Prestwick Golf Club – Course Profile

Prestwick Golf Club
Prestwick, Ayrshire, SCOTLAND

6908 YARDS (PAR 71)
COURSE ARCHITECT: Old Tom Morris (1851)
LAST PLAYED: August 13, 2017.
LOW SCORE: 77 (+6)

– Golf Club Atlas 147 Custodians of the Game: #7
– Golf Magazine Top 100 Courses in the World 2020-21: #75
– Golf Digest World’s 100 Greatest Golf Courses (Outside USA) 2020: #66
– Britain and Ireland Top 100 2020: #38
– Top 100 Links Courses of Britain and Ireland 2020: #27

“The best playing experience in Scotland is augmented by a superlative range of two-shotters, from Sea Headrig to Narrows. It melds unconventional with traditional features to examine brawn, finesse and mental acuity. Prestwick’s impact on architecture can’t be overstated.”
Ran Morrissett, Golf Club Atlas, “147 Custodians of the Game 2018”

Golf had been played for years over the links at Prestwick before officially forming as a club on July 2nd, 1851. 57 prospective members purchased two cottages opposite the Red Lion Inn, with one of the cottages reserved for a clubhouse while the other would house the club’s Keeper of the Green, club and ball maker, the legendary Old Tom Morris.

Old Tom would uproot his family from St. Andrews and lay out the original 12-hole “cross-routed” design, one that would eventually host the first Open Championship in 1860, making Prestwick the “Birthplace of the Open Championship”.

Old Tom and his family would return to St. Andrews in 1865 but he would return once again in 1882 to help Prestwick expand to 18 holes after the club purchased more land to the north of its original layout. The cross-routing was eliminated as a result but six of the original greens are still used to this day, including those on the current 3rd (Cardinal), 13th (Sea Headrig) and 17th (Alps) holes.

The Open Championship has been contested at Prestwick 24 times, second only to The Old Course at St. Andrews, but hasn’t hosted the event since 1925. The list of Open Champions at Prestwick is incredibly impressive and includes most of golf’s great players from that time, including Old Tom Morris (four time Open Champion at Prestwick), his son Young Tom (four times), Willie Park Sr. (four times), Harry Vardon (three times) and James Braid (once).

While the course would likely still be a challenge for the world’s best, the land upon which the course lies and the surrounding infrastructure simply isn’t large enough to host an event of that magnitude any longer. Prestwick continues to regularly host major amateur championships, including the British Amateur, which has been played 11 times at the club, most recently in 2001.

Prestwick lies just off the Ayrshire coast and shares its northern boundary with Royal Troon GC. The course is well-known for its quirk, with many blind shots and some absolutely audacious features.

The course has one of the most famous first holes in the world of golf. “Railway” is a short 345 yard par four that features a brick wall running hard down the entire right hand side of the hole, with train tracks on the other side. The tee shot is very intimidating even though you only need a mid-to-long iron – anything more will run into long, thick rough, as the fairway tightens to almost walking path width about 50 yards from the green. An exhilarating start.

Your mind will officially be blown by the time you reach the third tee. This 530 yard par five, named “Cardinal”, forces the better player to keep driver in the bag and layup short of large cross-bunkers about 230 yards from the tee. When I reached my ball in the fairway, I still had absolutely no idea where the hole was going! Thank goodness for caddies! The second shot needs to be hit over the massive Cardinal bunker, where about 100 yards of hidden fairway and a devilish green await. Pow Burn also runs down the entire length of the hole on the right side and is considered out of bounds. This is one of the most famous and confounding holes in golf.

The quirk continues in earnest on the par three 5th hole, the famed “Himalayas”. This hole is 231 yards from the Championship tee and features a completely blind, uphill tee shot, with little coloured discs on the top of the wall indicating the line of play from each of the tee decks. The trouble continues near the green, with five pot bunkers lining the entire left hand side of the putting surface and one very-well placed pot bunker in the front right. As with many of the holes at Prestwick, you have to simply see it to believe it! Make sure you ring the bell upon completing the hole to let the group behind you know it’s safe to play.

The 6th through 9th holes move to the north end of the property, known as the Elysian Fields. The land here is much less severe than that closer to the clubhouse but the golf remains captivating throughout, as you get gorgeous views of the sea from the 7th green while the Isle of Arran beautifully frames the long par four 10th.

The last six holes at Prestwick all carry significant interest. The 13th hole, named “Sea Headrig”, is over 450 yards and has a landing area that runs tight alongside the 16th hole to the left. The heaving land will likely leave you with a sidehill lie of some sort and once you reach the putting surface, your work isn’t done by a longshot, as the green is likely the most severely sloped on the golf course. Bogeys and worse are commonplace here.

You have a fighting chance to regain any lost strokes on the short par four 14th hole, which plays back to the clubhouse. You’ll likely only need a mid-to-short iron approach to a green well-protected by bunkers but the putting surface is quite flat and putts can be made here.

One of my favourite holes at Prestwick is “Narrows”, the 353 yard par four 15th. It might be the most demanding drive on a course filled with them, with the land tumbling in all directions and lady luck playing a major role in the final destination of your tee shot. The approach shot is hit well uphill to a green that runs hard from front left to back right. Another thrilling hole!

The 16th hole is named “Cardinals Back” for the fact that the green sits right on top of the famous Cardinal bunker first seen on the par five 3rd hole. This 290 yard par four can certainly be driven by a longer player but any wayward shot will likely result in a bogey or worse. That said, layups off the tee will need to avoid the famous “Willie Campbell’s Grave” bunker perfectly located about 225 yards from the tee. The green slopes sharply from front to back and two pot bunkers await any strokes played long. Yet another strategic gem.

More greatness awaits on the mid-length par four 17th, the famed “Alps” hole. You need an exceptionally accurate drive to a narrow fairway to give you any chance of reaching the completely blind green located well uphill. The approach plays similar to the tee shot on the “Himalayas” hole but the big difference is that here, you will need to clear the perfectly named Sahara bunker that is hidden on the other side of the hill and will swallow every single shot that falls short of the green.

The 18th hole, named “Clock”, is a 288 yard par four that allows you the chance to finish in style but you’ll need to be accurate off the tee once again to have any chance of finishing with a birdie, as the fairway sits at an angle from the tee and four well-placed bunkers are sure to grab any shots hit offline.

Prestwick is a private club but liberal about allowing guest play most days of the week, calling it “The Prestwick Experience”. It’s an appropriate moniker, as you know you’ve taken a step back in time, so to speak, the minute you walk on the property. Every part of your day, whether it’s on the course or in the clubhouse, is special.

The clubhouse is a virtual museum, with replicas of the Claret Jug and Young Tom Morris’s Open Championship belt proudly displayed near the pro shop and many more precious artifacts located throughout the clubhouse and locker room areas. We played 36 holes on this day, breaking for lunch upstairs in their casual dining area and it was here where I sampled Kümmel, a very popular liqueur in the UK, for the first time.

That all said, the links at Prestwick are the real star. I will say that this course won’t enchant those that prefer to play a course where “everything is there right in front of you” – quirk and blind shots abound and you will need a bit of a whimsical approach to playing your game at Prestwick. The course contains so many famous holes but I’d still submit that Prestwick is much greater than the sum of its parts.

It’s been a year and a half since I visited and my thoughts on my experience at Prestwick grow stronger by the day. It’s an experience you simply can’t miss if you find yourself visiting the Ayrshire coast.

The classy and modest entry sign at Prestwick Golf Club
(Photo by Now on the Tee)


The smooth-swinging Dan G pipes one down the middle of the 1st fairway at Prestwick
(Original Photo Courtesy of Howard Riefs)


Anything more than a mid-iron off the 1st tee will have to deal with a fairway that narrows considerably beyond 200 yards
(Photo by Now on the Tee)


From fairway to railway; a brick wall runs down the entire right hand side of the tight 1st hole at historic Prestwick GC
(Photo by Now on the Tee)


A look back towards the 1st green from the 2nd tee, with the rail line and a hillside cemetery providing the backdrop
(Photo by Now on the Tee)


Our fearless leader Chris strikes his tee shot on the lovely par three 2nd hole
(Photo by Now on the Tee)


Matt S takes on the tee shot at the famous “Cardinal” hole at Prestwick
(Original Photo Courtesy of Howard Riefs)


The Cardinal bunker looms in the distance on the par five 3rd hole
(Original Photo Courtesy of Howard Riefs)


Figuring out the correct line on this blind second shot on Cardinal is imperative…the best line is just left of the cart path in the distance!
(Original Photo Courtesy of Howard Riefs)


Looking back toward the tee from the Cardinal bunker
(Original Photo Courtesy of Howard Riefs)


Ed M, who just so happens to be Matt Kuchar’s doppelganger, takes on the Himalayas, the famous par three 5th at Prestwick
(Original Photo Courtesy of Howard Riefs)


The bell behind the green on Himalayas, signifying to the group on the tee that the coast is clear for their blind tee shot
(Original Photo Courtesy of Howard Riefs)


Pow Burn weaves its way throughout the property at Prestwick GC
(Original Photo Courtesy of Howard Riefs)


Looking back down the 7th hole, called “Monkton Miln”, from behind the green
(Photo by Now on the Tee)


The approach to the rollicking par four 13th hole, “Sea Hedrig”
(Original Photo Courtesy of Howard Riefs)


The second shot on the short par four 14th, with the clubhouse in the background
(Original Photo Courtesy of Howard Riefs)


Yet another standout at Prestwick is the par four 15th hole, “Narrows”
(Photo by Now on the Tee)


Chris looks on as Dan hits his tee shot on the short par four 16th hole, “Cardinals Back”
(Original Photo Courtesy of Howard Riefs)


The group hits off the tee on the notorious “Alps” hole at Prestwick, a 394 yard par four
(Original Photo Courtesy of Howard Riefs)


A good look at the challenge that awaits off the tee on the “Alps” hole
(Photo by Now on the Tee)


Matt S and Stephen are dwarfed by the immense Alps bunker, completely hidden from view from the approach area
(Photo by Now on the Tee)


Another great shot of the massive Alps bunker
(Original Photo Courtesy of Howard Riefs)


The home hole, appropriately titled “Clock”, is on the left while the “Narrows” comes back the other way on the right
(Photo by Now on the Tee)


The entire gang in front of the clubhouse at Prestwick
(from left: Dan G, Stephen S, Andrew L, yours truly, Matt S, Ed M, Howard R, Chris H)


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