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.
Date: October 26, 2020