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Prestwick Golf Club Feature Review

By: Matt Holbrook | Fri 16 Jul 2021

Review by Golfshake Ambassador Matt Holbrook

It all began on 17th October 1860 when eight professional golfers assembled at Prestwick Golf Club in Ayrshire for a tournament to determine who would be the Champion Golfer.

The winner was to receive the Challenge Belt, a prize crafted from red Moroccan leather and worth £25 - which is now on display as you enter the clubhouse at Prestwick, sitting alongside a replica Claret Jug.

The competitors played three rounds of 12 holes, with Willie Park Snr beating Old Tom Morris by two shots. A year later, Prestwick announced that the tournament shall be open to all the world. Prestwick would last host The Open in 1925.

The History of Prestwick


Those original holes were laid out by Old Tom, with six of those greens still in play to this very day. In fact, the green of the 17th hole - The Alps - is the oldest existing hole in championship golf.

In 1864, Old Tom returned to St Andrews. His house was auctioned with the proceeds used to part-fund the construction of a new clubhouse on the present site in 1868. It cost £758.

The clubhouse was extended in 1877 to house 90 lockers, which are still in use today, and in 1882 Old Tom was called back to Prestwick and the course was extended to 18 holes.

A major re-development was completed in 1999 consolidating the clubhouse’s prominent position overlooking the first tee and 18th green.

Whilst not in its original location, the 1st hole now runs adjacent to the railway line which would have served as a key transport link to all visiting golfers over the years.

There is also a commemorative plaque that marks where the original first hole began, which is worth taking in before or after you play the hallowed links. A 578-yard par 5 which would stand a stern test in the modern era - let alone way back then.

Now, a haven for golfers from all over the world, Prestwick Golf Club dishes up a historical and raw test of golf on some of the most untouched landscapes possible, and gracing this hallowed turf is a pure charm.

Pre-Round thoughts


We spent a good 15 mins talking with club professional David Fleming, who manages an outstanding shop. He gave us a brief rundown of some of the hole layouts - especially on the land where the original 12 holes sit - as well as a nice friendly chat about our visit up and where else we had played.

You really get the impression that he wasn't just asking because he felt he had to, even though he must do it thousands of times a year.

We picked up course guides and scorecards and we met the caddie master by the first tee where he also talked a bit about some of the holes.

Your attention quickly turns to the first tee, and a strange silence surrounds you as you tee up and work out what the prefect line will be with your opening shot.

Front 9 Overview


Prestwick begins with one of the most famous opening holes in golf. As mentioned earlier, the 1st run adjacent with the railway - which is only separated from the fairway by the old stone wall that runs the full length of the hole.

Hitting around 200 yards will leave you short of the two bunkers between you and the green, which will then leave you a short to mid-iron into the green which is partially blind from the fairway - a theme that continues throughout.

The par 5 3rd is the first time when you may get a sense of how quirky the original layout would have been. Picking a line from the tee is a challenge, but at 477 yards from the white tees, bigger hitters may fancy their chances if they get it right.

Avoiding the huge Cardinal Bunker that sits about 230 yards from the tee will be key as landing in this - before the hole turns to the right - will not leave you much chance of advancing it very far. Certainly, a hole which you'd fancy playing a second time round.

More quirk comes at the 5th - the infamous Himalayas hole.

206 yards from the white tee, this par 3 plays up and over the large mound with a wall of sleepers on top. Taking aim at the appropriate mark on the sleepers depending on what tee you are playing from is the only play before making the journey up and over the mound before finding where your ball has come to rest.

As you finish this nine, you do so on the piece of land where the last six holes were added, and whilst you head back to that part of the course a bit later on the back nine, it's clear that the run of holes is there to test the golfer.

A good example of this was the 7th. Playing up the fairway and probably into the wind, avoiding the three deep pot bunkers on the right-hand side of the fairway - two of which are unsighted from the tee - is a tough task in itself.

If you manage that, at 430 yards, finding the surface on this par 4 is the next challenge as you'll more than likely have a long iron in hand, with yet more bunkers to avoid short, left and right. It’s easy to see why this is ranked the hardest hole on the course.

Back 9 Overview


The 10th plays out towards the coastline, with the Isle of Arran as a fitting backdrop. Again, into the wind, the tee sits at an angle to the fairway, club choice and line will be vital in both avoiding the two bunkers on the right of the fairway, and the solo one on the left.

Then playing uphill to a green that slopes from back to front, you'll be left with a tricky putt.

As you play the par 5 12th hole along the coastline, you start to head back towards the part of the grounds where the original 12 holes were. That famous quirkiness starts to become evident again on the approach to the green. The undulations and grassy mounds that surround the fairly small green leave a fun yet testing shot in - whether it be your second or third shot.

The 13th is a tougher par 4, playing back towards the town. It almost shares a fairway with the 16th hole and Willie Campbell's Bunker is hidden but ready to gobble up anything that strays away from the centre. The green complex is probably the most fun on the entire layout too. 

Holes 14-16 are all shorter in length, where driver may not be necessary, but picking the correct line from the tee could feel impossible. With sandy dunes, gorse, mounds and bunkers to avoid, the fairways are narrow and punishing but you can let that ride as you appreciate the historical nature of the land.

The 17th - which was the original 2nd hole - also has a blind second shot. Again, the narrow fairway requires a precise tee shot which may still leave a mid to longer iron for a second shot that plays up and over 'The Alps'. If your approach does fall short of the green you will be faced with a shot from the famous 'Sahara Bunker'.

It is worth checking the tee first as there is an indication of where the pin is postioned and that will correspond with the markers on top of The Alps.

As you head home, the 18th is a gentle finish with the grand clubhouse sitting proudly just off the back of the green, and is a fitting conclusion to what will truly be a memorable round of golf.

Additional Insights


The land where the original 12 holes sat are so much fun. They are different to what you might play normally, and yes, there are some tricky parts where you aren't entirely sure where to hit your ball. I would recommend the use of a caddie on your first visit. Even if it’s just one per group as that local knowledge may come in useful.

The other six holes are definitely sent to test you. The fairways are all visible and felt wider, but the sheer length and bunkering offers up a completely different challenge, but do complement the other holes well.

As long as you don't turn up at Prestwick expecting to fire in a good score, then you'll have a great time playing a historic golf course. If you normally aren't a fan of blind shots, then you really must leave that in the car as I would hate for it to take away from any enjoyment you should get playing here.

Post-Round Thoughts


The condition of the course, as you would expect, is superb. It’s not manicured to the nth degree which leaves the course raw and authentic - just as a layout with such prestige should be.

The greens are undulating and a great defence along with the narrow fairways with some gorse and heather sitting just off them in places, and where you avoid that the bunkers are waiting patiently. Some huge, some small. Some you may even want to go in.

Every golfer will enjoy this. If you are a bit wayward off the tee then expect to lose a few balls, but don't let this take away from the experience. If your short game isn't the best then expect a few three putts, maybe more, but again, it’s all part of the fun.

Overall, I can only share the joy I had when I had finished my round. It’s a bucket list golf course for many people and I can truly testify for how enjoyable the whole experience is. Golf purists will have an abundance of fun trying to navigate around this historical and prestigious course and take it exactly for what it is - golf in its pure, original form.

Overall Rating - 10

Course (Conditions) - 10

Course (Hole Variety/Layout) - 10

Course (Green Condition) - 10

Course (Challenge/Difficulty) - 9

Club Facilities & 19th/Clubhouse - 10

Practice Facilities - 8

Friendliness/Hospitality - 10

Pace of Play - 10

Value for Money - 9

Related Content: The Open Scotland Prestwick Golf Courses Courses

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