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.
Our fourball played St.Nicholas on a rare February morning (dry and sunny with just a light breeze blowing) so conditions were ideal for a wee winter warmer on the Ayrshire coast. I last played here a couple of years ago and this visit reaffirmed what I’d thought before (and what my three mates thought this time) – St.Nicholas is a cracking wee links course that is much under rated.
The starter mentioned the two stone buildings beside the green at the 3rd hole were old Salt Pan Houses dating back to 1760 – I’m surprised the club make no mention of such a fascinating fact in their very succinct web site pages. An oversight that should surely be corrected.
Some winter tee positions were a little strange. Like the 2nd hole, where the tee was placed 150 yards away (almost at right angles to its normal elevated position). Or the 7th hole, when the hole was totally devalued by placing the tee 150 yards ahead of its normal place (perched on a sand dune on the right of the fairway).
The opening and closing three holes are laid out over great links land and they remain etched in the mind as an abiding memory of playing here so I’d forgotten how good so many of the holes between 4 and 15 really were.But what have the club done with the par three 10th hole? An artificial mound has been created to the left and the back of the green, affording the green some protection from sea spray that comes off the coast nearby but I think it is an abomination – and had the cheek as a visiting guest to tell the club secretary because, like football, golf is also a game about opinions!
The clubhouse locker rooms are so well appointed and the lounge so informal and relaxed – Prestwick St.Nicholas members should be really proud of their club and the way they welcome visitors so warmly. Incidentally, playing here was a real bargain – not only do they offer a cut price winter rate green fee but they also allow a 25% Openfairways card discount per golfer on top!