No Finer Place to be than at Prestwick
A man is less likely to be contradicted in lauding Prestwick than of signing the praises of any other course in Christendom.' - Bernard Darwin
Such unremitting praise from one of the world's greatest golf writers does not come without justification. Prestwick is a fantastic course steeped in the history of the game. For it was here in 1860, nine years after the club itself was founded, that the inaugural Open Championship was contested between eight professionals.
These professionals congregated outside the Red Lion Hotel on the 17th of October where the tournament rules were read out and the competitors were required to sign up to them. There was a considerable degree of scepticism at the time as to whether professionals could be trusted to abide by the rules of the game. After all, true gentleman only played for the honour of winning and nothing more.
Serious interest had been generated in the contest largely because of the valuable prize that had been commissioned by the club to present to the eventual winner. The trophy was a red leather belt known as the "Championship Belt" which had been made for a cost of £25. The belt was used as the Open Championship trophy until 1870 when Young Tom Morris won the belt for the third time in a row, which meant he was entitled to keep it. Indeed, the lack of a trophy resulted in their being no competition until 1872.
The original contest was held over the clubs twelve holes, with three rounds being played on the same day starting at twelve noon. The eventual winner was Willie Park from Musselburgh with a total of 174.
Prestwick has hosted twenty-four Open Championships in total, more than any other course bar St. Andrews, who only surpassed Prestwick's total in 1995. Such an accolade plays testament to the genuine quality of the links here. A true classic seemingly designed to exaggerate the inevitable nuances of matchplay golf.
The opener at Prestwick tests the nerve at the very first opportunity. Length is by no means at a premium but accuracy is an absolute essential. For on the right runs the railway line which made the course a viable leisure option in the nineteenth century. On the other side there is thick unrelenting rough which will punish those who shirk the challenge posed by the intimidating out of bounds.
The approach requires only a short iron but the green is well protected and is not a generous target. The out of bounds flanks its right while there are bunkers lurking on the left. Trust your yardage and be brave and there is a real chance you will get off with a par or better. Demonstrate any fear either off the tee or with the approach and four will not be written on the card.
The second is a one hundred and sixty seven yard par three, with an elevated tee and a well protected green. It leads you to the Cardinal Hole which was once regarded by the 'Golfers Handbook' as the most famous hole in golf along with the road hole at St. Andrews. It is a phenomenal par five.
Harry Vardon captured the challenge that this hole poses when he commented in 1905: "The third at Prestwick is one that stirs the soul of the daredevil golfer, for, after he has dispatched the ball well and safely from the tee, he finds a big gaping bunker, the famous Cardinal, ahead of him for his second - an ugly brute that gives a sickening feeling to the man who is off his game. Defy this bunker, be on the green with your brassie, put a 4 on your card and you have done something which should make you happy for the morning."
Making four is quite some achievement and will set you up nicely for the rest of the front nine. The rest of the front nine should really be attacked for the start of the back nine provides a stiff challenge. The tenth stands at four hundred and fifty four yards and has hazards awaiting at every juncture. The landing area for the tee shot is guarded by three well placed and penal bunkers.
Even if the fairway is found, the approach shot requires pin point accuracy. There are no bunkers here, but still the putting surface proves terribly elusive. Indeed, even if the surface is found, the job is far from complete for this green slopes steeply from back right to front left and any putt from above the hole will be treacherous.
The eleventh is a demanding one hundred and ninety five yard par three protected by six deep bunkers. Find the putting surface and you will be the envy of your playing partners. However, even with a three don't relax for there are still major challenges ahead.
For the thirteenth is a four hundred and sixty yard par four which is usually played into the prevailing wind. Furthermore, the green runs at a forty five degree angle away from the fairway, meaning that it is doubly difficult to hold the green with the approach, especially as it will require at least a very long iron to get up.
The closing stretch at Prestwick is a wondrous finish with four holes that invariably decide the outcome of any match. Just remember that at Prestwick, three down with four to go means you are by no means out of it.
For 'the loop' as it is affectionately known by the locals, holds within it's confines the secrets of many a match. So many golfers will recall that it was in the loop where the momentum suddenly changed. It is these four holes that epitomise the character and charm of Prestwick.
The fifteenth tee shot requires perfect placement and the second needs to be subtly lifted over the ridge running just short of the green. Anything slightly light will leave a perilous chip down the length of the green, while anything hit slightly too far will run through the green.
The sixteenth is a driveable par four, but if you lose it fractionally right, a miracle escape from this deep, deep bunker will be required. This brings us to the famous seventeenth with its blind second shot which begs questions at a crucial stage in any round. The more fearful of you may be relieved that the approach is blind here for there is a enormous bunker the other side of the ridge providing yet another hazard to be overcome.
Freddie Tait played a wonder shot from here during the final of the 1899 Amateur Championship. The bunker was flooded and the ball was floating on the surface, but unperturbed Freddie Tait clipped the ball clean from its watery resting place onto the putting surface for a half.
It should be clear that Prestwick is synonymous with numerous distinguished championships, playing a pivotal role in many competitions histories. However, it would be wrong to get the impression that Prestwick's glory days lie in the past. While the Open may never return, the Scottish Amateur Championship was here in 1998 and the Amateur Championship itself returns this coming summer.
To bolster the clubs bid for the Amateur Championship, a handsome new extension has been built to the clubhouse providing ample space to accommodate visiting parties. However, try at all costs to get lunch in the long room for there are few finer treats in life.
There really is no finer place to be than at Prestwick on a crisp autumn morning where the dew beautifully defines the fairways and greens. Add to this one of the best lunches in fine surroundings and you have the recipe for a marvellous day. A day that will make any pilgrimage to this golfing Mecca well worth while.
Prestwick Golf Club
Links Road, Prestwick
Professional: 01292 479 483
Secretary 01292 477 404
December 9, 2003