This September, for the first time in more than 40 years, Scotland plays host to the Ryder Cup at Gleneagles in Perthshire. In a shameless attempt to unleash his inner Tiger, I’ve brought my 12-year old son, Angus, to Scotland to learn the gentleman’s game.
‘Fore!’ shouts my boy, hand shading his eyes as he looks across the crowded concourse at Glasgow Central station. His dad Antony and I, and eight-year-old twin sisters Nancy and Lola, look at him with mild concern. ‘Just practising,’ he says with a grin. We’re on our way to the Turnberry Resort on the Ayrshire coast, an hour from Glasgow and home to two of the world’s best championship golf courses, the Ailsa and the Kintyre.
Turnberry is all about the golf. Tiger Woods started playing at three, so if I have any hope of retiring at 50, my boy wonder needs to get a wriggle on. Turnberry boasts three courses, each hemmed by sandy dunes and under the watchful blink of the Turnberry Lighthouse. The Ailsa has been host to four Open championships, and was the site of the legendary ‘duel in the sun’ between Jack Nicklaus and Tom Watson in the summer of 1977. The Kintyre course hosted the final qualifying round of the Open back in 2004, and the ninehole Arran is a smaller course designed as an introduction to the notorious challenges of links (coastal courses).
Following in Tiger’s hallowed footsteps (he played and evidently lost the Open here in 2009), we walk across the road to the Turnberry Performance Academy. The first in Scotland, the academy has adopted a holistic approach to teaching golf, based on the principles of the Titleist Performance Institute. While the Davies men are not quite there yet, more seasoned golfers can be evaluated in the TaylorMade Performance Lab and fitted with bespoke golf clubs to ensure a more professional game.
If you’re going to learn golf, learn with the best. Antony and Angus have a beginner’s lesson with one of the Academy’s PGA professionals, Jamie. ‘I’ve hit a hole in one before,’ Antony boasts.’ Yep, straight through the windmill, up the slide and into the hole,’ he deadpans. Luckily, Jamie grins. There’s nothing crazy about the golf here at Turnberry.
Jamie spends the afternoon teaching the boys the difference between birdies and bogeys (the former is one under par, the latter is one over) and improving their swing on the driving range, before letting them loose on the Arran for my Tiger’s very first game.
While the boys compare bogies (sorry), I whisk the twins off to the Wee Explorers Club, a huge airy playroom back at the hotel. All hotel guests get two hours a day of supervised play (there’s a nominal charge if you’re staying in the Lands) or free use if under parental supervision. While Nancy and Lola settle down happily to play with new friends, I take the rare opportunity to kick back with a G&T and the papers in the Grand Tea Lounge in my new role of golf widow.
On our last afternoon the girls were desperate to try out golf themselves. Rather than risk them mashing up the pristine greens on the championship courses, we opt for the safer pitch-and-putt option in front of the hotel. While Nancy and Lola both show a worryingly high handicap, Angus holes out in just two strokes. Perhaps early retirement is not out of the question after all…
Back at Turnberry, we make full use of the evening sunshine before dinner and take the winding path through the Ailsa, down to the sandy beach to watch the sun set behind the course’s namesake rock. Every evening, a lone piper marches along the front of the hotel playing a traditional Scots tune, the horsehair of his sporran flickering in the wind. Lola’s eyes light up. ‘Mum, please can I have some bagpipes?’ I think not.
For dinner, we head to the Ailsa Lounge in the main hotel, a little more low-key than the grand 1906 dining room and the exclusive James Miller Room. We all feast on excellent fish and chips and Scottish steak tartare, while the children conclude their exciting day with a terrifyingly large ice-cream sundae.
I keep a beady eye peeled for any celebrity faces. Thanks to its secluded location, Turnberry has been a favoured hideout for many a famous golf enthusiast. Black-and-white images of a smiling Bill Clinton, Pavarotti, various royals and even Abba adorn the walls of the hotel’s Centenary Gallery.
Golf is obviously the main attraction here, but there are plenty of other activities available. The resort has recently revamped its Turnberry Adventures area and now offers quad-bike sessions for adults and children over eight, falconry, clay-pigeon shooting and family archery lessons, which is what we try the next morning. Martin, our instructor, is very patient with us. Lola, channelling Merida from Disney’s Brave, shoots anywhere but at the target, while Angus’s arrows veer worryingly off piste, even causing some squawking in the pheasant-filled woods.
Surviving the archery, Martin takes us on a tour of all the activities on offer, past the former World War II rifle range peppered with bullet holes, before swinging the Land Rover off-road to show us the new driving course. The children squeal with delight as the 4x4 climbs mound after mound while I cling on for dear life. ‘Mummy, why can’t you drive like this?’ asks Lola, eyes sparkling with excitement. ‘She does,’ mutters my husband under his breath.
Another day, while the boys spend another sunny morning perfecting their swings, I take the twins for a swim and their very first beauty treatment in the spa. During the school holidays, the Wee Explorers programme offers activities such as cupcake-decorating and pizza-making alongside the more active quad biking and golf lessons, all for a reasonable charge. We try out the Mini Minx spa taster session of kid-friendly treatments, which the girls adore, before taking a swim in the indoor pool.
You can easily while away a week here without stepping too far from the gates. If you do, the Heads of Ayr Farm Park is a 20-minute drive away and home to 50 different animals, including the fennec fox, the smallest fox in the world, and a coatimundi, a curious racoon-like creature with a big snuffling nose.
Taking advantage of Scotland’s rare balmy weather, we grab a posh picnic from the hotel and head to Culzean Castle, an imposing 18th-century fortress that overlooks the Isle of Arran. The castle is set in its own country park, and the kids spend a good hour hunting for Highland stags, deer and, on my suggestion, the rare wild haggis.
Price: Four nights in a two-bedroom apartment at Lands of Turnberry cost from £885 for a family of four. Golf lessons from £99 an hour for two adults and two children.
Where to stay: Turnberry opened as Britain’s first golf resort back in 1906. Overlooking the velvety Kermit-green fairways, the hotel, an imposing whitewashed, red-roofed sprawl, has views across the Firth of Clyde and out to the bold granite island of Ailsa Craig, which today drifts in and out of sight in the faint Scotch mist. Now, more than a century later, with its handsome be-kilted doormen and dark wood-slash-Farrow & Ball decor, Turnberry is one of Scotland’s swankiest hotels.
As we’re a larger (OK, louder) family, we’ve chosen to stay in the Lands of Turnberry, the resort’s luxury self-catering apartments. Still blessed with the dramatic views the resort is famous for, this clutch of detached houses is conveniently situated opposite the courses and a five-minute walk from the main hotel. Guests have full access to the resort’s facilities, including preferential green fees, six fancy restaurants, bars and lounges and the spa.
The apartment’s two huge en suite bedrooms, which easily cater for all five of us, are separated by a grand hallway that will hopefully mean at least one lie-in. Angus throws an air punch when he spies the massive TV and hears about the free wi-fi, both sating all his pre-teen screen needs. There’s no need to subject the hotel’s esteemed guests to my ravenous trio every night. The apartment is kitted out with a lovely big kitchen (with a welcome pack of basics – tea, coffee, milk and bread) and a family-sized dining table.
The glorious Goodwood Estate, near Chichester, is home to two championship golf courses. Backed by former US Open champion Justin Rose, Goodwood’s Junior Golf Academy runs fun-packed golf camps, group lessons and one-to-one sessions year round. Spend the night at the estate’s luxury 18th-century hotel and, after a full breakfast, families can learn together on the Downlands course with views across Chichester and the Isle of Wight.
Price: Two nights from £150 per night, plus £25 per child, including breakfast and dinner on one evening. Family golf tuition starts at £20 for a half-day session.
Voted best golf club in Spain three years running, the legendary La Manga in Murcia is the ideal place for kids to learn. Stay in the resort’s five-star Hotel Principe Felipe, which also offers a free kids’ club and activity programme. Under-nines can learn the basics at the Junior Golf Academy, while teens can take their swing to the next level on one of the resort’s championship courses.
Price: Seven nights in Hotel Principe Felipe start from £1,545 for a family of four, including breakfast. Golf lessons from £78 for four hours.
Nestled in Portugal’s southern Sintra Mountains, this sprawling candy-coloured golf and spa resort was a royal retreat in the 19th century, and is now home to a world-class 27-hole championship course. There’s a junior clinic for budding golfers over four years of age, plus a kids’ club and games room. Lisbon is a 30-minute drive away.
Price: Family rooms from £297 per night full board. Five-day golf and multi-sports programme from £172 per child.
Boasting no fewer than nine world-class courses, Pinehurst is America’s oldest golf resort and pitched at play of all ages. Kids can take private lessons or group coaching, and the resort also has a residential Junior Golf Academy aimed at golfers aged 11 to 17, which offers daily lessons, tips and tournaments with a PGA pro.
Price: Double rooms at the resort’s Carolinas Hotel cost from £174 per person, per night including breakfast and a round of golf. Kids under 12 stay free. The residential Junior Golf Academy is £996 all-inclusive for six days and nights.
More of what you love...