In the year that Abraham Lincoln was voted into the White House, the first British Open (something you must never call it in the U.K., where it's simply "the Open Championship") was played at Prestwick. In retrospect, that venue for the oldest major tournament of the ancient game seems fitting, Scotland being the heart of golf and Ayrshire being at least arguably the heart of golf in Scotland. There can be no argument that Ayrshire has the most golf in Scotland: forty-four courses for roughly the population of Cincinnati, fifteen almost touching one another in the Troon-Prestwick area alone -- a singular extravagance in the nation known for parsimony. Picking a dozen courses out of the wealth of golf in Ayrshire is a difficult and ultimately dreadful task. We have done it, but be warned: Some wonderful courses are not listed here. And that will become apparent on the awful day when you fail to get a tee time on the course you have set your sights on and have to "settle" for a round somewhere else. Often enough it will be that course whose memory you will cherish most.
This historic course was laid out by Old Tom Morris, who spent fourteen years here before returning to his beloved St. Andrews. It has been the site of the Open Championship twenty-three times since it hosted the first, in 1860. The Open was last played at Prestwick in 1925; MacDonald Smith was mobbed during the final round that year, and tournament officials realized that crowd control here was no longer possible. Still, it will be the site of this year's Scottish Amateur and the 2001 British Amateur. Many of the holes remain unchanged since Morris laid them out almost 150 years ago. A plaque on the fourteenth hole commemorates the starting point of the old twelve-hole course; it was then a 578-yard par five, on which Young Tom Morris recorded a nearly unthinkable three during one of his Open victories. As Bernard Darwin wrote of it: "Nowhere is to be found a more beautiful stretch of what is called 'natural golfing country'. . . A man is probably less likely to be contradicted in lauding Prestwick than in singing the praises of any other course in Christendom."
Course description: Prestwick is a traditional links course, with fescue tees, fairways and greens. If it has an unkempt look, that is because the members are bent an preserving the authentic links character of the course. Heather and gorse border the playing areas, and typically hellish Scottish bunkers, some of which cannot be seen from the tee, can make for disastrous scores. Fairways are far the most part narrow, with undulating and often small greens that make far challenging pin placements. On calm days, the course can be forgiving, but when the wind blows in from the Firth of Clyde, Prestwick can became exasperating.
Year opened: 1851
Par: 71 (6,544 yards)
Signature holes: Many consider the 505-yard third, called the Cardinal, the best par five in the world. The second shot has to carry a huge bunker heed with railway ties ("sleepers" in the U.K.) and cut the corner toward a sharp-right dogleg for position to approach a tiny green. The 195-yard par three fifth, known as the Himalayas, requires a blind tee shot guided only by a direction post.
How to get a tee time: While not essential, a letter of introduction from your club is useful, and you must contact Prestwick in advance. The public is welcome at any time except weekends and Thursday afternoons.
Contact: Club Secretary lan Bunch, Prestwick Golf Club, 2 Links Road, Prestwick, Scotland KA9 1QG
Pro: Frank Rennie
Caddiemaster: Stan Craig
Rentals: Clubs and pull-carts
Dress Code: Visitors are members for the day, so they have access to all facilities except the traditional dining room, which is "men only." The Cardinal Room upstairs is open to all. The nineteenth-century clubhouse is a veritable museum of golf artifacts, with golf clubs mare than three hundred years old-a great place far a past-round drink.
Directions from Troon: Follow signs for the Prestwick Airport. The town of Prestwick lies about a half mile beyond. Once you're in town, take a right at the first traffic signal to reach the golf club.
Good local pub: The Red Lion, a quarter mile away in the town of Prestwick, was a meeting place far the members as far back as the 1850s.