Old Tom Morris, Charlie Hunter, Braid/Hilton, Alistair Mackenzie
Historic, Open Championship links, with a 'collective devilry' among the dunes.
Ayrshire coast. Postcode: KA9 1QG
Ken Goodwin
01292 477404
David Fleming
Green Keeper
Murray Stuart
prestwick golf club, 1860 open championship, boodle's,
prestwick golf club, 1860 open championship, boodle's,
Access Policy:
Visitors welcome by arrangement
Dog Policy:
welcomed under control
Open Meetings:
Fees in 1960s
Fees today


What a delight it was to visit the finest golf club on the west coast of Scotland again. Prestwick is not a grand club; the entrance road leads along the rear of the clubhouse and the most historic cairn in golf

prestwick golf club, 1860 open championship, boodle's,

First Open Championship first tee

stands desolately unattended some distance away from what actually is an attractive clubhouse building with spacious and impressive facilities that retain harmony with, for example, the 90 original golf lockers still in use. 

Old Tom Morris became ‘keeper of the green, ball and clubmaker’  and laid out the original 12 hole course in 1851 before returning to St Andrews in 1864.

There is much interesting golfing memorabilia on display including beautiful replicas of the Claret Jug and its predecessor the red leather belt with silver clasps and buckle.

This is where the first Open Championship (the world’s oldest professional tournament) took place from 1860 and that cairn marks the spot where the winners (number of Open wins in brackets) Willie Park Senior (4), Old (4) and Young (4) Tom Morris, Andrew Strath (1), Jamie Anderson (3), Bob Ferguson (3) played their opening strokes to the original twelve hole course, later raised to eighteen in 1882 by Charlie Hunter, the most famous new holes being the first and fourth. In all, Prestwick hosted 24 Open Championships.

prestwick golf club, 1860 open championship, boodle's, claret jug

The Open Championship claret jug and belt

Prestwick invited The Royal and Ancient and the Honourable Company of Edinburgh Golfers to share the hosting of The Open after 1872, while the first amateur to win, Johnny Ball of Hoylake, won at Prestwick in 1890 beating the public’s heart-throb Freddie Tait, a Scottish amateur. Three of Harry Vardon’s (member of the Great Triumvirate with James Braid and JH Taylor) six Open Championship wins came here at Prestwick.

Prestwick’s final Open was in 1925 when the size (15,000) and enthusiasm of the crowd overshadowed proceedings in the final round. Bernard Darwin, the doyen of golf journalists, described the occasion: “…the crowd wanted the Scotsman (Macdonald Smith) to win and all that was wrong was that too many of them wanted it too much”!

This great links course, again if I may use another eloquent description by Bernard Darwin as, “coming first in point of collective devilry” has hosted The Amateur Championship eleven times, the most recent being in 2001.

prestwick golf club, 1860 open championship, boodle's,

The 16th green

Prestwick is the closest of any Scottish golf club, with Muirfield, to being like a St James’s gentleman’s club. A member, who knows about these things, told me it is more akin to the 250 year old Boodle’s than White’s! The essence of the Club is in being well looked after and the staff and members have equal respect for each other.

A single table in the dining room ensures that everyone has to get to know everyone else, whether members or visitors, and the catering, almost more important than the golf, is first class. Metzendorff (softer than Wolfschmidt, please note) Kummel is often drunk as a digestive before the afternoon round and in this respect I have to admit to spreading some inaccuracy about Prestwick. A member once informed me that they drink buckets of Kummel. Thereafter, whenever somebody was going to play at Prestwick, I would helpfully advise them to make sure to request a bucket of Kummel, thinking that this was a quaint, unique glass from which Kummel was drunk while here! I have now discovered my error but on reflection I still rather like the concept.

prestwick golf club, 1860 open championship, boodle's,

The famous railway first hole

I was very lucky recently to experience the course early in the morning in bright sunshine and only a zephyr of a one-club wind.

Let nobody accuse the club of wallowing too much in tradition; the hillsides of gorse around the first, fifteenth and eighteenth holes have all been removed leaving the view at the first hole more open. Nevertheless this does not necessarily make the world famous first drive alongside the railway line any easier, as I inevitably showed by topping my 3-iron to the, I’m sure, quiet amusement of those watching.

To regain a semblance of dignity I would like to add that, playing from the white tees (6551 yards, par 71, SSS 73), I was having so much fun and concentrating that I was only one over par after nine holes and, almost embarrassingly, six up before my gracious opponent from the tobacco trade came strongly back at me.

prestwick golf club, 1860 open championship, boodle's, cardinal

The Cardinal’s green

The third (‘Cardinal’) and seventeenth (‘Alps’) epitomise for me the enjoyment to be had across this finest of links, that incorporates loops across the ‘Elysian Fields’ for holes six to nine, and a finishing loop of fifteen to eighteen, after the fourteenth has returned to the clubhouse. These two holes were designed in the age of the gutty ball and hickory clubs when penal bunkers across the fairway were regarded as normal for catching the topped ball. Nevertheless with modern equipment both holes still challenge your mind, judgement and technique.

prestwick golf club, 1860 open championship, boodle's, sea hedrig

Sea Hedrig’s green

The gorgeous bumps and hollows in the approaches and green aprons to both the Cardinal and the thirteenth hole (‘Sea Hedrig’) had me scratching my head and, having hit two great shots to the front right of Sea Hedrig’s green, I had to go up to my nine iron for my bump-and-run in order to pitch to the correct landing. Surely this is what enjoyable golf is all about.

It is fascinating that these three holes, regarded as the toughest on the course are original Old Tom Morris holes from 1851 and there are three other original greens, the second, 15th and 16th.

The Pow Burn infests both the Cardinal and fourth hole (‘Bridge’) where JH Taylor came adrift in The Open of 1914, flirting too daringly with the burnside and I was lucky to gain my par three at the blind fifth hole (‘Himalayas’) over an enormous dune and into the easterly wind, after playing a badly judged bump-and-run but great recovery putt.

The four holes of the Elysian Fields are a respite from the trickery elsewhere but none the easier for that, each requiring true, straight hitting, three of these four holes being over 430 yards.

prestwick golf club, 1860 open championship, boodle's, the alps

The Alps green

From the ninth back tee one can look beyond the caravan site to the end of the Royal Troon course. The two clubs have a very sociable match each year where the players walk alongside the caravan park to play both ‘half’ courses, have lunch and return in the afternoon for the second double ‘halves’.

Most people would consider that the finest courses all have a challenging finish and that, in modern thinking, often means being stretchy. Prestwick confounds this idea with its last four holes, all par fours averaging out at only 330 yards each. The eighteenth titillates by being almost drivable, while the other three are so idiosyncratic they make wonderful match-play holes.

prestwick golf club, 1860 open championship, boodle's,

The Cardinal’s fairway and penal bunkers

I must thank the Secretary and Club Archivist for their indulgence and especially Murray Stuart, the head greenkeeper with 35 years under his belt here, for inviting me to lie down across the first green with him so we could discuss his agronomy in detail! He surely keeps alive being the perfect gentleman in honour of Charlie Hunter a ‘custodian of the links’ predecessor, who served for 53 continuous years.

Murray showed me some small patches of fine fescue grass that they encourage, though the policy to cut the greens at 3mm can’t help. He did point out that the greens are regularly aerated and the definition of the mowing height does depend on which method is used for measuring it, which I took to mean that it may be more like the equivalent of 4mm elsewhere. Nevertheless for an amateur it was not surprising to me that the predominant grass is brown-top bent among annual meadow grass (Poa annua).

As I suggested at the start, Prestwick is simply the finest golf club on the West of Scotland and with Royal Troon scores five stars on the ‘joy to be alive’ rating. One small tip: Try to avoid Mondays as the main dining room is closed that day!



Reader Comments

On July 31st, 2013 michael estorick said:

The finest dining room and lunch in all golf, in my opinion.

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