Old Tom played here too: Try legendary Prestwick G.C., birthplace of the British Open

By Tim McDonald, Contributor

PRESTWICK, Scotland - It's impossible to play a links course in Scotland without running smack dab into some kind of history. It's on the walls, in the clubhouse, in the bar, in the brochures, even in the men's rooms.

Prestwick Golf Club
Prestwick hosted the first 12 British Opens, starting in 1860.
Prestwick Golf ClubPrestwick Golf Club - Tom Morris DesignPrestwick Golf Club - Scottish Links Course
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Prestwick Golf Club

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Prestwick is one of the oldest golf clubs in the world and stakes claim as the original host to the British Open in 1860. The course was only 12 holes back then, but was later stretched to 18 by Old Tom Morris.

18 Holes | Private golf course | Par: 71 | 6908 yd. yards | ... details »

Some are snooty about it, others practical, still others a little humble. The Prestswick Golf Club has more to brag about than many, being the birthplace of the British Open. That was back in 1860, before the U.S. Civil War. The club hosted the first 12 British Opens, and a few more since. In the early days Prestwick had only 12 holes, and first prize was a red Morocco leather belt with silver clasps, a replica of which is in the clubhouse.

If that's not royal and ancient enough for you, try this: Those original 12 holes were designed by Old Tom Morris, of St. Andrews Old Course fame. In fact, Ol' Tom was the club pro here, from 1851 to 1864, when the Royal and Ancient Golf Club of St. Andrews stole him away.

But not before Young Tom Morris learned his game at Prestwick. Both, of course, were multiple British Open winners. Harry Vardon and James Braid were also among the golfers who claimed the prize at Prestwick.

The old legends loom large in the clubhouse, but the course itself remains alive and vital. It's essentially the same course Vardon and the Morrises played - though if their ghosts returned to haunt the links they might not recognize the place. The course now sits in the looming shadow of busy Prestwick Airport, and the airport-serving highway now wraps around the club, adding to the background noise.

But the shape and layout are the same, as are the rolling, grassy, heather-scented dunes that make this one of the fine true links courses of bonnie Scotland. And if you think the old-timers had it easy, think again. Prestwick is a tricky son of a gun, with blind shots off the tee and to the green, plenty of the nasty rough associated with links golf and some tough little greens.

Try hitting the green at No. 5, a par 3 over a grassy dune, especially if you haven't played the course before. No. 10 is a beautiful hole, with a downhill tee shot over a little stream and bridge and a slightly uphill approach to an elevated green protected by pot bunkers left and right. The 13th, with a steeple serving as a backdrop off the tee, has a tiny green that drops off almost straight down in front - you do not want to be short here.

No. 16 is a great little risk/reward par-4 and No. 17 is another runner, a blind shot over a hill to the green, with the world's largest pot bunker waiting for you. Don't say you weren't warned.

The verdict

Don't let the proximity of the airport and the traffic scare you off: Prestwick is still a terrific links course. If you're a golfer and you ever find yourself flying into Prestwick, do yourself a favor: Put off your ultimate destination until have had a chance to play here. In fact, head over there as soon as you land. It's that close, and that good.

One note, though: If you're new to Prestwick, definitely get a caddie. The course can be a little disorienting to the first-timer; there are some very odd angles and the layout has the gall to follow its natural terrain. You aren't led around by the nose like at many American courses.

"I had a caddie and I still wasn't sure where I was supposed to hit," said James Buchanan, an American making his Prestwick debut. "That didn't take away from my enjoyment of it, though. I'll tell my friends about it, and I'll definitely be back."

Stay and play

The Golf View Hotel, Prestwick Old Course Hotel and North Beach Hotel all overlook the course in downtown Prestwick.

Dining out

The Parkstone Hotel adjacent to the course serves fresh local produce and traditional Scottish food. No need to venture further. You have the option of eating in the lounge overlooking the seafront while trying dishes such as whiskey-soaked brie and rocket salad or venison sausage served on mashed potatoes with a red wine essence.

Fast fact

Prestwick was one of the three original courses (along with St. Andrews and Royal Liverpool) to host the Amateur Championship, which at one time nearly matched the British Open in prestige.

Tim McDonaldTim McDonald, Contributor

Veteran golf writer Tim McDonald keeps one eye on the PGA Tour and another watching golf vacation hotspots and letting travelers in on the best place to vacation.

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