A whole lot of history in one of Scotland's most famous hotels
Turnberry has been part of Scotland’s hospitality industry, a large Ayrshire employer since 1906 and home to The Open golf tournament. We were invited, along with other foodies, to see behind the scenes at Trump Turnberry, and meet some of the 300+ people who work there and have done so for many years, long before it changed hands. But, since changing hands in 2014 big changes have taken place, long overdue repairs and refurbishment are now complete, extra staff have been brought in with new menus and suppliers too.
This is our first visit but we've had it on good authority that Turnberry is now looking better than ever. The hotel has the feeling of an informal country house. Helpful and welcoming staff provide a quick and painless check-in and take our bags upstairs without a hint of resignation, they do genuinely look like they enjoy their job. There’s grandeur (remember to check out the ballroom) but also a subdued classic style about the place. We've only been in the door for a few minutes and we're smitten already.
For a small village, Turnberry is known worldwide. Turnberry Golf Club formed in 1902, and within a year the 18-hole Ailsa course was created. The 3rd Marquess of Ailsa supported the creation of the Glasgow and South Western Railway line between Ayr and Girvan. With the railway company building the Turnberry Station Hotel. Designed by Architect James Miller, he also designed Train Stations at Troon, West Kilbride and the extension at Wemyss Bay as well St Enoch Subway Station. Other buildings include Anchor Line building on St Vincent Place as well as Brauhaus building on Bothwell Street and Shilling Brewing Co on West George Street. Turnberry looked like it was soon to be at the centre of things.
It certainly was during the First World War. Standing inland from the lighthouse is The Royal Flying Corps Memorial, designed by Hugh Wallace. It was erected in 1923 in memory of the air crews who trained here during the First World War when the golf courses were turned into a grass airfield. More evidence of history can be seen with the remains of concrete runways built for use during WW2.
British Transport Hotels took ownership of the hotel but low occupancy and lack of investment meant that the hotel was put up for sale. Over the years many owners have been part of the history of Turnberry until 2014 when The Trump Organisation bought the hotel and set about refurbishing this grand old lady.
A sea view (hurrah!) with a cinema-sized TV screen and an imposing monster of a bed - comfortable, firm and far too easy to rest upon. We settled down for a cup of tea (Twinnings with a variety available) as we unloaded our case.
Gold, gold everywhere! But yes, this is what a luxury bathroom should be like. Robes, slippers, scales, stand-alone bath on one side and a separate shower and toilet on the other. Great toiletries too! Only minus was no heated floor in the bathroom which we have experienced at other hotels of this standard.
Of course you can't talk about Turnberry without mentioning golf. Although neither of us have a handicap, nor do we own plus-fours, we did at least play some virtual golf and have a shot on the golf range whacking balls into the distance (well about 100 yards away I suppose!) as part of our stay. These facilities are a short walk away on the other side of the main road from the hotel.
In total Turnberry offers two championship quality 18-hole golf courses, a 9-hole course; and a pitch-and-putt course plus the golfing academy.
A little further along (30 min walk from hotel), right beside the sea is the Halfway House. This lighthouse was built in 1873 and stands on the site of Turnberry Castle. This is the reputed birthplace 11 July 1274, of Robert the Bruce, or Robert I of Scotland! Nowadays it's the mid point of the Ailsa golf course and you can stop off here for a bite to eat and a drink, and we did just that.
Here we ate luxury fish & chips for lunch which comprised battered lobster, scallop, squid and haddock with chips, mushy peas and tartare sauce. We washed this down with their very own beer, Ailsa amber ale, brewed by Strathaven, and then followed this with Mackie's ice cream. the Halfway house is open Monday - Sunday 9am - 7pm.
Having a gaggle of foodies visiting meant that we not only got to see the kitchen and meet with Executive Head Chef, Callum Dow, but we also learned about the provenance of the food served here.
First up was Campbells Prime Meat – a family business for over 100 years – who displayed some fine butchery skills. We learned about the various cuts of beef available and how they supply Turnberry with Campbells Gold beef. This is primarily grass fed, outdoor reared beef which is dry aged for 21-28 days.
From Gigha Halibut we met Amanda Anderson,. No doubt if you have frequented food shows you’ll have seen her cheery face proclaiming the joys of Gigha Halibut.
We learned about how breeding Halibut isn’t an easy task with fish not reaching maturity until the age of 8!
Next up Sally Swinbanks of Tobermory Fish Company. We ❤️ Tobermory smoked trout after finding Tobermory Fish Co at a wine event in Edinburgh) This is seriously tasty fish and you’ll never look at Smoked Salmon again, OK you will but you’ll appreciate how delicate trout is and tastier. Using her Grandfathers recipe, Sally is spreading the taste of Tobermory worldwide.
Gordon Caldwell of Caldwell’s Vegetables was next to speak to us. His farm, Dowhill Farm, is only a mile away from Turnberry. Is there a better farm to fork ratio anywhere else? His candy-striped beetroot was delicious and an ingredient in the dish we made.
Finally Stevie Fish (I’ve no idea if that is actually his real name, it would be fantastic if it is!) from Fishbrothers talked us through the fish he supplies and how they have an in-depth relationship with Turnberry to ensure that seasonal fish are supplied in the correct quantities.
We were soon let loose into the Turnberry kitchen (what were they thinking?) Whites on and ready to go!
Each group was given a dish to make that would feature in the night's dinner menu, a chef was also provided to give a wee helping hand! Our dish was salt baked Dowhill Farm candy stripped beetroot with goats cheese snow, hazelnut butter and orange segments. It was hard work and that was just making one cover never mind enough for a full service.
It looked and tasted pretty good. We had great fun and we both learned that it is indeed too hot in the kitchen for us! The other attempts weren't too shabby either.
After all our hard work in the kitchen (cough cough says Calum Dow!) it was time to relax and enjoy the hospitality of Trump Turnberry Hotel. Joined by the suppliers, we received a whisky tasting led by the nearby A. D. Rattray’s Whisky Experience.
This was followed by a superb menu of the dishes pictured above, showcasing the Scottish produce used at the hotel, this time put together by the professionals in the kitchen and tasting impeccable.
It was a light breakfast for us as we were practicing golf before sampling the festive afternoon tea in the bar but they have the cold buffet above filled with cereals, bread, cold meats, fish, pickles, cheese, fruit etc. and of course plenty of cooked options are available too.
Politics-aside, Trump Turnberry is an impressive hotel with a fascinating history, which has actually been run by a number of different overseas owners prior to Trump. But since 2014 significant investment has allowed the hotel to shine. Our bedroom and bathroom met the requirements expected for a 5 star hotel, the dinner was excellent and worthy or more than just a single AA rosette. The bar was warm and cosy, and stocked an impressive drinks selection (we liked that there was a selection of red vermouth).
Although we were there on a press trip we saw enough evidence in our free time that staff take pride in working there, and they greet you when they pass in the corridor. There are big chandeliers and a bit of glitz but we didn't feel out of place or underdressed, we felt at ease throughout - which is what you want on a break away from home. It is expensive though, but that's surely what you'd expect from one of the most famous hotels in the country! Leisure-wise, we took part in some golfing activities but didn't take in a full 18 holes so can't comment on that but we're sure that it's world class! Checking in and out was also effortless and our luggage was looked after once we'd checked out.
+ Affable staff who make you feel welcome
+ Comfortable bedroom
+ Spacious bathroom with standalone bath
+ Excellent dinner
+ Great selection of drinks
- Expensive (but it is a 5 star hotel!)
A Luxury Collection
Turnberry is located just off the A77 between Ayr and Girvan. The easiest way to get there is by car, it’s just over an hour from central Glasgow.
Find out more on the Turnberry website.
Disclaimer: Fred was jealous that he didn't get to join us at the hotel but he saw the pics and knows we are true to our word.