As Donald Trump continues to pound the campaign trail in his bid to become US president, work on the iconic Ailsa Course at Turnberry is “surpassing high expectations”.
Since it closed shortly after the Women’s British Open in the summer, steady progress is being made by Martin Ebert, the course designer tasked by Trump to give the layout a major makeover with a focus on moving as many holes as possible to the Firth of Clyde.
In short, the work, which is part of a £200 million investment by the American entrepreneur in the Ayrshire resort, involves the construction of five new holes and nine new greens, although all 18 putting surfaces will be dug up and relaid.
The new ninth, a spectacular par-3 across a bay with the lighthouse as its backdrop, is one of the holes that has already been laid out along with the fourth and 11th.
“I think the work at Turnberry so far has surpassed expectations,” said Ebert as he delivered an update on the project as another of the courses he is working on, Royal Portrush on the Antrim coast in Northern Ireland, was confirmed as the venue for the 2019 Open Championship. “They were high expectations anyway, but when you see it, it’s remarkable.
“The aim is to get all the greens finished by the end of the year and, though there is still a fair bit of other work to be done, with an Open at Troon next summer, they are desperate for the course to be open on 1 June. We should be fine with that.”
The earliest Turnberry, which last staged The Open in 2009, can get the game’s oldest major back is 2020, which is up for grabs due to a five-year cycle that has been in place for St Andrews going to be broken so that it can stage the 150th event in 2021.
“I’ve said to Mr Trump, ‘let’s make the course as good as we possibly can and essentially make it irresistible to the R&A’,” added Ebert. “There’s a good chance that we can achieve that because getting the greens that bit closer to the sea is fantastic.”
While Trump’s controversial comments about Mexican immigrants have led some to question whether an Open can be held at Turnberry as long as his name is attached to it, Ebert is confident the world’s top players will battle it out there for a Claret Jug in the not too distant future. Before his retirement as the R&A’s chief executive, Peter Dawson stated that politics would not come into play in the selection of future venues and said that Turnberry would be treated on merit, just like the other courses on The Open rota.
“I think Peter Dawson understood that people like Mr Trump, who are investing in the game are pretty important,” said Ebert. “When you look at Turnberry, it needed that investment and it’s no holds barred investment from the golf to the hotel, even the pitch and putt course.”
As one of the R&A’s preferred course architects, Ebert is also set to carry out a project to fill in some bunkers at Royal Lytham and has been tasked with rebuilding work on the sleepers in the bunkers at Royal St George’s as well. It’s the work at both Royal Portrush and Turnberry, however, that is keeping him “very busy” at the moment.
“It’s worked quite well,” he said of the two projects being undertaken concurrently. “The proximity between Turnberry and Portrush is fine. I’ve been taking the ferry occasionally from Cairnryan as well as flying. I’ll need to negotiate the helicopter with Donald!”
At Royal Portush, where The Open is returning for the first time since 1951, Ebert is laying out two new holes as well as making other slight tweaks to the Harry Colt masterpiece.
“I think Portrush in terms of the dune scape is unsurpassed, but Turnberry is the No 1, it’s the jewel when it comes to setting, no one will argue with that,” he said. “By taking the holes to the coastline as we are doing, and so many are already realised, Turnberry is just majestic in terms of setting. “The timescale at both courses is similar. Here at Portrush the two new holes will be in very, very good condition by 2017 and in championship condition by 2018. Turnberry will open in June, that’s a quick turnaround for 18 greens, so I think it will be in very good condition by 2017 and championship condition by 2018.”