The members of Prestwick St Nicholas Golf Club originally played on the adjacent 12-hole Prestwick course that held the first twelve Open Championships between 1860 and 1872 (incidentally, there was no Open held in 1871 for anyone who realizes there are 13 years in that time span). The club moved away in 1877 to another piece of land to the south east of Prestwick but fifteen years later, they relocated to the present site where they remain until this day.
Henry Cotton, in the 1930s, spoke of St Nicholas as “a miniature championship course” which perfectly describes the links – its only weakness is its comparative shortness. But then that’s probably what endears it to the older, more discerning golfer, who realises length isn’t everything on a golf course!
Measuring a little more than 6,000 yards, there are two old-fashioned short par fours on the course, one on the outward nine and one on the inward half. “Maryborough” is the 281-yard 3rd hole, played towards the Firth of Clyde from an elevated tee to a green surrounded by punishing rough. The 276-yard 15th, called “Kingcase” is played to a plateau green that runs at an angle to the fairway. Both holes may look straightforward from the tee but members will tell you a par score at each hole is never an easy feat.
Other design traits from a bygone era include a blind approach to the 6th hole, the criss-crossing of fairways at the 6th and 7th holes and the conclusion of the round with a par three hole that plays to every inch of its 227-yard length.
The opening three holes and closing three holes are situated amongst the most undulating terrain on the course with fairways rising and falling like huge waves on a stormy sea. If only the holes on the other side of the Maryborough Road between the 4th and the 15th had the same wild contours – not that they are bland by any means.
Course management is the name of the game at Prestwick St Nicholas. If you can cope with several blind shots, intelligent bunkering, water (at the flooded quarry on the 8th hole), whins, gorse and rough then a good score can be made here as the fairways are generous and the putting surfaces are famed for their quality all year round.
St Nicholas is a quality, very enjoyable Links course and fits in nicely with a trip to the nearby star attractions. It's nice to have fun on a shorter, traditional links, with a more affordable and less taxing day in between the highlights. In some ways the course mirrors that - the highlights come at the start and finish of the round. However, this works well in that you can relax a little in the middle of the round but still finish on a high - much better than uneven quality nines, or weak start and finish as with so many Links where the architect had to get you out to the golfing ground.
The more links golf I play, the more I like courses like this. They are one of a kind and simply not made anymore. The start and finish (1-3, 16-18) on the clubhouse side of Maryborough Road are the quirkiest and most dramatic. However, the other holes (4-15) provide both variety and solid quality golf and round the cocktail off well. The challenge of two 450-yard plus par 4s like Coila (7) and Tam Jack’s (13) with fairly straightforward green sites are balanced by two short ones like Bellrock (6) and Kingcase (15), where you can easily have little chance of par after an ill-judged tee shot. Let others dismiss the par of 69, their loss!
Not an obvious choice for a first-time visitor, but I believe the best golf trips are the most varied ones. Therefore, my recommendation is to combine a longer heather-framed course (Glasgow Gailes, Kilmarnock Barassie or Dundonald) with a quirky, undulated course like this one or Western Gailes, or if available and within your budget, Old Prestwick itself.
One last thing: watch out where you park your car, if you drive here. A sliced tee shot on the last long par 3 (227 yards) can easily find its way into the car park and then you do not want your car to be first in line....
Prestwick St. Nicholas is one of those links courses that you just cannot fail to fall in love with.
Even before you reach the car park you catch a glimpse of the course and its humpy-bumpy linksland. As it transpires these are the 17th and 18th holes so you must wait a little bit longer to enjoy these, but it is worth the wait and the journey to get there is just as enjoyable.
Holes one to three and 16 to 18 lie on one side of a small road that dissect these from the majority of the course and because these holes are indeed superb, and enjoy the best of the terrain, it’s very easy to say that Prestwick St. Nicholas has a great start and a great finish, and simply leave it at that.
Prestwick St. Nicholas will probably never be seen by a number of golfers heading to Ayrshire who are just interested in playing the big names and this can therefore rightly be called a hidden gem. Holes two, three, 15, 16 and 18 are of exceptional quality and although there are a few ‘filler’ holes out on the flatter part of the course this is a true links that I whole heartedly suggest you play. Don’t be fooled by the par of 69 and a yardage of just 6,044 as it plays every bit of its length and requires plenty of creative shot-making.
Ed is the founder of Golf Empire – click the link to read his full review.
What better way to spend a sunny Bank Holiday Monday than out on the links enjoying a 4-ball with three of your golfing mates? I just love this wee course – and PSN really was a wee course for some reason today, with the regular markers played from forward tee positions on many of the holes, reducing the overall length to well under the 6,044 yards indicated on the scorecard.
The firm and fast playing conditions meant every green could be reached in regulation, apart from maybe the long par four 7th and 13th, which are tough enough to get on in two at the best of times. The greens, as ever, were in great condition so my only gripe was with the aesthetics of having fairways cut in a striped pattern – surely that’s a parkland characteristic and not one to be used on a links, where “half and half” mowing lines are the accepted norm?
The opening and closing holes are still the best on the course, though the short, doglegged par fours at the 6th and 15th are also a couple of very fine holes. Regarding the long par three finishing hole, I wonder how many cars get damaged in the car park from sliced tee shots as golf balls twice clattered into the side of the clubhouse after we finishing our round.
In these days of Health & Safety, I’m surprised there’s no protective netting in place because there’s a real danger of being hit by a stray tee shot. Bear that in mind when you next play here – it's maybe best to park in the street outside and keep your wits about you as you walk through the car park to the pro shop!
You will be acutely aware of out of bounds on many holes. A big slice on the par four 1st will see you over the fence and heading for the sea. Behind the 1st green are the ‘Salt Pan’ buildings which were constructed in approximately 1790 and were used to extract salt after boiling the sea water.
The land is somewhat different on the other side of the road. The 7th and 8th holes play around a lake that was once a quarry. The 7th is a good hole – a long par four and rated index 1. The tee is right beside the adjacent beach and is very exposed to the elements. Accuracy is needed for the second shot on the 8th as your line is over the edge of the water.
The back nine opens with a par three, a par five and then another par three. The 11th has out of bounds along the right but if you play safe down the left then you need to avoid four bunkers. Holes 13 to 15 are probably the least interesting part of the links.
However, the last three are intriguing. Sixteen and seventeen have gorse and then out of bounds along the right and the 18th, a long par three of 227 yards, has out of bounds by way of the car park on the right.
This review is an edited extract from Another Journey through the Links, which has been reproduced with David Worley’s kind permission. The author has exclusively rated for us every Scottish course featured in his book. Another Journey through the Links is available for Australian buyers via www.golfbooks.com.au and through Amazon for buyers from other countries.
To date this is one of the most underated golf couse I have played in Scotland. Despite the harsh November conditions nothing could take the smile from my face as I drove the 40-mil journey home. Pound for pound this course holds its own with its many nearby alleged superiours. £25 winter fees offer a bargain that cannot be missed. The excellent condition of the greens cannot be exagerated. The welcome offerd by the highly experienced starter sets the trend for a most enjoyable alround experience.