Whilst St Andrews is the internationally acclaimed ‘Home of Golf’, the Ayrshire town of Prestwick – situated around 30 miles southwest of Glasgow – owns another significant title: the ‘Birthplace of the Open’.
Its eponymous golf course, which sits adjacent to the lapping waves of the Firth of Clyde, was where the very first Open Championship took place back in 1860, nine years after Old Tom Morris devised the original 12-hole links.
It wasn’t until 1883 that six more holes were added to the layout to create the 18-hole course that exists today both as a paean to the modern game’s origins and as a bridge between past and present.
The Open has long since outgrown Prestwick, which is a desperate shame as the course is quite magnificent.
It opens with arguably the most intimidating tee shot in golf. You’ve got out of bounds all the way down the right side of the hole courtesy of the Glasgow to Ayr railway line. The left is lined by series of mounds that block your view of the small green and the three large bunkers that surround it. The best tee shots favour the right side of the fairway… just not too much or you’ll end up meeting the 11.55am service from Glasgow Central head on.
That sets the tone for a round that is rich in variety and deep in quality. You’ve got short par-5s, long par-4s, blind tee shots, deep bunkers, small greens, big greens, humps, hollows, towering dunes and rolling fairways. It is a classic links in every respect.
The great golf writer Bernard Darwin once labelled it “a jolly course, to be sure” – a characteristically astute and correct observation.
Playing Prestwick is an essential experience for any golf fan. Not only does the place ooze history out of every blade of grass and every grain of sand, it is, above all, an excellent and fun test of golf. It’s atypical of the modern game – and all the better for it – in that it is quirky, relatively short and allows you to play a variety of different shots. It has character by the acre and views to die for, not to mention a clubhouse that is packed with Open Championship memorabilia. If it’s not on your ‘Bucket List’, it should be.
The par-5 third isn’t just the best hole at Prestwick, it’s also potentially the best hole in the country and one of the finest in the world. No exaggeration. It’s unlike anything else you’ll have played before or will likely ever play again.
Standing on the tee, you will probably have no idea where you’re going. That’s perfectly normal. Just favour the right hand side ever so slightly and, if you’re being sensible, lay up short of the Cardinal bunker – from which the hole takes its name – that splits the fairway at 230 yards.
It’s at that point that the hole turns almost on a right angle towards a small green protected on all sides by a bundle of humps and hollows. And that’s to say nothing of the Pow Burn which snakes all the way up the right hand side. Anything that goes in the water or right of it is out of bounds. Make a five here and you’ll be doing very well indeed.
Did you know…
The 17th hole, above, is the oldest existing hole in championship golf. Originally the second hole when the course opened for play in 1851, it is the only hole on the course that remains from the very first Open. CB Macdonald loved it so much he incorporated a replica into his design for the National Golf Links of America.
And another thing
It hasn’t staged the Open in almost a century but Prestwick remains the second most-used venue on the championship rota. Between 1860 and 1925, Prestwick hosted the tournament 24 times. To date, only St Andrews, with 29, has staged more editions.
Visitors can play any day with the exception of Saturday. Between now and October 2021, UK residents can play there for just £145 a head from Monday to Friday and £160 on Sundays. Proof of UK residence is required.
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T: 01292 477404