Irvine Golf Club, less graciously referred to as Bogside is one of those aboriginal Scottish Links courses that you just don’t hear enough of. It’s off to the left of the radar certainly for coach touring parties that get steered instead towards prestigious Prestwick, Troon or Turnberry. But that should not be the case as it’s a venerable little course which provides nothing but delight at every turn.
I met up with the GTO’s - not the avant-garde female rock group of the late 60’s early 70’s unfortunately but a group of Golf Tour Operators from Europe, flown in explicitly to explore a handful of courses and accommodations that this SW corner of Scotland offers.
There was a chill blast coming off the Clyde Estuary but it was bright as we set off. I was playing with Els, a lady Dutch tour operator and James Smallwood, the club’s professional. Bogside is so named for the boggy ground the course sits above by the Clyde Estuary. The name also links with the old racecourse that opened in 1808 and formed part of the boundary of the course. You can still see some evidence of the old track and it must have been heavy going on many race days.
Designed by James Braid on top of an original course that was established here in the mid 1800’s, Irvine prospered and went on to produced three Scottish Amateur Champions who sharpened their pencils at Bogside. There’s a photograph on display in the club house which shows an early professional tournament in 1904. Pictured in the centre is Old Tom Morris and in the 2nd row is a young James Braid who went on to redesign the course in 1926.
James, the modern day club pro also comes from a long line of Irvine players; he’d grown up playing golf here, became club champion and had only recently returned to take up the professional position. He was clearly a man happy with this lot - and who wouldn't be.
Els, our effervescent Hollander was perplexed at a sign next to the bell on the 11th which read ‘Please Exercise Caution When Using This Bell”. We wondered what could possibly happen? Would it summon the great Abyssal Underlord of The Bog? Did they not trust the work of the bell Smith? We didn’t dare ring it to find out.
Irvine is struck with a series of pockmarks and rifts especially down by the railway line as well as banks of glorious gorse that add great character to the place. After a rollicking front 9, the fairways settle to a slightly more prosaic pace although the strong wind near constantly coming off the Clyde keeps you working. It’s a course you’d want to play several times over to get to know its mark but it’s tremendous fun. Holes that linger in the mind are the 3rd, 4th, 5th and 6th… actually there’s little point in trying to delineate the best holes as they all offer such variety.
And here’s a recurring theme in this part of the world. In a region such as Ayrshire, it’s not just about the prestige of playing big name courses; it’s about enjoying yourself. Why pay over-the-odds for courses that Greg Norman, Tom Watson or Jack Nicklaus bravely battled. 99% of us are only average golfers and there are scores of courses like Irvine ‘Bogside’ that are more than ideal for our level of play. Believe me, I’ve battled with the best of them - and usually come off worst. Sample a course like Irvine ‘Bogside’ and you come off with a big, broad smile.