Top 5 Hidden Gems in Ayrshire and the West Coast of Scotland

A brief insight into the hidden gems of Scotland, those that attract less attention but equally hold their own with the big boys...

If any region in Scotland has genuine hidden gems, then it is in Ayrshire and the west of Scotland. There are some wonderfully exciting, pleasant and spectacular courses that are off the beaten track. That’s not to say that every course in the area is of a high quality, but many of them are. Here are a few that stand out.   

    1. Shiskine

The stunningly picturesque Isle of Arran is frequently described as being ‘Scotland in miniature’ as it is divided into highlands and lowlands due to the geographical fault line that passes through it. The island is visible from Ayrshire, and it dominates the view from the likes of Turnberry and Royal Troon. Arran is a hybrid of Scotland. There are seven golf courses on the island, but the most intriguing is the unique, quirky and thrilling Shiskine.

Golf courses are expected to consist of 18 holes. That is the accepted norm. There are many popular nine-holers across the world, but for many, a round of golf is incomplete without two distinctive stretches of nine holes. Well, at Shiskine that convention is blown to smithereens as there are 12 holes to play. Yes, TWELVE.

Just about all 12 of these unique holes feature blind shots. Whether it be from the tee or fairway. There are signs dotted around the course to direct you, but it could be said that playing golf at Shiskine is the equivalent of driving around New York City with a blindfold on; yet, it works.

The course is situated on the west of the island, on a stretch of coastline with seaside views that would rival anywhere in the world. It is thrilling and bonkers, but fun. Shiskine is a genuine cult-classic.

    2. Southerness

If you tread off the beaten track, you will find that there are many unexpected and overlooked golfing delights in Scottish golf. Southerness, which sits right on the shoreline of the Solway Firth in Dumfries and Galloway, directly opposite the north of England, is one of the very best of these unheralded courses.

The layout was designed by Philip Mackenzie Ross (who laid out the modern Ailsa at Turnberry) and is an excellent, honest test of links golf. The course constantly changes in angle, similar to Muirfield, ensuring that the examination remains varied and intriguing throughout, and includes the extra challenge of an alternating wind direction.

Many of the greens are slightly raised and all are well protected from bunkers, with the obligatory gorse bushes framing many of the fairways. It is a gorgeous, secluded setting and a course that is surely among the most underrated in Scotland. It ticks all of the boxes.

    3. Kilmarnock Barassie Golf Course

The Barassie is one of the startling assortment of courses that run down the Ayrshire coast between Irvine and Troon, and is probably one of the most unappreciated. It has developed into a tremendous 27-hole golfing facility, with 18 of them forming the marquee course, which in the past has been an Open Championship qualifying venue.

Nine new holes were built in the 1990s. These combine with nine of the original holes to create a testing and varied layout that is a combination of links and parkland. The three sets of nine holes can be played in any combination, whether it be the full 18-hole traditional course, or a mix of the 9 new holes plus one of the set of 9 original holes. It’s hard to find more variety at a single venue of the quality of Kilmarnock Barassie.

It’s may not be to the overall standard of the great courses in the area, but it is a wonderfully enjoyable place to visit.

    4. West Kilbride Golf Course

The stunning stretch of golfing coastline from Irvine to Turnberry understandably receives the most attention, but West Kilbride is a course that wouldn’t look out of place in that company. Located a few miles north of that prime succession of venues, this inventive layout has been touched by the great minds of Old Tom Morris and James Braid.

It is a course that seems to improve as you go along. It eases you into the round away from the spectacular coastline, before bringing you back to the water as you reach the turn. It is here that you are blessed with stunning views of Arran, with the 9th hole, ‘Goatfell’, being named after the tallest peak on the mountainous island.

The back nine mostly runs alongside the coastline, providing majestic vistas in addition to a challenging layout, ensuring the course finishes in a strong fashion. It isn’t a course that tails off towards the end, it arguably improves significantly as you build up towards the climax.

West Kilbride is certainly an unappreciated gem in the storied golfing crown of Ayrshire.

    5. Bute Golf Club

A wildcard entry on this list of hidden gems on the west of Scotland, The Kingarth Course, as it is locally referred to, is situated on the west coast of the Isle of Bute, which is easily accessible from Ayrshire. Nine holes of understated delight means a day ticket here is the key to a charming golf experience.

Established in 1888, Bute has an interesting variety of holes. The second is a par 4 that plays directly towards the water, with the mountains of Arran dominating the horizon. It is among the most breathtaking views in Scottish golf.

Uniquely, the approach on that hole is played over a stone wall, which is a feature that will be experienced again on the 4th. However, the highlight of the course is the third hole, which is surely among the finest short par 3s in the country. With the beach at your side, the approach is played from an elevated tee towards a green that is guarded by a burn, out of bounds fence, and, when the wind is threatening, the rocky coastline itself.

In the early 1990s, Tom Weiskopf visited the course on a detour as he was designing Loch Lomond. The 1973 Open Champion walked the holes and concluded that it would be an incredible location for an 18-hole championship venue. It is an absolutely beautiful, tranquil spot.

Its small wooden clubhouse has stood since 1911, and your green fee is deposited into an honesty box. If you want a connection with a quaint, authentic and natural Scottish course, Bute is an unexpected joy.

Request a quota if you are interested in playing any of these courses as part of your golf vacation with the expert golf travel company 

Kieran Clark

Author, Kieran Clark.

I began playing golf at the age of five on the Isle of Bute in Scotland. It was the start of a relationship that hasn’t waned, with it becoming a mission to tick off as many courses as possible, with the Old Course at St. Andrews being my favourite. I love everything that it represents. After securing a degree in history at the University of Stirling, I have attempted to establish a career as a freelance golf journalist to express my love for the game and Scotland. And I relish any opportunity to share that adoration with anyone willing enough to read.