Prestwick is a relic for the ages
PRESTWICK, SCOTLAND - It's squeezed between an International airport and the sea. The first fairway appears to be cut in half by a railway line. The greens can be impossible. Fairways are shared and many shots are blind. It's loved. It's hated. It's the one and only Prestwick - one of golfdom's most sacred venues.
Understatement of the day: there is much sentiment, much lore, and much history at Prestwick. Located on the Ayrshire Coast, bordering on Royal Troon, and just half an hour from Glasgow, Prestwick is a links for the ages. It is the birthplace of the Open. The place where Tom Morris Jr. learned the game. It's laced with charming, one-of-a kind holes and there simply is nothing else like it.
If you appreciate the game of yesteryear - the equipment, the quirkiness, the ancient Open Championships, and the vision of the game's forefathers - then Prestwick certainly will be a place that you'll revere and embrace with passion. But if you like your golf pampered, via buggy, predictable, stylish and spacious, then trust me, stay away from these hallowed grounds. You'll most certainly find Prestwick cramped and strange and not worth your while. If you have no zeal for the game's history, for the funny bounces, for match play, and the eccentric nature of links golf, then please, don't waste your time at Prestwick. Leave it for those of us who do.
Prestwick was founded in 1851. It had its 150-year anniversary in 2001. The Civil War had not yet been fought when they started playing golf amongst these scruffy, wind-tattered dunes near Glasgow. And Abraham Lincoln was still 10 years away from becoming the president before the first gutty was swatted here. The game, in terms of its mass popularity, didn't exist.
But that didn't stop a group of men from laying out 12 oddly twisting holes through the gorse and heather along the sea. They met in a local hotel, the Red Lion, and decided to form the club. Upon hearing of the great Tom Morris at St. Andrews, they issued an invitation for him to come to Prestwick and be their professional. He accepted. And he brought his boy, Tom Morris Jr.
It was here, in the 1850s, that young Tom Morris, coached by his legendary father, acquired an uncanny ability to play the game. With hickory-shafted clubs with strange face markings and odd shapes, young Tom became the game's first superstar. He watched his dad compete and be crowned Open champion at Prestwick on three separate occasions between 1860 (in the first Open Championship, won by Willie Park, Tom Morris Sr. was runner-up) and 1867.
Then, in 1868, Tom Jr. won the first of his four Opens in a row at Prestwick. They played for a leather belt, which he got to keep after winning it three times in a row. Thanks to Tom Morris Jr. and his remarkable play at Prestwick, they needed to find another trophy. They did: The Claret Jug.
Upon the expansion to 18 holes in 1892, Prestwick had already hosted the Open Championship 18 times, including the first 12 (1860-1872). James Braid, Harry Vardon, and amateur John Ball all won at Prestwick.
Prestwick would host the Open for the last time in 1925. It became obvious that there was insufficient room at Prestwick to handle the crowds, and safety for players and spectators became a concern. It spurred a rather famous quote from Bernard Darwin: "It was a thoroughly exciting championship but hardly a pleasant one, since there were altogether too many people. So many, indeed, that despite the unselfish and valiant efforts of the Prestwick stewards, I gravely doubt whether a championship should be played there again. Golf can be altogether too popular."
Darwin's speculation was correct. Jim Barnes, an American, would be the last British Open winner at Prestwick. He shot 300, defeating Macdonald Smith, who was "put off his game" by the crowds. Similar to Merion's fate, Prestwick would vanish as a major championship venue, although it would continue to thrive as a match play site for many amateur tournaments and championships.
The course that's played today includes seven of the original greens and three holes that have remained intact. Perhaps the most famous of these at Prestwick is the 17th, "The Alps." Played through a gorse-lined amphitheatre with a blind approach; the 17th is almost always a decisive hole in a match. The giant Sahara bunker protects the green and swallows any approach shot not solidly struck. It's a menace of a hole, and one, thanks also to its wildly sloping green, that's always a thrill to play.
But the Sahara bunker is just one famous bunker at Prestwick. The third is famous for the fearsome Cardinal bunker, a massive plank-walled trench that protects the upper fairway on this unique dogleg par-5 tester.
And, speaking of unique, discussing the layout of Prestwick cannot be complete without mention of the famous Himalayas hole, the fifth. A blind, uphill par-3 hole that can play over 200 yards, the Himalayas is one of the greatest hit-and-hope holes in the game. Forest Gump would describe this one as "like a box of chocolates - you never know what you're going to get." A medley of deep bunkers protect the green and a lonely post planted on top of the hill marks the correct line to the sunken green. Hit it 15 feet left or right of the post, and one of the nasty pits almost certainly will snatch your ball. Hit it short and the unkempt slope that hides the green will devour your ball! It might amount to the most fun you can have on any hole in golf.
And "fun" is what Prestwick is all about. For it was in this great tradition, through this noteworthy lens, that the game was founded. And this attitude, this spirit, envelops Prestwick -- is Prestwick. From the first green, pinched between the stone wall and the pitiless pit that swallows anything hit short, to the drivable par-4 18th, and the Alps, the Cardinal, Sahara and everything else in between, you will find this attitude, this spirit at Prestwick. The one and only Prestwick.
Accessibility: Prestwick is not available for public play on Saturdays, Bank Holidays, and most Sundays. Handicap limits are 24 for men and 28 for women. For booking, email firstname.lastname@example.org.
Green fees: 1 January 2003 to 1 April 2003 - £90 for a single round or day ticket. 1 April 2003 to 31 October 2003 - £90 for a single round £130 for a day ticket. Sundays - £105 for a single round.
Location: Prestwick is located a half hour southwest of Glasgow on the famous Ayrshire Coast. Most people combine Prestwick with other noteworthy courses in Southwest Scotland. Turnberry, Royal Troon, and Western Gailes are all located within a half hour from Prestwick and make for a fantastic week of golf. As with all the great links courses, playing with the assistance of a local caddy is always the best. Caddies can be arranged by calling the clubs.
Accommodation: The Westin Turnberry Resort is often considered one of the best hotels on the Open rotation. The players absolutely love it there. It features an exceptional spa overlooking the ocean and both courses at Turnberry. This hotel is the perfect place to use as a base for golfing Scotland's southwest coast. turnberry.co.uk.
Other Courses: St. Andrews, which is located on the opposite coast, is not as far from Prestwick as you might think. You can drive to St. Andrews in approximately three hours from Prestwick. Other courses on the east coast, such as Carnoustie, North Berwick, Muirfield, Kingsbarnes, and Gullane, are anywhere from three to four hours away.
Additional Information: One of the best sites for information and/or links to courses, booking information, car rentals, airline tickets, hotels, and restaurants is scottishgolfsouthwest.com. You can accomplish a lot from using this site. Also, the official site of Scotland's National Tourist Board is visitscotland.com. This too is an excellent site that will tell you much about this wonderful country!
Andrew Penner's book, "One Flew Over The Caddyshack," is available at Amazon.com.
The last time Prestwick hosted the Open was in 1925, and then the crowds and popularity of the game got to be more than the famous old course could handle.
December 9, 2003