Prestwick Golf Club
Some ten years before Abraham Lincoln took his oath of office, a group of golf enthusiasts gathered at the Red Lion Inn in Prestwick to form a proper club. The Earl of Eglinton provided the land necessary for a course, as well as a gold medal for the club’s annual competition. He also granted right-of-way on his property for the construction of a railway, which connected the club to Glasgow and beyond. In return, the Earl was allowed to stop any train he so desired to ferry he and his friends to the links at Prestwick – a perk he exercised to its fullest.
With the exception of St. Andrews, no club is more closely connected to the legacy of Old Tom Morris than Prestwick. After being fired by Allan Robertson for playing the “guttie” ball, Old Tom moved his young family to Scotland’s west coast and accepted the position of Keeper of the Green at the new club. He laid out a 12-hole course within the stone wall boundaries of the property, and spent the next 13 years molding it into arguably the finest links of the day.
In the modern era, Old Tom’s layout would either be praised for its quirkiness or denounced for its unconvention. The holes frequently criss-crossed their way over one another, while flowing in and out of natural valleys to create a host of blind approaches. The original greens were equally eccentric and most were guarded by rumpled humps and hillocks that would deflect the ball every which way, leading the sheltered golfer to cry foul.
The arrival of the 18-hole standard saw the Prestwick links extended by Old Tom’s successor, Charlie Hunter. While the work removed some of the unorthodox features, it also created a few of Prestwick’s most infamous holes. Specifically the 1st, which runs hard along the Earl’s railway up the right side and joins Machrihanish and St. Andrews as the most intimidating opening tee shots in the game. The par-3 5th hole – known as ‘Himalayas’ – is another fine example, with its tee shot sent over the dunes and into oblivion to an invisible green. It’s here that enterprising caddies have assisted their players by foot to an untold number of hole-in-ones, and enjoyed the skyrocketing tips that they accompany.
Although the course has been changed over time, many features of Old Tom’s work at Prestwick still remain. The rumpled turf still complicates running approaches, the Cardinal bunker still menaces the second shot on the 3rd hole, and no fewer than a half dozen of his greens still puzzle us to this day. However, no original feature of the course defines Prestwick more than the 17th hole, where yet another blind approach requires a “far and sure” effort to carry the perilously deep Sahara bunker.
As the birthplace of The Open Championship, Prestwick’s legacy is eternally secure, yet it is inextricably tied to the Grand Old Man of Golf. Of the 24 Opens contested here, a Morris was crowned champion a full ⅓ of the time. Old Tom claimed victory four times, while his son, Tommy, took home four in a row, with with the first recorded hole-in-one tossed in for good measure. And while the links is at times a baffling and eccentric journey for the first-time visitor, the opportunity to pay tribute to that heritage makes Prestwick a must-play, not just in Scotland, but for anyone who cherishes this great game.
Major Basil Haversham, OBE
Your guide to the greatest golf holidays in Scotland
Independent travellers: From the A77, follow signs for Prestwick Airport (north of Prestwick). Pass the airport and turn right at traffic lights about 800 yards after the airport; the club is about 400 yards down the road on the right hand side. From the car park, walk around the clubhouse to the left and report to the well-stocked pro shop just behind the first tee. See Big Stan, the caddie master, just inside the clubhouse for your caddies. Note all the bag tags from various clubs affixed to the shop walls. Perhaps you should leave one from your club. Visitor’s changing rooms are located in the clubhouse. Gentleman’s lunch (coat and tie) is available in the dining room Tuesdays through Fridays from 12:30 PM to 2:30 PM. Snack lunch (golf attire) is available in the Cardinal Room on the second floor weekdays from 10:00 AM to 3:30 PM. The club chef makes soups that are actually rather tasty indeed.