Whenever the great links of Scotland are catalogued, the courses that have hosted the Open naturally tend to predominate. They are then perhaps followed by those that are either too far away or lack the infrastructure to host the championship, all marvellous tests in their own right such as Dornoch and Nairn in the North, Cruden Bay and Royal Aberdeen in the East, and Southerness in the South. But any list that does not include Western Gailes is seriously deficient. I have just completed my first round there and am bemused that it has taken me so long to do so, and even more so that the course seems so relatively unknown to the wider world. We completed our round in the most testing of conditions. Thankfully the yellow rain warning issued by the Met Office proved unfounded, but the wind howled and roared in from the sea even when the sun eventually emerged from behind the racing clouds. But what a marvellous test it was.
The clubhouse at Western Gailes is placed centrally on the course, so that four holes head North away from it, the next nine holes head South and are nearest to the sea, and the final five holes return North to the clubhouse. The variety of holes is similarly idiosyncratic. Some straightforward and relatively short par 4s lure the golfer into a false sense of security before some long and strong holes by any standards loom up along the coastal stretch of the course to challenge every club in the bag (certainly the case in the conditions in which we played). Deep bunkers and fierce rough provide an authentic championship challenge that the powers-that-be in the club are working to make ever stiffer.
I found these powers-that-be just as discreet and understated as the club itself. I was ambushed before setting out onto the course with an old friend when I glanced at a magnificent honours board to see his name boldly inscribed as the Club Captain for 2019! Mind you, as well as failing to declare his status in the clubhouse, he also somehow failed to tell me about the stream guarding the 13th that is invisible from the tee. Though that may be put down to revenge for me failing to tell him about the Dallmeyer scoring system when we last played in East Lothian (Dallmeyer equalises handicaps by the laggard receiving a stroke when three down until back to one down – I was behind our entire game on that occasion until winning the last four holes, largely as a result of these helpful strokes, which enabled me to snatch a half in the match on that encounter).
Western Gailes has a traditional feel, but it is a demanding test for any golfer. It is a course that deserves much higher recognition, a splendid links that must be played by anyone wishing to enjoy all of Scotland’s great courses.