|Gorse is a familiar sight at Prestwick Golf Club, home of the first British Open. (Brandon Tucker/GolfPublisher.com)|
The Ayrshire golf course hosted the first British Open in 1860 and the next 11 after that, but by 1925 the tournament had moved on to bigger, longer venues.
But if you think Prestwick is an obsolete pitch 'n' putt, think again. You'll certainly revise your opinion by the time you finish the stretch from No. 7 to No. 10, a quartet of par 4s ranging from 430 to 455 yards from the middle tees that play uphill and often into wind.
Prestwick was a lot shorter for that first Open - only 12 holes, in fact. Willie Park shot rounds of 55, 59 and 60 to beat the course's designer Old Tom Morris, and 10 other competitors.
These days the golf course is a healthy 6,544 yards from the whites, longer than regular Open venue the Old Course at St. Andrews from its commonly used yellows.
Still, apart from that brutal stretch of mid-round par 4s, accuracy is paramount here, as gorse and rough is grown thick. Prestwick is Old Tom at his quirkiest.
First-timers will be left a little clueless at times, beginning with No. 1, where the landing zone is difficult to identify (members who greet guests at the first tee say a mid-iron is the only play). The fifth is a long par 3 that plays straight uphill; finding the green is sheer guesswork.
"It's important that anyone who comes for the first time they take a caddie," club Secretary Ian Bunch said. "The [fifth] hole is blind but the green doesn't move, so if you know which hill to hit over you've got a chance of hitting it close. It's interesting, but it's a course you've got to get to know."
The closing holes provide a few chances for redemption. No. 14 thru 16 are all short, but dunes and gorse off the fairway make them tricky. The 17th is a challenge, with the massive Sahara bunker hiding over the crest before the green.
The 284-yard par-4 18th offers a drive-and-pitch birdie opportunity as members hang around on the connected practice green eying your finish. The green is about three paces from the parking lot, so take care not to launch your drive into the windshield of a member's car.
Prestwick Golf Club's Open Championship days may be long past, but it's still an elite course that hosts big-time events, including the Scottish Amateur and British Senior Championship. The club hopes to attract a future Walker Cup.
As at most of Scotland's classic links, conditions are very good and the greens are fast, firm and true. If you've only got the dough to splurge for a caddie one or two times on your trip, make this one of them (it'll run you £35); the course can make a confusing first impression.
Green fees are £105 for a round (£135 on Sundays) and £160 for a day ticket. Handicap cards are required; men must have a 24 or lower, women no more than a 28.
Prestwick abuts Royal Troon, so the two make a great one-two punch. On long summer days you can get in rounds at both.
The one downside to Prestwick is its location in a major transit hub. Glasgow-Prestwick International, Great Britain's third-largest airport, sits right off the course, and planes fly overhead constantly. A foot-wide stretch of rough and a small stone wall is all that separates the first fairway from a train station that sees regular traffic.
The Old Course Hotel across the street from the course is a cozy B&B-type house that also serves lunch and dinner and has a bar. If you're going to be in Ayrshire and South Ayrshire a few days and want a five-star option, the Westin Turnberry is a half hour south.
The clubhouse dining room serves reasonably priced sandwiches, burgers and more. You can also get meals at the Old Course Hotel, or head into Prestwick town and try any number of small pubs and restaurants.
The first British Open offered no prize money; the winner got custody of the Challenge Belt for the year. If the winner won three in a row, the belt was his to keep. Young Tom Morris accomplished this threepeat in 1868-70.
May 2, 2007
Brandon Tucker is the Managing Editor for Golf Channel Courses & Travel. To date, his golf travels have taken him to over two dozen countries and over 500 golf courses worldwide. While he's played some of the most prestigious courses in the world, Tucker's favorite way to play the game is on a great muni in under three hours.
Any opinions expressed above are those of the writer and do not necessarily represent the views of the management.
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