Prestwick Golf Club (Ayrshire, Scotland, UK)

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Prestwick is full of iconic holes, like the par-4 17th, the “Alps.”

As a total golf experience, Prestwick is as good as it gets.  It’s a wonderful layout with a collection of some of the best golf holes in the world.  It’s rich in history, having hosted the first 12 British Opens.  And it’s the most welcoming golf course I’ve ever visited.  I wish I could have spent a week there instead of playing the course only once.  But I’ll be back one day, and I encourage any serious golfer to journey there, as well.

The skinny

Prestwick is located in the Ayrshire region of Scotland on the country’s west coast.  The course was originally designed by Old Tom Morris and opened in the 1850s (!!).  It’s next-door neighbors with Royal Troon, and in the same neighborhood as Turnberry, Western Gailes, and Dundonald Links.

A round at Prestwick is 170 pounds during the week (appx. $210) and 195 pounds ($240) on the weekend.  On some weekdays, you can spend 190 pounds for the “Prestwick Experience,” which includes golf and lunch in the dining room with members.  A lot of courses have this same type of play/eat package, but word is that Prestwick’s dining experience is actually worth doing.  It’s supposed to be a jolly time.

What’s good about Prestwick?

The history:  Old Tom Morris originally designed Prestwick, and the first 12 British Opens were played there.  The clubhouse contains tons of memorabilia that makes it feel like you are visiting a museum.  I soaked it all in, it was a religious experience.

The layout:  Prestwick’s eclectic layout is the coolest I have ever seen.  There’s a great mix of funky holes that have blind tee shots and wild greens, and some straightforward holes too. They are all seamlessly routed so that the holes often play in different directions, as opposed to being a traditional out-and-back links.

The hospitality:  Prestwick is the most welcoming club I have ever played.  The club secretary greeted me by name as soon as I walked into the clubhouse and gave me a full tour.  The other members and staff I met were just as nice.  It’s an incredibly positive place.

The location:  Prestwick is about a 40 minute train ride from Glasgow, and the course is literally right next to the Prestwick train station.  When you exit, the clubhouse is the first building on your right.  Prestwick is also right next to an international airport, from where you could probably walk to the course if you were up to it.

What’s bad about Prestwick?

The speed of the greens:  I’m nitpicking here.  The greens were in good shape, but they rolled at different speeds.  I think the main reason is that some of the greens have crazy undulations to them, so the groundskeepers maintain them at a slower speed than other greens to keep them manageable.  I never really got a good feel for the greens when I played.  Perhaps that is part of the course’s quirkiness.

Playing it only once:  Like most visitors, I played just one round at Prestwick, which is a shame.  There is so much to take in at Prestwick that one round there is an injustice.  It probably takes a dozen rounds to truly appreciate the nuances of the course.

Specific holes

All yardages are from the 6,551 medal tees, the longest that average-joe visitors like me are allowed to play.  Please note I was having camera issues when I played, so I don’t have my usual array of photos.

First hole, 345 yards (“Railway”):  Prestwick’s opener is rightfully considered one of the most famous in golf.  It runs parallel to the railroad tracks on the right, and an old stone wall separates the tracks from the fairway.  Anything over the wall to the right is out-of-bounds, so the tendency is to aim left off the tee.  But there’s some high grass and bunkers to the left, as well as a huge dune that can lead to blind approach shot.  As a result, the ideal tee shot is one that gets as close to the wall on the right without going over.  It’s a *fun* opening tee shot, particularly when everyone near the clubhouse and practice green is watching.

Third hole, 477 yards (“Cardinal”):  Just two holes following one of the most famous opening holes in golf is one of the more renowned par-5s, the Cardinal.  The tee shot is interesting.  About 230 yards from the tee is a huge bunker, followed by small patch of fairway that used to be a green in a previous iteration of the course, which is then followed by the famous Cardinal bunker, a massive bunker that has the shape of an oil spill, and I mean that in a good way.  The best tee shot lays up short of the first bunker.  From there, the hole bends hard to the right.  The bold player can reach the green in two with a daring shot over the Pow burn and some out-of-bounds beyond it.  The alternative is to layup to the left to the bumpy fairway.  There are no bunkers around the green, but there is a large swale on the back side that can make for a tough up-and-down.

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The Cardinal bunker on No. 3.

Fifth hole, 206 yards (“Himalayas”):  The tee shot on this famous par-3 is probably the most demanding shot on the course.  There’s a massive dune (the Himalayas) between the tee and the green that (1) makes the tee shot blind, and (2) requires golfers to get a long iron or fairway wood airborne to clear the dune.  The green is heavily bunkered and slopes quite severely from the back to front.  The key to successfully playing this hole is to aim where your caddie tells you to, strike a pure tee shot, take some pictures from atop the Himalways, take two putts, then ring the bell beyond the green so the group behind you knows it’s all clear.

10th hole, 453 yards (“Arran”):  I mentioned that Prestwick has a nice mix of bizarre holes and straightforward holes.  The long par-4 10th is one of the straightforward ones.  The hole is slightly uphill with a long, narrow fairway and a bunkerless green.  There’s no hidden tricks on this hole, you can see everything you need to from the tee.  Even so, the length of the hole and the fact it often plays into the wind makes it one of the toughest holes on the course.

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Nothing too quirky about No. 10…just straight up the hill.

13th hole, 458 yards (“Sea Headrig”):  Tom Doak’s Confidential Guide to Golf Courses calls Prestwick’s 13th “one of the most confounding holes ever built.”  One of the writers at Golf Club Atlas considers the 13th his favorite two-shot hole in golf.  So what’s the deal?  It’s a beast of a hole with a beautiful undulating fairway that flows right into one of the more severely sloped greens you’ll ever lay eyes on.  The slope has to be at least six feet from the front of the green uphill toward the back.  Anything that doesn’t reach the latter half will roll down toward the front, leaving a putt that no person has ever struck until reaching this green.  Par here is a great achievement.

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The rolling fairway on the great 13th hole…
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Continues rolling into the green…talk about uphill!

17th hole, 394 yards (“Alps”):  On a course full of famous holes, the 17th is the crown jewel.  It’s got it all: a tee shot to a narrow fairway, a blind second shot over a massive dune (the Alps), and a punchbowl green with a huge Sahara bunker in front.  From a scoring standpoint, the approach to the green is critical.  The Sahara bunker short of the green is bad news.  And the large punchbowl green has a huge slope at the back, so any shot long or offline will leave a very tough two-putt.

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The approach shot from the narrow 17th fairway is blind.  Aim where your caddie tells you to.
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After a climb over the Alps, golfers are blessed with one of the most iconic views in golf.

18th hole, 288 yards (“Clock”):  Like a lot of the great Scottish links courses, Prestwick ends with a short par-4.  Aim toward the clubhouse off the tee.  A decent drive anywhere near the green sets up for a legit birdie chance.  It’s a pleasant way to end a fun round.

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Blast your tee shot toward the tower sticking up behind the clubhouse (left part of the photo) on the 18th, and you’ll have a good chance to finish with a birdie.

Miscellaneous thoughts – get a caddie

I recommend getting a caddie while playing at any well-regarded course in Scotland.  It enhances the overall experience, and you’re already paying a lot of money just for golf.   But if you want to be picky about it, definitely choose Prestwick as one of the courses to have a caddie.  Because of the blind shots and quirkiness of the layout, first timers at Prestwick will have no idea where to hit the ball without someone telling them.  The photo above of the 18th hole is a great example.  The 18th green is to the left, while the 14th green and 15th fairway are to the right.  A newbie to Prestwick might think to aim down the 15th fairway to the 14th green.  Trust me, it’s a much better experience to spend the extra pounds for a caddie.

Conclusion 

Prestwick doesn’t get the notoriety that the courses in the Open rota get (including its neighbor Royal Troon).  But it’s a must-play on any trip to Scotland.

Report card

Design:  A+.  Great routing and several great holes.
Condition:  B+.  Good, but crispy in some spots, and inconsistent greens.
Enjoyability:  A+.  As an overall golf experience, Prestwick is hard to beat.
Value:  A-.  Pricey but worth the experience.
Overall grade:  A.

-AB

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