Turnberry Hotel and Golf Course
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This old postcard calls it the Station Hotel, Turnberry. The hotel boasted bowling greens in its early days.  Larger image

THE BIG house on the hill is 100 years old. And Turnberry Hotel remains an  icon, a century after it was opened as the first golf resort of its kind.  A light railway between Alloway and Girvan had opened a year earlier, with  the main purpose of serving the hotel.    And architect James Miller had the task of designing a grand hotel on a  plateau overlooking the golf course. Miller had found a niche designing railway stations — including those at  Prestwick and Troon.   

But here was a real challenge. He had to create a 100-bedroom hotel,  within  a budget, on a dramatic coastal site, without ruining the natural setting. Some of Miller’s work had been criticised as lacking in local or national  character. But few would argue that he pulled off this commission with flair — and  without going over the top. He kept his elevations simple, but still with an array of gables and  dormers, projecting from that steep red-tiled roof. It’s been an amazing first century for Turnberry, including emergency use  during the First and Second World Wars.   

In World War I it was used as an officers’ mess, mainly by Canadians who  were training as pilots and aerial gunners. In World War II the hotel  served as a military hospital. The Turnberry golfers’ railway sadly closed in 1942, and the line was  later  ripped up. It was a tragic loss to Ayrshire — a scenic coastal railway, leaving the  main line at Alloway junction, going on to Heads of Ayr and Dunure.    Then it was on through beautiful Culzean estate to Maidens and Turnberry,  and along the coast to Girvan. Today, it would surely be a stunning tourist attraction, particularly with  steam trains running on it.    But the hotel survived without the railway, and even without the golf  courses — when they were covered in concrete for use as an airfield.   

Happily, the courses were beautifully restored, and a long overdue first  Open Championship was held on the Ailsa links in 1977.    Two more Opens followed in 1986 and 1994, with a fourth coming in 2009. A spa and leisure complex was opened at Turnberry in 1991 by Prince  Edward,  during the hotel’s ownership by Japanese group Nitto World. And the Japanese also invested in a new clubhouse, opened by Prince Andrew  in 1993. American group Westin bought the Turnberry resort in 1997, and continued  developments with the opening of the Colin Montgomerie Links Golf Academy  in 2000. Former staff houses were converted to luxury lodges, and an outdoor  activity centre opened in 2001.   

And now it’s the centenary year for the hotel, with concerts planned on  the  front lawns on the bank holiday weekend May 26-28.    And an exhibition of old photos like these is going up in the corridor  which connects the spa to the main hotel building. 

It's been an amazing century since Turnberry Hotel opened its doors for  the  first time, back in 1906.    The hotel was built in a golden age, when the British Empire spanned the  globe.    Sport was becoming more popular, and you could get on a sleeper train in  London, and play golf at Turnberry the next morning.    The luxury golf resort was born, with Turnberry the perfect destination.    All seemed well with the world as Britain basked in the glorious summer of  1906.    King Edward VII even paid a cordial visit to his nephew, Kaiser Wilhelm  II,  in Germany, and was greeted by cheering crowds.

It was an age of invention too. The Wright Brothers had taken to the air  in  1903 and motor cars were becoming popular.    Electricity was being more widely used, and giant liners battled for  supremacy of the Atlantic.    Turnberry Hotel was a child of its time — symbolising the best of Scottish  and the best of British.    It was built unashamedly for the luxury market.    The entire building was lit by electricity, with electric lifts connecting  each of the floors.    A special feature for golfers was a suite of bathrooms fitted out with  plunge baths, showers and waves.    These facilities were supplied with both fresh and salt water, as well as  hot and cold. 

The golf course, laid out in 1901 by Troon professional Willie Fernie, was  acquired by golf resort pioneers the Glasgow and South Western Railway.    It undoubtedly helped that the landowner, the Marquess of Ailsa, was a  railway company director.    G & SW introduced a good passenger service on the line, specially built  for  the hotel.    One of the Saturday services was a golfers’ express, with a dining car,  leaving from Glasgow St Enoch, and calling only at Ayr and Turnberry, and  terminating at Girvan.    But there were nine interim stations for regular journeys on the new  scenic  coastal line between Ayr and Girvan: Alloway, Greenan Castle (goods only),  Heads of Ayr, Dunure, Knoweside (request stop), Glenside (request),  Maidens, Turnberry, and Dipple (goods).    Sadly, golfers alone could not keep this wonderful line open, and  increasing competition from cars and buses led to its closure.

The majestic Turnberry Hotel survived without the railway, and an Open  Championship was finally held on its Ailsa links in 1977.    Two more followed, in 1986 and 1994, with a fourth coming in 2009.    This year, of course, there are special celebrations to mark 100 years of  the big house on the hill.    Front lawns will host three great centenary concerts, with seating for  1,000 each evening.    These will take place on the bank holiday weekend, May 26-28.

Below are a few more recent photos of Turnberry Hotel. Click on the images to view full size.

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