Prestwick Golf Course

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What we say

For fans of links golf, a round at Prestwick is as essential as a round at the Old Course. 

It is surely not possible to begin to think of oneself as a connoisseur of links golf and a student of the game until a round has been savoured at Prestwick. This is as close to an essential experience for the discerning golfer as the Old Course is. 

It sits within the small group of Top 100 Courses in Great Britain and Ireland that radiate a mystique. There are fewer of them than you might think among the elite, but Prestwick has the same priceless, effortless qualities as North Berwick, Machrihanish and Royal Dornoch. Swinley Forest and New Zealand would be two more that beguile in an old- fashioned, ‘glad to be alive’ manner – albeit on very different terrain. 

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Host of the first 12 Open Championships, it feels very much as if the town grew in around the famous course. And one can easily imagine folk swarming onto the links after stepping off the train a matter of yards from the 1st tee, as they did on the final day of the 24th and final Open here in 1925, when Scotsman Macdonald Smith was beaten by England’s Jim Barnes in part owing to the 10,000-strong crowds. 

All golfers have surely heard of Prestwick and those that enjoy travelling to play the game will have it on their radar. Yet it is arguably grossly underrated given its history – only the Old Course has hosted more Opens – and the quality of the links. Golfers will come to Ayrshire to play Turnberry and Troon without playing here; to this golfer, that is inexplicable. 

There is so much to like at Prestwick, which lets its course do its talking, even if the lunch is legendary, the clubhouse’s memorabilia a mini museum and the people unfailingly welcoming. 

In many ways, Prestwick is the most classic of all the classic courses in the British Isles. It is old-fashioned, eccentric, traditional links golf at its very best, with all the inherent quirks and characteristics which this implies. Many of the fairways look like moonscapes; with humps, bumps and hollows all over the place. At 6,910 yards, it is certainly not long when compared with modern behemoths; and yet if you stray from the straight and narrow, the penalties are very severe; as the myriads of golf balls in the formidable, coarse rough, heather and briars will testify. There are also blind shots galore; a particular problem for modern-day professionals apparently, who regard these as ‘unfair’. The fools. A century-and-a-half ago, blind shots were all part of the ‘challenge’ of the game.

REVIEW: Royal Troon, Old Course

The greens on many of the holes are the size of thumb-nails and have slopes on them which are knock-me-over-with-a-feather astonishing. “The greens at Prestwick are there all right,’ comments the great American writer, Dan Jenkins, “but you never see them until you are on them, which is usually eight or 10 strokes after leaving the tee”.

There can be few more intimidating places to stand than on the first tee here. A couple of yards behind you, you can feel the gaze of the Secretary, boring into the back of your head from his office; and however hard you try to ignore it, you cannot help but see the Ayr-Glasgow railway line, running tight (very tightly) all the way down the right side of the hole.  

If you are going to build a stone wall to stop golf balls shooting out of bounds onto a railway line, then you need to build it 33 feet high rather than three-and-a-half feet. The latter construction provides little obstacle to the nervy first-shot-of-the-day-played-when-you’re-a-touch-stiff slice. From the first tee, the fairway is only just visible and looks impossibly narrow; and a bail out left seems a poor option due to thick heather.

A man has enough trouble striking it straight and true in such circumstances, without the added threat of the public address system at Prestwick station (no more than a mashie niblick from the tee) announcing that the 10.19 to Glasgow Central has been delayed because of leaves on the line!

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Greeting you on approach to the 1st is a sign: ‘How to Play the 1st at Prestwick - 1 Aim at the white marker post; 2 Hit mid-long iron into landing area; 3 Hit mid- short iron into green’. 

Despite the difficulties, it is said Bernard Darwin once witnessed a two at this glorious 346-yard par-4 opener (not surprisingly called ‘Railway’) by someone who hit the railway line twice, his first shot rebounding into the middle of the fairway, and his second rebounding into the hole! That Darwin never wrote about it may suggest it is more folklore than reality. 

Nick Faldo rates Prestwick. He says that if you want to get some original design ideas, there is nowhere better to go than Prestwick – better even than the Old Course at St Andrews. And he has done so. Perhaps not that surprising Faldo would view Prestwick as a breeding ground for original design ideas, yet a modern architect would never dare build the greens at the 13th or 15th holes, for example, for fear of being laughed at.

There are others… the 5th (the original ‘Himalayas’ from which so many other courses have borrowed the name for one of their holes) is a blind 205-yard par 3, played over a massive dune, to a well-bunkered green.

The 3rd, otherwise known as Cardinal, is an extraordinarily eccentric par 5 which bends around to the right, following the line of the Pow Burn, and features the devilish, sleeper-faced Cardinal bunker. At the 15th, ‘Narrows’, (the first hole of the final ‘loop’, often used in after-dinner matches) you can split the pencil-thin fairway with your tee shot, and still find yourself about eight yards from rough on either side, and then you are faced with a blind approach to another heavily sloping and treacherous green.

The 17th was described by six-time Open Champion, Harry Vardon, as “the finest hole to be found on any links”. It is called ‘Alps’, and is unlike any hole anywhere in the world. Your drive has to be long enough to convince you that you can carry the enormous dune ahead, with your second shot. Only a well-stuck mid-iron will suffice; and more often than not you scamper up the dune, full of hope at seeing your ball on the green, only to discover it has been devoured by the horribly deep and deeply horrible Sahara bunker.

Like all the hazards at Prestwick, this bunker has seen a lot of history, and it was from here that Freddie Tait played his miraculous ‘water’ shot in the final of the 1899 Amateur Championship, when his ball was floating in the flooded bunker, and he somehow clipped it onto the green.

Prestwick is full of tales, and fun.

RELATED: Golf World Top 100 Links Courses in Great Britain and Ireland

  • Course Summary

  • Costs -
  • TG Rating 4.5 out of 5
  • Players Rating 3.8 out of 5
  • Address
    2-4 Links Road, , PRESTWICK
  • Tel 01292 477404
  • Website www.prestwickgc.co.uk

Course Information

Course 71 par
Course Style -
Green Fees -
Course Length 6,544 yards (5,984 metres)
Holes -
Difficulty -
Course Membership -

Course Features

  • Course has: Bar
  • Course does not have: Buggy Hire
  • Course has: Driving Range
  • Course does not have: Practice Green
  • Course has: Pro Shop
  • Course has: Restaurant
  • Course has: Trolley Hire
  • Course does not have: Dress Code
  • Course has: Club Hire
  • Course has: Handicap

Your Reviews

  • 4 out of 5 nVLVo MfW vFju

    By zCkntalkUc

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  • 3.5 out of 5 unique and hostoric

    By clay

    The first ever open was held at prestwickand the whole plaze oozes tradition and history. The belt the early guys won is here and if you ask - you can get a look at it...   the course is quirky and tricky in place but lacks the length and conditioning of neighbours - like troon. well worth playing though and you need to be straight... greens were a bit dicey when i played but onmly because they had just been hollotined...

  • 4 out of 5 In my top 10

    By Anonymous

    Just rugged and natural and wonderful. No frills, just good honest golf as it should be. I loved its quirkiness and its natural feel. It's in my top 10 of all time

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