PRESTWICK, Scotland – Every golf course has its own defining characteristics, but none has the pedigree of Prestwick Golf Club.
Stepping upon the grounds, a visitor would not suspect that the first British Open was contested here, in 1860, nor that Old Tom Morris laid out the golf course from scratch, having only the railway, Pow Burn and the Irish Sea as its boundaries.
The original 12-hole layout, on which Willie Park Sr. defeated Morris by two shots in the inaugural Open, since has been upgraded and expanded to 18 holes.
The history of Prestwick is intoxicating. It is where Morris’ son, Young Tom, set an Open scoring record that will never be equaled, shooting a 47 over 12 holes in 1870, which included a 3 on the par-6, 587-yard first hole.
Prestwick is also where the younger Morris set the record of three successive Open victories, earning permanent possession of the Championship Belt before the tournament was suspended in 1871 because there was no prize available. In 1872, the son introduced the era of the Claret Jug with his fourth title, at age 21. He died three years later.
Prestwick was extended to 18 holes in 1882, but sadly, after 24 British Opens, the last coming in 1925 when American Jim Barnes defeated Archie Compton and Ted Ray by one shot, Prestwick was deemed to be too small to host the tournament.
With a modern clubhouse and pro shop, Prestwick has little resemblances to the days of Morris. Outside, golf history is inscribed all over the walls, with the names of previous Open winners such as Old Tom Morris and Young Tom Morris, Willie Park Sr. and Willie Park Jr., Jamie Anderson, Bob Ferguson, Jack Simpson, John Ball (the first amateur to win the Open), Willie Auchterlonie and Harry Vardon.
Step onto the first tee, a small teeing ground, with the railway tracks to the right and seemingly no fairway in front on the mere 345-yard hole, and absorb the journey into history that is about to unfold.
With holes named Tunnel, Himalayas, Goosedubs and Alps, Prestwick offers memorable experiences at every turn.
With so many changes to the existing layout, the original work of Old Tom Morris can be difficult to determine. This chart below will help:
2015 green | 1851 green
2 | 3 Tunnel (Red) and 6 Tunnel (White)
3 | 4 Wall
13 | 5 Sea Headrig
15 | Lunch House
16 | 1 Back of Cardinal
17 | 2 Alps
A view up the fairway to the 10th green and the Isle of Arran in the distance. While the hole appears flat and open, the region’s regular rains and winds help defend the hole. (Photo: Mark Alexander, courtesy of Prestwick Golf Club)
Prestwick, located on the South Ayrshire coast, is prone to the influence of weather, which can sometimes be extreme. Prestwick should be played when there is a little wind to fully experience the historic course in its element.
- Hire a caddie. At the very least, buy a yardage guide. Always, no matter what, carry rain gear. An umbrella is worthless if the Irish Sea and the Firth of Clyde grow testy.
- The golf course is about a half-mile from the center of town, which offers plenty of shopping and eating options.
- Lido on nearby Main Street features seafood, Italian dishes and a fabulous steak. After a round of golf, diners will want to linger and enjoy the food and atmosphere.
Alex Miceli is the founder and publisher of Morning Read.