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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!”
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.
Playing at Prestwick is like going back in time. The course has a timeless feel to it and is hallowed ground for golfers. The first hole at Prestwick is one of the world's great starting holes, even to this day. It is a short par four at only 346 yards. The name of the hole is Railway, and it is aptly named. You tee off about 10-15 steps from the clubhouse, usually with caddies or other players watching. It is also not uncommon to have members sitting in the smoke room who are also watching through a large picture window. As is typical in Britain, since there is no driving range, you have to hit your tee shot without warming up. The right side of the hole is out of bounds from tee to green since a railroad line runs down the coast toward Turnberry. Between you and the railway there is a stone wall the entire length of the hole. Making the hole even more difficult is the fact that the left side of the fairway is protected by a large swath of gorse bushes, taking away the potential strategy of playing to the left. It is a good test to see if you are on your game, hitting an iron under these conditions. I rank it among the top three first holes in the world (the other two being the opening tee shots at Merion and The Old Course at St. Andrews).
It is interesting to note that when early American golf aficionados came to study the courses of The British Isles, among the courses they studied were Prestwick. Charles Blair Macdonald replicated two of the holes at Prestwick in his ideal golf course - The National Golf Links of America: the third hole, Cardinal, and the seventeenth, Alps. While some holes at Prestwick haven't stood the test of time, these two most certainly have. Both are excellent risk/reward holes that demand well played shots over difficult and massive bunkers. Prestwick remains relevant today and is worth playing and studying. Bring a jacket and tie and be sure to have lunch in the members dining room, so you have the complete experience and can fully appreciate one of the great days in golf.
John Sabino is the author of How to Play the World’s Most Exclusive Golf Clubs
Sometimes you make big mistakes in your life but the best part is when you learn from them. I visited Scotland in 2011 & 2012 leading 32 golfers each year and when planning the trip I didn't include Prestwick, which was maybe the biggest mistake and I made it twice! But life and also golf always give you chances to correct your own mistakes and 3 weeks ago I was able to fix mine finally visiting and playing Prestwick.
I spent the morning walking Dundonald, Western Gails, Glasgow Gailes and I gave a complete walk to Royal Troon just one week before The Open with all the stands and hospitality already there which was great. And with no time for lunch I arrived 2:50pm to the Course, just 10 minutes before my tee time with no time to warm up! Ken the Club Secretary was very helpful and kind to set up my round with a guy named Peter from Australia.
It was a very windy tough day, with rain at some points on the round and trust me the golf course is very demanding. I played the back tees set up for a medal competition that day and if Tour Pros played that day it would have been tough for them to score low, the course has a good resistance to low scores.
About the design, which is pure natural as the old and traditional courses in the UK, I would say that there would be no modern courses built like this but that is one of the reasons that makes Prestwick even more special: blind par 3s, shared fairways, some crazy greens, bells to the the foursome behing that you have finished the hole but also true fast greens and great maintenance make this place an absolute must, to the level of the Old Course, Carnoustie or Royal Dornoch.
I was really challenged by the course and was not finding the way to score: the stretch of par 4s from 7 to 10 is something really tough as we played 7-8-10 into the wind and could not reach 8 & 10 in 2 shots! 15th is maybe the strangest hole of all called "narrow" with a really tough tee shot and a front to back sloping green that makes the approach shot a true challenge. On tee 14th some magic appeared and finished 4-4-3-3-3 driving 18th in front of the Club House which made it very special after the battle I fought from 1st to 13th. I have to say that the second shot to 17th is the best one on the course and that you will not forget if you leave it 3ft from the hole!
The Club House as I read in previous reviews is a free golf Museum, with a lot of our game's history inside it. The bar is very charming and good food and drinks are served, a must do after a great round of golf. The Proshop is one of those you feel like buying everything. And the touch of your framed picture in front of the club given after your round completes a moment not to forget.
I know you will want to play the Open Rota Courses, those you see on TV but it will be a great mistake not to play Prestwick which will be from now in every golf trip I make to Scotland.
You have just made me want to jump on a plane and play this wonderful course once again. A really great review of a truly great golf course. So much fun to be had, no matter what the conditions. And you are right about the second shot ay 17. I remember hitting a truly crap 4 wood tee shot and having to fire over the dune with a long 5 iron. The resulting shot to 20 feet, was heroic for me, and I just want to go back and do it all over again.
I truly believe that along with North Berwick, these are the two best course in Scotland for ordinary golfers like me, and the ones you want to come back to time and again. Thanks for reviving the memories.
The holes at Prestwick should not be described but experienced. What you will find ranges from blind par 3’s, to blind approach shots to drivable par 4’s to crazy green complexes to reachable par 5’s. It may just be some of the most fun you’ve ever had on a golf course.
The 3rd, ‘Cardinal’, is a short par five but is rated index 1. The Cardinal bunker dominates the hole with its huge size and sleepered supports. The 4th hole brings into play another famous hazard – the Pow Burn. There is no more famous blind par three than the 5th, ‘Himalayas’. The tee shot is over a huge dune to a flat area containing the green with bunkers at the sides.
Holes 7-10 are all par fours of 430 yards or more. Avoiding the deep bunkers is necessary if you are going to par this stretch. The 13th is another very demanding par four of over 460 yards. There is thick rough along the right and the green is a real challenge. Fourteen feels more like it should be the 18th as you drive from an elevated tee over scrub towards the green near the clubhouse.
The 15th and 16th are real fun short par fours. The drive on each must be accurate, especially on the 16th. The 15th is the most difficult of the greens with its undulations and pot bunkers. After driving through a gorse lined valley, 17 requires a blind second shot, with the enormous ‘Sahara’ bunker to be avoided. The 18th, a par four of 284 yards, is probably one of the weakest. It is a pity the end is so tame but this should not detract from the many unique delights of Prestwick.
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.
Being the "Birthplace of The Open Championship" certainly helped. Especially when The Open this year is in nearby Muirfield. We went to a practice round at Muirfield during our visit. Muirfield is certainly similar to Prestwick in that it rewards very well thought out shots and penalizes those that are not. Prestwick certainly tests shot making skills and has for a very long time.
Everyone we met at the course and clubhouse were great and the clubhouse oozes with history. Could picture the battles between Old and Young Tom in the early days of Prestwick as well as between the greatest golfers of the day in the Open Championship. Eating in the informal Cardinal Room after the round was a special experience. The members were also very welcoming and took a true interest in ensuring we enjoyed our stay.
The starter was great and gave us several tips on playing the course and ensured we could find our way around the course. The experience in the pro shop was also exceptional . Certainly everything about Prestwick makes me want to visit again for the challenge and experience.
The overall condition of the course was the best of all we played. The fairways were firm and in perfect condition. The greens and tees were also in pristine condition and the bunkers were numerous and could be very penal. The rough outside the first cut was very difficult and hitting the fairways with the correct distances was definitely essential.
All the holes are individually great golfing experiences and each standout on their own. The blind tee shot on the par 3 fifth (Himalayas) was great and I could envision players trying to hit over the hill in the early days. The blind 2nd shot on the par 4 17th (Alps) with the Sahara Bunker lurking short of the green was certainly a unique challenge. The (Railway) first is a great little hole that shows accuracy and precision are essential and does not need to be long to be a great. The finishing (Clock) 18th is a short hole where eagles are possible but over the green is OB and the rough on an errant shot is very difficult especially if a birdie is needed. The short par 4 15th (Narrows) lives up to its name on the tee shot with the green sloping away from you on the 2nd shot. The broadly sloping green on the par 4 13th (Sea Heading) was a pleasure to putt on.
I could go on and on about every hole but would highly recommend Prestwick for any golfer that enjoys a challenge and unique experience at the "Birthplace of The Open Championship". Click here to see a You Tube slideshow of some pictures I took during my visit. Jim Brady