Ayrshire is home to three Open Championship venues and over the years they’ve played host to some of the most epic rounds of golf ever played. From daring duels to underdogs overthrowing titans, we’ve picked out just a few of the of incredible golfing moments the courses around the Salt Lodge Hotel have witnessed over the years.
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Even forty years later, the famous “Duel in the Sun” between Tom Watson and Jack Nicklaus at Turnberry is still held as one of the most epic Open Championship rounds. But it’s more than that – it’s one of the greatest moments in sport. Its legacy endures – books have been written about it, a restaurant named after it, and the 18th hole at Turnberry dedicated to it.
Amidst record crowds and beneath blazing sun the pair battled through three rounds neck and neck before Watson ended the final hole one stroke ahead of Nicklaus. The pair strode off, immortality assured, finishing 10 and 11 shots clear of the third-placed player.
“I won this golf tournament,” Hubert Green, that player in third, would famously say. “I don’t know what game those other two guys were playing.”
Tipped for great things from an early age but cursed to always fall tragically short of glory, Zimbabwean Nick Price walked into Turnberry with something to prove. He once said he has written the word ‘persistence’ in every diary he’s ever owned. From his performance at the 1994 Open, you might suspect it’s written on his soul.
Jesper Parnevik birdied the 16th and 17th holes to go two clear of Price. It looked as though the Zimbabwean would, once again, narrowly miss out on Open glory.
But Price then produced a remarkable finish. Grasping the prize by a single stroke for a score of twelve under par, he simultaneously tyed The Ailsa course record of 268 set by Tom Watson in 1977 and reached the pinnacle of his career. Persistence indeed.
The comeback of all comebacks. Crowds at the 1997 Open at Royal Troon were treats to the greatest turnaround in the competition for more than sixty years. Justin Leonard rallied from five strokes behind with a round to play to win The Open, equalling the feat of Jim Barnes in 1925 and Tommy Armour in 1931.
But while Armour and Barnes won by a single stroke, Leonard put on a putting masterclass that left the then-25-year-old three strokes clear of his nearest rivals. It’s the kind of fairy tale ending that wouldn’t be out of place in a Hollywood sporting epic.
A modern-day gladiatorial clash fought with putters and drivers rather than swords and shields, Henrik Stenson became the first man from Sweden to win The Open after a truly phenomenal round at Royal Troon in 2016.
Despite a bogey on the opening hole, Stenson shot a 63 to equal the lowest round shot in a major and edge out Phil Mickelson in what went down as perhaps the best final day duel in the tournament’s history.
The pair played 36 holes together, trading shot for shot, blow for blow, and pulled away from the rest of the field as the weekend passed – with the eventual gap between Stenson and third-placed JB Holmes and incredible 14 strokes.
When Tom Watson birdied the 71st hole to lead by one, just as he had done 32 years previously, the world collectively held its breath. This was a fairy tale ending to a magnificent career; for a brief, sparkling moment, it seemed like Watson was set to win a sixth Open title at the age of 59 – just nine months on from hip-replacement surgery.
Reality, as ever, had other ideas. He missed what would have been his putt for victory, betrayed by the ravages of time, by more than eight feet. More than a few anguished sighs echoed from the crowd and Stewart Cink, a 36-year-old gentle giant from Georgia, stepped forward to win his first major championship.