Prestwick Golf Club: the home of the Open

Golfmagic explores the birthplace of golf's oldest championship

Alex Dawkins's picture
Mon, 18 Nov 2013

Considering the prestige and history that exudes from every corner of Prestwick Golf Club, it would be easy to assume the place was somewhat haughty and pretentious, but nothing could be further from the truth.

The green fee not only entitles visitors to a round of golf, but to a day’s membership at the club. There are no second-tier citizens at Prestwick. But that is not to say there is no grandeur about the place – you are instantly aware of how important a place this is in the golfing universe.

As I stood on the first tee my knees were trembling. Admittedly, it was a bitterly cold day and I’d forgotten my waterproofs, but I don’t think that had anything to do with it.

You really do feel privileged to be walking the very same links as the likes of Tom Morris (Old and Young) and Willie Park (Senior and Junior), Harry Vardon, James Braid… the list goes on.

In fact, it was Old Tom Morris who was responsible for laying out the original course at Prestwick, when he moved there to be the keeper of the greens in 1851 with his wife and son.

Golf had been played on the site for the previous fifty or so years, but it was not until this point that the actual course was set out. Nine years later in 1860 the first Open Championship was held, with Willie Park Senior prevailing by two shots over Old Tom.

In those days, the Open was comprised of three rounds of 12 holes. The first two were played in the morning before the players went for lunch at the Red Lion pub just up the road – which still stands today – before returning for the final round.

The course today retains the hallmarks of the first course at Prestwick (six of the original greens are still in use today), characterised by its undulating and twisting fairways that weave across the dunes, the enormous bunkers with railway sleepers, the thick rough, and the fearsomely fast and difficult greens.

Unlike many of the links courses in the north of Scotland such as Brora and Moray, where all the hazards are clearly visible from the tee, Prestwick asks you to play a number of blind shots.

This is particularly true of the 206-yard par-3 fifth hole – Himalayas – where you are asked to hit your tee shot over a mountain of a dune. In fact, there would be no way to tell where the green was were it not for a small coloured disc on the side of the dune which acts sits in line with the pin.

The course provides a tremendous test of golf, and would be well worth playing even if it did not come with the added baggage of its history and prestige.

Each hole is unique and, while not the longest at 6,551 yards, the course has been lengthened to accommodate today’s longer hitters.

There is out of bounds on seven of the holes, while the Pow Burn also comes into play on five of the holes.

When I had the pleasure of playing, I couldn’t quite believe my luck as I got through the front nine relatively unscathed in calm and serene conditions. I knew it was too good to be true. The wind got up and the rain began to pour and suddenly the course came alive. It suffices to say there were a fair few lost balls on the back nine. And that it how links golf should be: if the sun is shining the conditions are kind, then there is a chance to shoot a low score but, when the wind blows and the rain comes down, a much sterner golfing examination is administered.

After finishing up and feeling like I’d just been spat out of a washing machine by a mixture of the course and the weather, I was treated to a tour of the clubhouse by club secretary, Ken Goodwin.

The clubhouse is at Prestwick is a treasure chest of golfing memorabilia. Photographs, hickory clubs, trophies and scorecards adorn almost ever inch of wall space. The locker room still houses the 90 lockers that were fitted in 1882 at a cost of £350, and a portrait or photo of every club captain hangs on the wall in the luxurious dining room.

In truth, I could have easily spent just as long gazing at the hoard of jewels in the clubhouse as I did out on the course. 

Musselburgh has the oldest course, St Andrews is the epicentre of the golf universe, but Prestwick must be right at the top of any golf pilgrim’s bucket list.

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