Founded in 1878, Royal Troon Golf Club was hosting its first event within six months of opening and hasn’t looked back since. Located along a famed stretch of Ayrshire coastline that also comprises Prestwick, Western Gailes, and Kilmarnock Barassie, Royal Troon has hosted The Open on no fewer than nine separate occasions starting back in 1923. The clubs first professional, appointed in 1882, George Strath, completed an 18-hole layout by 1884. Compatriot Willie Fernie, the 1883 Open Champion, and subsequent Professional at Royal Troon in 1887 made several improvements to the golf course, including the introduction of the famous “Postage Stamp” 8th hole in 1909, and creating what was then known as the ‘Relief Course,’ now the ‘Portland Course.’
As a modern-day Championship venue, it is interesting to note that the winners of each Open at Troon have not been the biggest hitters in the field. Royal Troon doesn’t reward aggressive play or the longer ball strikers, and in Watson, Calcavecchia, Leonard, Hamilton, and Stenson you have a set of professionals who either tempered their style or adapted it, to conquer the links. A reasonably subdued opening, and finish to the golf course, provides the bookends to a middle section of some of the best links land in the UK or Ireland. The first nine holes are where the scoring is easier before you must contend with the prevailing breeze on the way home.
The first six holes at Royal Troon run along the coast and provide some exciting tests. The long Par five 4th hole “Dunure” is a typical links, risk, and reward. A driver off the tee that avoids the fairway bunkers can open up the 2nd shot, but with three deep pot bunkers surrounding the putting surface, nothing is guaranteed. The highlight of the front nine is unquestionably the world famous 8th, the “Postage Stamp.” At just 123yards, it is the shortest hole on the Open Championship rota. From an elevated tee box, you play down towards the green, perched on an old sandhill, protected by five deep punishing bunkers. There’s no easy way to play the 8th, hit the green, two-putt, and walk on. Miss, and that’s a whole other story.
The 8th is possibly not the toughest hole on the course; however, that honor must go to the incredibly tricky 11th hole. It was reduced from a par five to a par four for the 1997 Open and instantly became the toughest hole versus Par. You must pick a line from the tee over a sea of gorse to a blind fairway beyond, with the railway line on the right acting as an out of bounds line for added difficulty. There is only one bunker on this hole at the greenside where the railway line hugs the right side. If the wind blows, this is a hole where you can rack up a significant score as Jack Nicklaus did in 1962, recording a ten.
Royal Troon Golf Club is a superb classic links test and one that should not be missed when playing along this stretch of Ayrshire coastline on your Scottish golf vacation.