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Prestwick Golf Club hosted its 24th and last Open Championship in 1925. Only St Andrews has hosted more Open Championships than Prestwick.
In 1851, a 12-hole course was founded at Prestwick Golf Club with Old Tom Morris as “Keeper of the Green”. Nine years later in 1860, the British Open Championship was born and didn’t move away from Prestwick until it went to St Andrews in 1873. The Open has been hosted here no fewer than 24 times, although the most recent championship was held in 1925. St Andrews is the only venue to have hosted more Opens than Prestwick and obviously the Old Course is still on the Open circuit.
The first eleven Opens were contested for a red Moroccan belt, which was won outright by Young Tom Morris after he successfully won three consecutive titles between 1868 and 1870. There was no Open Championship in 1871 because there was no trophy to play for until the Claret Jug was purchased for £30 and offered for annual competition in 1872. Ironically Young Tom Morris was the first winner of the Claret Jug. Six more holes were added to Prestwick’s original 12-hole layout in 1883.
The course is a traditional monument, an authentic affair with a layout of holes that snake to and fro through rugged dunes and rippled fairways. There are numerous blind holes and cavernous sleepered bunkers with wooden steps to take you down to the bottom. The greens are notoriously firm and fast – some are hidden in hollows whilst others are perched on raised plateaux. The majority are quite small and all of them have wicked borrows to negotiate.
One of Prestwick’s great strengths is the quality and variety of the holes. The 1st is one of the most intimidating holes in golf, a par four called “Railway”. The railway tracks run all the way down the right-hand side of the hole, waiting to gobble up a right-hander’s slice. The 3rd is a short par five (stroke index 1) called “Cardinal” and is famous for its deep, deep bunker, propped up by railway sleepers. The 5th is a blind par three called “Himalayas” – your tee shot must carry over a huge sand dune.
Perhaps Prestwick's most famous hole, which C.B. Macdonald replicated at the National Golf Links of America, is the 17th, Alps, which Darwin described as; "The most spectacular blind hole in all the world."
There are so many great things to say about Prestwick. The best thing to do is to play the course and judge it for yourself. Every student of golf course architecture simply has to tick this one off their list.
Bernard Darwin brought Prestwick to a close much better than we ever could in his book, The Golf Courses of the British Isles: “So ends Prestwick, and what a jolly course it is, to be sure!”
A place steeped in history. Take some time to explore the clubhouse and soak in the history of the club. The proshop staff will be delighted to show you some of the original plans and what still remains today.
The course is very fun and quirky! A great matchplay course one would imagine. The opening 5 holes set the tone of what to expect at Prestwick. The 2nd and 3rd greens are two of the original greens from the 12 hole layout. The 3rd is a bizarre par 5 played across the massive cardinal bunker. The 5th “Himalayas” plays blind over a massive dune with only painted railway sleepers to guide you. 7-10 are very strong 2 shot holes. 3 of which are played into the prevailing wind. The 13th green is wicked but so much fun. Again an original green but played from a different angle. 15 is a blind teeshot to a slither of fairway surrounded by bunkers and mounds. The green goes away from you on your approach and requires a quality shot to hold the green which again is an original. 16 is a drivable par 4 for the longer player with cardinal bunker lurking to the right. The green is heavily contoured and again is an original. 17 “Alps”, just wow! Thread the needle of this narrow fairway and you’re left with an approach up over a dune to a bowl area containing the Sahara bunker and the green. The oldest hole in Open history and it’s easy to see why it’s never been messed with! The closing hole is another reachable par 4 with a good chance of a 3 to close out your day at Prestwick!
If you get the chance to play at Prestwick don’t pass it up. From start to finish it was a fantastic day despite the “whet” rain!!
Played prestwick on 21/2/22 in 50mph winds and apart from the wind it was a lovely dry day but a hell of a challenge in that wind. Course itself was in very nice condition considering the weather lately. The course opens with the first 5 holes being very enjoyable holes and all very different then as you go over the water 6,7,8 and 9 were for me quite boring and very similar holes. Back 9 was decent enough with the highlight being the 17th cracking hole, then it ends with a nice easy par 4. I finished my round with a birdie so left on a high. Overall very nice course and an enjoyable experience even in 50mph winds.
Prestwick is very unique. Some holes near the clubhouse are totally ridiculous, plus at the far end there are some more modern, open holes which provides variety. The conditioning is as good as you’d expect.
For its short yardage, I found Prestwick very tough – I’m sure a second go would save half a dozen shots or so given its quirks, blind shots and often wild greens. The 3rd is probably the most crazy par 5 I’ve played, with its burn, railway sleepers, an island of fairway and blind shots. It has to be seen to be believed.
After the short, blind 5th, the excitement does lower somewhat but these are still stern, tactical holes with the direction of play and wind often changing. You then play back into town and the blind par 4 17th over the Sahara bunker may be the most outrageous of them all.
So of course try Prestwick and plan a trip around it, if possible playing 36. I love ticking off new courses but a large part of me wishes I’d stayed at this course in the afternoon, which just means I’ll have to go back.
I was lucky enough to play Prestwick in good weather on a Sunday afternoon with the course nearly to myself. As such I soaked in the greatness and uniqueness of the course.
This course won't suit the American style target golf gang, there are a couple of fairways that are unlike any fairway you have seen. The middle holes are weaker holes, but still are fine holes, but set against the first five holes and the last five holes do suffer, but only due to the magnificence of these holes.
As expected the course was in great condition and the staff were super helpful.
I smiled all the way around, if you get the chance to play then a must.
Prestwick in my opinion is the most under rated course in Scotland. Right from the first tee you realize you are in for a crazy fun day. I'm so thankful my 3 hybrid typically doesn't get higher than the rock wall height. Ha 2 is a nice short par 3 well bunkered. 3 is a dynamic par 5 which depicts where Pete Dye got the idea of RR ties. 4 is a challenging par 4 with the continuation of that pesky boundary on the right. 5 just hit it over the rock, what a great par 3. 6 is a great par 4 7 thru 11 are all very good par 4's which challenge you. 12 is a par 5 straight away but is best played down the right side. 13 is a beast par 4 14 is a good par 4 15 is a short par 4 with a very challenging green 16 is another par 4 which seems routine but is anything but. 17 is maybe my favorite par 4 in the world. The Alps, often copied but never duplicated. I'm still waiting for my chance to not be in the Sahara. So far I am 0 for 3. 18 brings you home with a drivable par 4 which has an ever so slightly raised fairway and a clubhouse in play. If you get a chance, drop everything and go play the place the first 12 Opens were played at. The staff is exceptionally welcoming.
Outside of a visit to the Old Course at St Andrews, I’d consider a day at Prestwick to be the next most sacred excursion that a golfer can make. A tour of the clubhouse alone makes Prestwick bucket-list material for any history buffs whilst the course itself is the embodiment of quirk. Prestwick is golf design from a bygone era so if you’re easily offended by blind shots and the odd unlucky bounce, then there will be other designs across Scotland that play more to your tastes.
Personally, I found segments of the course just incredible, but simultaneously felt that there was an inconsistency across the full eighteen that prevents me from sharing the same passion for Prestwick as others. The first three holes are magnificent. The amazingly eccentric starting hole tees off beside the train station to a green jammed-in beside the railway wall, and after the pretty 2nd, the Cardinal hole at 3, with its back-to-back sleeper-tied deep bunkers and a gorgeously bumpy fairway ensure that Prestwick starts with a bang.
The Himalayas at 5 is always going to be a novelty; not my favourite hole on the course, but blind par threes always provide their own sense of theatre as you crest the top of the hill to discover the outcome of your tee shot. But after that, I generally found the Elysian Fields through which 6 to 9 play a tad underwhelming. There’s a stark contrast to this run of tough par fours that play across flatter land adjacent to the dual carriageway and in full view of the airport that’s a poor contrast to the fun and wacky section of the course that’s played on the other side of the dune. I will admit that this run of holes is brilliantly well bunkered, but visually these won’t be the holes that bring golfers back for repeated visits. I also found 10 something of an uphill slog, so other than the first three holes, I was surprised to be approaching almost two-thirds of the way through the round and yet to be wowed by Prestwick’s charms.
The course really takes off with the approach shot that plays between humps to a beautifully peculiar green at 12. Then after this, it’s sheer pandemonium. Sea Hedrig comes next, a hole that has the most crumpled of links fairways in advance of one of the most phenomenal greens I’ve seen. There’s less of a false front to the left-side of the 13th green, and more of a sheer drop. It just wouldn’t be taken seriously if a modern day course designer proposed anything similar yet we flock to places such as Prestwick to see such oddballs.
Narrows at 15 is another delightful hole, my favourite on the course. I love the complexity of this hole as it threads itself across several elevation changes, around sandy hillocks and grass filled coffins. 16 and 18 are both driveable fours, 16 being particularly good and sees a reintroduction to the Cardinal bunker, whilst 17, the Alps hole, is the last of Prestwick’s famed golf holes. Another hugely narrow but this time particularly penal fairway is just the first challenge as you then play blind into a pudding basin of a green site where you’ll need to fly your ball over a tall dune and the famous Sahara bunker. Whilst it’s a hole like no other (before CB MacDonald came to visit in any case), I can’t help but feel a slightly more generous landing strip for the tee shot would be more visitor friendly on what’s otherwise a beautifully outrageous, but all the same, intensely challenging hole.
The moral of the story at Prestwick is to not end your round early when you’re returned to the clubhouse at the 14th green as the final loop is in the discussion amongst the best final stretches in golf. But whilst Prestwick over the years has been hugely influential on golf course architects, the eighteen holes as a collection are just a little too inconsistent for me to be considered amongst the very best.
Great and insightful review.
However, if Prestwick is not among your very best on-course links golf experiences, which courses would be on that list?
Hi Gustav, I always think this website’s rankings gives a pretty fair overview of the best on-course experiences but to look for a less obvious lower ranking Scottish choice to your question, I think the experience at Brora with the remoteness and tranquility of that location, combined with the uniqueness of the course makes it pretty hard to beat. Different strokes for different folks though. Tom.
I also tend to look at Top100 rankings before deciding which courses to prioritise, at least when I am choosing between courses I have not yet played. This does not prevent me from enjoying Prestwick more than Troon, despite the latter clearly being a better test for tournament golf.
This brings another thought: if they could bring the Irish Open to Lahinch with its blind par 3, perhaps some enterprising soul would think of bringing or moving a big televised tournament to Prestwick. Think it would work well in a time that big crowds are out anyway.
Golf had been played for years over the links at Prestwick before officially forming as a club on July 2nd, 1851. 57 prospective members purchased two cottages opposite the Red Lion Inn, with one of the cottages reserved for a clubhouse while the other would house the club’s Keeper of the Green, club and ball maker, the legendary Old Tom Morris.
Old Tom would uproot his family from St. Andrews and lay out the original 12-hole “cross-routed” design, one that would eventually host the first Open Championship in 1860, making Prestwick the “Birthplace of the Open Championship”.
Old Tom and his family would return to St. Andrews in 1865 but he would return once again in 1882 to help Prestwick expand to 18 holes after the club purchased more land to the north of its original layout. The cross-routing was eliminated as a result but six of the original greens are still used to this day, including those on the current 3rd (Cardinal), 13th (Sea Headrig) and 17th (Alps) holes.
The Open Championship has been contested at Prestwick 24 times, second only to The Old Course at St. Andrews, but hasn’t hosted the event since 1925. The list of Open Champions at Prestwick is incredibly impressive and includes most of golf’s great players from that time, including Old Tom Morris (four time Open Champion at Prestwick), his son Young Tom (four times), Willie Park Sr. (four times), Harry Vardon (three times) and James Braid (once).
While the course would likely still be a challenge for the world’s best, the land upon which the course lies and the surrounding infrastructure simply isn’t large enough to host an event of that magnitude any longer. Prestwick continues to regularly host major amateur championships, including the British Amateur, which has been played 11 times at the club, most recently in 2001.
Prestwick lies just off the Ayrshire coast and shares its northern boundary with Royal Troon GC. The course is well-known for its quirk, with many blind shots and some absolutely audacious features.
Prestwick is a private club but liberal about allowing guest play most days of the week, calling it “The Prestwick Experience”. It’s an appropriate moniker, as you know you’ve taken a step back in time, so to speak, the minute you walk on the property. Every part of your day, whether it’s on the course or in the clubhouse, is special.
The clubhouse is a virtual museum, with replicas of the Claret Jug and Young Tom Morris’s Open Championship belt proudly displayed near the pro shop and many more precious artifacts located throughout the clubhouse and locker room areas. We played 36 holes on this day, breaking for lunch upstairs in their casual dining area and it was here where I sampled Kümmel, a very popular liqueur in the UK, for the first time.
That all said, the links at Prestwick are the real star. I will say that this course won’t enchant those that prefer to play a course where “everything is there right in front of you” – quirk and blind shots abound and you will need a bit of a whimsical approach to playing your game at Prestwick. The course contains so many famous holes but I’d still submit that Prestwick is much greater than the sum of its parts.
It’s been a few years since I visited and my thoughts on my experience at Prestwick grow stronger by the day. It’s an experience you simply can’t miss if you find yourself visiting the Ayrshire coast.
For a full hole-by-hole course profile and pictorial, please visit Now on the Tee at https://nowontheteegolf.com/2019/01/31/prestwick-g...
Prestwick's original 12 hole course was expanded to 18 holes in 1883, and while many of the quirky features of the old course were retained it is only the seventeenth hole (Alps) which remained intact. Seven green complexes remain, although some are played to from different directions than originally designed. Importantly the famous Cardinal & Sahara bunkers survived the makeover.
Playing Prestwick really is a step back in time. The clubhouse oozes history, and the course bears no resemblance to the modern Open Championship courses. It is short and quirky and blind shots abound.
I always look forward to the start and finish at Prestwick, and feel like I have wandered on to another golf course when I get to some of the flatter terrain further from the clubhouse. There are decent holes out there but without the same sense of adventure as those closer to home.
The start is quite unique- a short par 4 appropriately named Railway, with the railway line very much in play along the right perimeter- it seems so close to the green! The second hole is a testing par 3 (Tunnel) with bunkers front and back- you need to pick the correct club... Hole 3 (Cardinal) is a unique par 5 and features the famous Cardinal bunker and Pow burn- it really feels like an achievement to reach this green in regulation.
I always look forward to the blind par 3 fifth hole (Himalayas) as well- they just don't make them like this anymore..
And the finish is just grand with the star of the show being the strong par 4 seventeenth hole (Alps) with the blind approach needing to clear the Himalayas dune AND the unseen Sahara bunker.
After completing the round I am always tempted to ask whether I could slip out again and play a short replay loop consisting of the first three and last 3 holes- wouldn't that be cool?
Prestwick gives us a glimpse of what golf was like in it's formative years. It is quirky, and testing, and great fun. Every golfer should play Prestwick.
Peter Wood is the founder of The Travelling Golfer – click the link to read his full review.
Disclaimer...this course is not for everyone, and I can fully understand people not enjoying it, or getting it (without sounding patronizing). I loved it. Everything about it. It's fun, quirky, a great challenge, it allows you to be creative, it doesn't hurt you if you veer off but is difficult to get right. It has bag loads of charm and history and a fantastic clubhouse. If you like big, glitzy beefed up links with views of the sea then Turnberry, only 45 minutes up the road, will serve you better. Prestwick to me is what golf as designed to be. A focus on using the ground and not just the air, a fascinating use of the space (despite it being very different to its original layout) and designed to be played in the breeze.
The first is a shaky start, with the railway line and wall lining the entire right side and firmly imprinted in your mind as you stand over the ball on the tee. The second a good par 3 before the course heads towards more open ground and a succession of strong holes, from longer par 4's to shorter par 4's to the 5th hold, Himalayas, a blind par 3. Again, this wont be to everyone's liking but for me it was pure joy. Pick your spot, trust the club and see what awaits as you head over the dune. You then reach what is in my view the weakest section of the course, before it comes alive again on the back nine. From 10 to 18 its a tour de force of quirks and beauty. There's huge variety to the holes as you're led back towards the clubhouse.
The layout is great, and it is the type of course that I personally could play day in, day out. That said, a day at Prestwick is about more than the golf course. We did the Prestwick experience, which allows for 36 holes and a great lunch in the middle. Get there early, settle in and enjoy one of the greatest days you can have at a golf club.
Prestwick is one of my favourite Links courses, where the old cliche "they don't make 'em like this any more" is probably truer than any other essentially flat Championship Links. From the stressful first which gets narrower and narrower, to completely blind par 3's, humungous bunkers, greens hard up against water to playing onto a green seemingly from the wrong direction - there are many things that should make you hate Prestwick but you come off smiling and wanting to go round again. The history is obviously amazing, and do have a bit of a read up before going - "Tommy's Honour" would be a good start. You are able to work out where the old first was when Prestwick was 12 holes - 578 yards in those days, and Young Tom Morris got a 3 in 1870 with hickory and gutta percha - stupendous. Great conditioning even in shoulder season, this friendly club is a rare treat.