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 (26) 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!”
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.
Prestwick is one of the most natural, quirking, interesting golf courses I have ever played. Add the history of the hosting the early Open Championships and you have a must play golf course.
If Machrihanish Old has the self-described best opening hole in golf, then Prestwick just might have the scariest with the train line so close all the way down the right side with very little rough between the fairway and the wall to the train line. It requires a carry of some 160 yards although some times it appears to be longer so you can't just ease your tee shot out there.
I actually like how the club's scorecard provides the acceptable times for a four ball to play the course in under four hours. In actuality, given the routing, a round should take no more than 3:30 hours unless the wind is up and adding difficulty to the golf course.
If you survive the first hole with a fairly flat green compared to some that are to come, the second hole is relatively easy as a par three at 164 yards. It is well bunkered so a shot at the middle is the line.
The third hole is one of the more memorable holes on the golf course, a dogleg par 5 of 513-541 yards with a blind second shot over the Cardinal bunker, which is enormous with railroad ties spanning across the entire fairway. The Pow burn runs down the entire right side. It is a marvelous par five with the added bonus of good mounding in the fairway on the second shot as well as a green that if you go too long, you will fall off the back.
The Pow burn is also down the right the entire length of the 4th hole, a medium length dogleg right that has bunkers left and right to consider for the tee shot. Don't miss the green to the right due to the steep slope. It is a very natural looking hole.
The 5th hole, known as Himalayas, is perhaps the first or second most famous hole on the course, a long 206-231 par three over the hill. The blind tee shot must follow the directional marker at the top and cannot have a draw on it or be placed left due to the five bunkers placed left. The green itself is not difficult. It is a fun hole due to the guessing game of which club to hit and in which direction. Obviously, once you find your ball on the other side you realize there is some luck involved in this hole, but nevertheless it is a lot of fun.
One critique of the course could be that holes 6 through 10 are all long par 4's with the shortest being 432 yards and the longest being 484 yards. However, the member tees on 6 and 7 are quite a bit shorter. The sixth hole is pretty straight forward while the seventh is very difficult as the longest hole with three pot bunkers on the right side of the fairway and two additional pot bunkers fronting the green while several more are to the side. It is a difficult hole to get to as there is a ridge in the fairway to navigate but one of the easier greens.
The eighth hole goes to the farthest point of the course and it is also difficult due to ten bunkers lining the fairway and the green. It has one of the better greens on the golf course.
If ten bunkers was not enough, the ninth hole offers eleven as well as a sloped fairway and a sloped green. It is a very natural looking hole.
The tenth hole has you looking at the Isle of Arran and the bunkers drop down to seven, but three go across the fairway. It is an interesting hole in that the green complex has no bunkers.
The eleventh is a long par 3 with more bunkers left than right and a green that pushes your tee shot towards those bunkers.
After that difficult stretch of holes the twelfth seems to be a bit easier as long as you avoid the six bunkers short of the green on the left on this medium length par five. The fairway is tilted to the left. It is yet another very natural looking golf hole.
After catching your breathe on twelve, you are back at the long par 4's at the thirteenth with a hidden fairway bunker about 250-265 yards out. It is yet another demanding par four but very natural with a rolling fairway.
The fourteenth finally brings a short par 4 at 405-363 yards but it is well bunkered by the green to defend itself as the green itself if pretty flat.
The fifteenth, thankfully, is an even shorter par four at 353 yards but once again is very well defended through the bunkers but mainly through a very sloped green front left to back right. I found it to be the best green on the golf course.
The sixteenth brings one to another short par 4 of 290 yards, but you cannot miss your approach shot to the green to the right due to the Cardinal bunker pinching in. Big hitters will easily drive the green. I found this hole to be the second easiest on the course.
Seventeen is probably the most famous hole on the course, known as Alps for the blind second shot from a narrow fairway over the ridge with the huge Sahara bunker fronting the green at the bottom of the ridge. If you like blind shots, this is perfect.
Unfortunately the eighteenth is the weakest hole on the golf course, but after the stretch of 6-12, even through the finish has been both shorter and easier, you likely are okay with the finish on this short par 4. It can be easily driven by the big hitter and should be a birdie chance for nearly every player depending on the wind.
What I like most about Prestwick is the naturalness of it as well as the use of bunkers. Some of the greens and fairways have quite a bit of slope to it. When you are on the golf course, if the train is not running nearby, it is just you and nature as well as the conversation between you and the other participants. The course is uneven in the sense that the holes in the middle are very hard and the finish is a bit of a let down both in length and in quality of the green complexes. However, as indicated, it is a golf course you should play at least twice, if not more.
A recent round at Prestwick with caddies followed by lunch in the member’s dining room was one of my all-time top UK golf experiences. This was despite the greens not being at their best on the day, having had a very recent brush with the verti-cutter.
However, this was not important next to the opportunity to examine one of the true legends of golf. For me an added pleasure was to be able to conduct the examination without ever having to wait on the course, a luxury you can normally only dream of at courses of this calibre.
For the avoidance of doubt, I have chosen to disregard both the temporary dip in conditioning and the fast pace of play when deciding to rate Prestwick at the highest level. Prestwick deserves it because of the originality of the course design, which goes way past its place in the history of the Open Championship.
There are many detailed descriptions of the course, among Top100 reviews below and other sites dedicated to golf architecture, so let me just take one example: you can play holes like Sea Hedrig (13th) and Alps (17th) time and time again with the same strategy and face different lies on the fairway and on/near the green every time.
Some of that is undoubtedly down to luck, or the lack of it. Therefore, if you subscribe to the “a good course should reward good shots and punish bad ones” philosophy then you should perhaps stay away from Prestwick and leave it to those of us who have fallen in love with this timeless icon of links golf.
As an aside, consider taking the train here. The walk from the station platform to the clubhouse and the first tee is among the shortest in golf.
Prestwick certainly has the history but overall it's a quirky links course that has some of everything -- long par fours, blind shots, massive bunkers, drivable par 4's, etc. It feels somewhat constrained as like some other links courses we played on the trip you are close to the seaside but rarely get to see the ocean (although did have people walking across the course to get to the beach). Conditions were great, the weather was warm, sunny, and mildly breezy and the clubhouse staff and caddies were excellent. Worth a visit to experience the history but not rushing back to play this again when there are other options in the area.
I played Prestwick in January 2019, on a cold Monday morning. I literally had the place to myself, with only one other tee time booked, later in the day. The starter couldn't have been more helpful and history within the clubhouse walls was fantastic to see.
The real joy however started when I set off. The first is not for the faint hearted, especially those of us who fade/slice the ball. Fortunately with a passing train my ball flew parallel to the tracks and remained in play. A few courses leave you wanting to return, right away, to face their challenge again, this was very true and in particular with a few truly great holes, 1,2,3,5,13,15,16 & 17. People complain about the course being short but on a windy day this isn't too noticeable, at 6500 yards from the back it is a good test. Both the Cardinal and the Sahara bunkers were special, I didn't visit either but could say that I regret having not visited them as a par save from either would have been excellent.
A few of the green complexes were very reminiscent of the courses of Old Tom Morris, a fine touch is required to combat the severe undulations, lucky for me the greens were playing slow in the winter conditions.
I cannot wait to go back and have another go, I would recommend that anyone playing arrives in plenty of time to enjoy the clubhouse and history.
Good luck and I hope you get a calm day!
If you love golf history, you must go to Prestwick. Designed by Old Tom Morris, Prestwick opened in 1851 and was home of the original Open championship. It has hosted the event over 20 times with the last on in 1925. It is also home of the first recorded hole in one, which was done by Young Tom Morris in the 1869 Open. Upon our arrival we were warmly greeted encouraged to have lunch in the clubhouse. The pasta was exquisite and probably our best meal in Scotland. We meandered around the clubhouse taking in all the history and artifacts. As we were early, the staff encouraged us to start on the 15th hole as the 14th comes back near the clubhouse. We did not need much encouragement and the game was afoot!
Starting on 15 has fogged my databanks but I will do my best and start with the first hole. The first hole is unique, right outside the pro shop and with an old wall running down the right side separating a railroad track from the course. I wonder how many times the train has been doinked with a slice? It is a short par 4 and the caddies discouraged us from hitting driver. I threw caution to the wind and ended up in the bunker, but did save par. The second is a 160 yard par 3. Which brings us to a great risk/reward, the par 5 3rd called Cardinal. The tee shot is over the Pow Burn but then it gets interesting. A bunker crosses the fairway about 230 yards out. However, there is a small landing area over this bunker before the infamous Cardinal bunker with its wooden wall. To be successful your drive needs to be more than 250 but less than 270! A very interesting hole with lots of options and definitely reachable. The 380 yard par 4 is where things started going sideways with my caddy. Having grown up caddying I understand and respect the craft. However, there are not many worse things than paying for a bad caddy. The 4th is slight dogleg right with water on the right side and a bunker on the elbow. My caddy tells me to hit my 180 club to the left elbow. This surprises me as I would still have 200 yards out. I ask about going over the bunker and he says I advise against it. I then asked how far it was to clear it and he couldn’t or wouldn’t answer me. Finally, I said I am going to try to fly it. He issues his disclaimer. I hit the drive well and easily carried the bunker and actually went through the fairway.
The 5th hole, called the Himalayas is one of the most polarizing holes in golf. You either love it or hate it. A blind 200 yard par 3 where you must carry a massive dune. There are aiming discs on the fence tied to the tee boxes that you are playing from. The tee shot is only half the fun, there are 5 bunkers left and one short right. So you can hit what you think may be a good shot, but be prepared for the worse. Put your big boy pants on as 6-10are all 400+ yard par 4s. The 9th is tricky 3 bunkers left and another right off the tee and another 6 protecting a severely left to right sloping green. The uphill par 4 10th is even tougher. I rolled my drive off the tee and the caddies suggested I take a “Kilpatrick” or something like that. I said no, I am a purist and we are playing for $$, not to mention that you folks are betting on us as well. I was able to recover and get on in 4. We all had 4-6 footers and the caddies said, good, good, good, which really surprised me. I said no and promptly missed my putt. The caddies were racing around the course. They said that people got mad if a round took more than 3 hours and 15 minutes. They said that the members normal game is match play, so that if someone is out of it, they pick up and move on. The 12th is a super par 5. This hole has a sever right to left slope. Coincidently it has 5 bunkers on the left side of the fairway and another five greenside. The 13th is another beast, not only log but it has one of the most nefarious greens that I have ever encountered. The 14-16th holes are your opportunities to score on the back. Enjoy the respite while you can.
The world renowned 390 yard par 4 “The Alps” is as good as it gets. Supposedly the only untouched original hole left at Prestwick, thus, the oldest hole in championship golf history. The fairway is narrow and the approach is blind. Take an extra club!! You will likely have an uphill line and the green is protected short by the massive Sahara bunker. Not only large, it is deep, also. The good news is there is a backstop to the green, so there is no reason to be short (unless you hit a lousy shot). Exhale on your way to 18 as this is another birdie opportunity.
I have mixed emotions about Prestwick. Fantastic history, there were some really tough holes and some layups as well. We did play in 2 hours and 40 minutes, which made our caddies happy. On one hole, this was the read I got from my caddy who was ten yards away from me, “Give yourself a chance”.
Would I play it again? Sure, if you pay.
I've been traveling to the UK on golf trips for 40 years, and have played most of the highly rated courses multiple times. Prestwick is deserving of its historical reputation but the links itself has too many simple or wacky holes to hold a high place in the UK's greats. M
Prestwick has been on my hit list of golf courses to play for quite some time and I’m ashamed to say it has taken me far too long to visit this iconic links. From everything I’d read and heard I was expecting it to be ‘my type’ of golf.
After several visits to Ayrshire without visiting this much-lauded venue I finally made it to the birthplace of The Open Championship and although I can firmly say it was worth the wait I was a little sceptical as to whether this was going to be the case halfway through my round.
That’s not to say the first two-thirds of the course isn’t up to much – indeed it makes an excellent start before you face a series of strong par fours - but after hearing so much about the quirky nature of Prestwick I was left wondering what all the fuss was about.
In the end I was bowled over thanks largely to the rousing finale that Prestwick produces with three world-class holes featuring in the last six.
Prestwick, whose history stretches back over 160 years to a time when golf was in its infancy, certainly has its moments of sheer brilliance although in my opinion it doesn’t flow particularly well and is a little stop-start throughout. The highs are very high and because of this I think any lows can be forgiven. It has five or six green complexes that you could literally spend hours just chipping and putting around and these really are as good as they come.
Ed is the founder of Golf Empire – click the link to read his full review.