true links.” Organized geographically, the book offers photos, maps, scorecards and playing tips for renowned seaside tests like Royal County Down, Ballybunion, Cabot Links, Barnbougle Dunes and others that meet the authors’ criteria.  For links golf aficionados, True Links serves as an illustrated guidebook for experiencing the unique joys and challenges of the game’s most revered coastal courses.


1977 Duel in the Sun
Turnberry 2016 Changes
Trump Turnberry Flyover
Norman Wins at Turnberry 1986
Price Wins at Turnberry 1994
Cink edges Watson at Turnberry 2009





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