Today the name of Troon is synonymous with the game of golf. The town is home to the Royal Troon Golf Club, founded in 1878, which hosted the Open Championship in 2004 and 2016. But Royal Troon has just two of the six golf courses which together entirely surround Troon. The others are the Kilmarnock (Barassie) Club plus three municipal links courses, including two of championship standard.
The actual name "Troon" has nothing to do with Scotland's national game. Instead it comes from "Trwyn", Celtic for headland or point. Which is a fair name for the rocky nose on which much of the earlier part of the town is built, projecting from the broad sandy bays to the north and south. The name suggests the attractions of this obvious natural harbour had been realised by early seafarers along the west coast, but it was only with the coming of the 4th Duke of Portland in 1808 that Troon's fortunes really began to take off.
The Duke took the existing natural harbour on the north side of the headland and added docks. Later improvements included increasing the protection afforded by the headland with an artificial "ballast bank" made from the dumped ballast of incoming merchant ships. And from 1812 Troon was the terminus of a horse-drawn railway connecting it to the Duke of Portland's coal mines around Kilmarnock. This was not licensed for passengers, a minor technicality evaded by weighing those wishing to travel and charging them freight rates.
By the end of the 1800s Troon was among the top ten coal ports in Britain. A shipyard was opened in the town in 1860, and a lifeboat station arrived in 1871. The shipyard, known for most of its history as the Ailsa-Troon Yard, continues to feature prominently on the skyline of the town but it ceased to build ships in 2000.
One of the last ships completed at Ailsa-Troon was the MV Lochnevis, built for CalMac and in use as the Small Isles ferry from Mallaig. The yard's heyday was perhaps in the 1950s when many early car ferries for Scottish inter-island services were built here. Troon was also known for its ship-breaking business, which boomed in the 1950s and 1960s and diversified into cutting up ex-British Rail steam locos when they became redundant. Meanwhile the coal traffic declined with the Ayrshire coalfields, but the harbour remains an active one.
Troon also has other attractions. The harbour is now home to a vast marina reflecting its importance as a centre for leisure sailing in the Firth of Clyde. It also offers the North Sands and the South Sands, the wide beaches backed by promenades and the trappings of a fairly genteel seaside resort.
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