The amazing 5th at Western Gailes
Western Gailes turned out to be a big surprise since I had assumed the course to be a very wild and very quirky. It was probably the least quirky links course I have ever played. Most of the fairways are set in natural low and flattish land between the dunes with almost every shot being very easy to understand. If someone were to build a course on links land now this is what I would expect it to look like. The bunkering was excellent and almost all clearly visible from each shot. The greens had some interesting contour, but for the most part the contours were on the gentle side. The layout is very fair and very straightforward, so much so that I would recommend this as the best starting course for a trip through to play Scottish links golf.
The burns(creeks) were fascinating in particular the one at #15 since the far edge was intentionally picked up to make the locations very clear, but it also created a beautiful deep shadow lines and then ended with a run away slope on the back that could be used to kick the ball onto the green. At Western Gailes there were four crossings and most of them were used to front a green similar to the famous 16th at Turnberry. They make for some delicate approaches with front pins and a fascinating contrast to the dunes holes.
The bunkers were generally very small, deep and tough to get out of. The certainly make a great model for difficulty with minimal maintenance. What was really interesting was that some of the contour around them was kept tight and ran directly into the bunkers. It proves that bunkers do not need size to have an impact and that short grass still can have much more far reaching effects if used well. I want to use the idea of slopes that are short and banks that feed the ball into the bunker since the effective area of a bunker quite large without needing a lot of actual sand.
What I enjoyed the most about Western Gailes was the way the course offered so many fun options around the greens. There was a great deal of short grass, but also the rough was kept very light which invited the player to use the ground. The other cool thing they did was using an even shorter cut than the fairway immediately around the green which allowed for putting from almost all sides. This idea needs to come across the pond. I have only seen this done at Rustic Canyon and on the approaches at high end Philadelphia area courses.
The par three 6th down in the bowl
The last thing that struck me about the course was the color. The greens and fairways are similar to what we enjoy by where it gets so much better is in the rough. In the rough you have the fescue with its light brown wispy tops, interspersed with the deep brown of heather (which can bloom a dramatic purple), the purple leaved wild rose which is beautiful but tough to play out of, and of course the deep green of the gorse bush. Add in the taller and nastier looking sea grass and these contrasts do much more to frame a hole than trees can. I much prefer looking at the cant and roll of the land that a dull stand of trees any day.