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...
Date: October 21, 2020