Prestwick Golf Club
Ayrshire, Scotland, United Kingdom

Thirteenth hole, 460 yards, Sea Headrig; This is the author’s favorite two shot hole in golf. Why? In addition to its outstanding golf qualities, the hand of man is undetectable. When Old Tom Morris brought this hole into being in 1851, heavy equipment was non-existent. Nature’s random, wind-swept landforms of human size and scale are perfectly preserved and presented along the hole’s entire length. Old Tom smoothed over a top of a dune (some say not near enough!) and created one of the world’s most despicably clever green sites. There is not a bunker (i.e. a man-made artifice) within 170 yards of the green because none is required – the landforms as massaged by Old Tom are plenty. After Allan Robertson’s death in 1859, no one better knew what constituted good golf than Old Tom Morris. Unshackled by convention, he created a hole that remains both merciless and infinitely fascinating, attributes that modern architects are seldom able to pair. Thanks to a shared fairway with sixteen, the golfer can play Sea Headrig year after year without losing a ball but at the same time it is also likely to play the most over Old Man Par of any hole on the course.

Its fairway is shared with the sixteenth, so, the golfer can play Sea Headrig year after year without losing a ball.  It also likely to play the most over Old Man Par of any hole on the course.

The thirteenth fairway is shared with the sixteenth. In fact, this golfer is in a bunker made famous by exploits from the sixteenth hole. As his tee ball finished close to the bunker face, the golfer has no choice but to pitch out. He is still left with a third shot of 160 yards into the infamous Sea Headrig green complex.

Sorry Alister MacKenzie, Augusta National and Cypress Point. The author picks Sea Headrig as his favorite thirteenth hole in world golf. The essence of golf has and always will be how the ball reacts along the ground. There is no better example than the thirteenth green complex at Prestwick.

Sorry Alister MacKenzie, Augusta National and Cypress Point. The author picks Sea Headrig as his favorite thirteenth hole in world golf. The essence of golf has and always will be how the ball reacts along the ground. There is no better example than the thirteenth green complex at Prestwick.

One definition of truculent is ‘aggressively defiant.’ If ever a green complex could be deemed truculent, it is this one.

One definition of truculent is ‘aggressively defiant.’ If ever a green complex could be deemed truculent, it is this one.

Fifteenth hole, 355 yards, Narrows; Aptly named, the plunging fairway is the hardest to find on the course. Grass covered hummocks abound and the fairways disappears over a ridge. Even the golfer who is playing well can become unsettled at the prospect of launching a tee ball over such obvious trouble to an unseen, convoluted fairway. Dislodging a golfer from his comfort zone is the object of any good design and Prestwick succeeds at this with flying colors. The approach is nearly as frustrating as the top of the flag is all that is visible on a green that produces numerous three putts.

The twisting narrow fairway is blind from the tee. The tee ball needs to clear the bunker in the foreground and avoid two more farther ahead along the right.

Golfers who think a green should be receptive will have conniption fits once they climb the final ridge and gain a view of the fifteenth putting surface.

Golfers who think a green should be receptive will have a conniption after they climb the final ridge and gain a view of the fifteenth putting surface. The drop from high left to low right is over four feet.

Sixteenth hole, 290 yards, Cardinal Back; Several great pairs of consecutive short two-shotters exist. The eighth and ninth at Cypress Point and the seventh and eighth at Sand Hills spring to mind. The fifteenth and sixteenth at Prestwick are in the same class and have the benefit of playing wildly different from one another even though they head in the same general direction. While the tee ball is exacting at the fifteenth, the sixteenth fairway rubs against the thirteenth and much more latitude is afforded. Yet, the sixteenth green features the boldest interior contours on the course, including a back bowl that sucks balls to the rear. Two of the most perilous bunkers on the course are found at sixteen where Willie Campbell’s Grave lies fifty-five yards short left of the green and mirrors the backside of the Cardinal front and right. Modern architects struggle mightily to build holes of this length that provide a similar test. Far too often they resort to water as a crutch. The beauty of the fifteenth and sixteenth at Prestwick is that the art of the recovery shot remains intact.

Heavy construction equipment has mercifully never touched the sixteenth fairway.

Crumpled links land of the highest order – the sixteenth fairway at Prestwick. This photograph is taken eighty yards from the green and Willie Campbell’s Grave is seen on the left. No guarantees for a level stance are provided for one’s pitch. This is proper links golf after all!

For a hole that measures less than 300 yards, the sixteenth causes an uncommonly great amount of woe. Just ask Willie Campbell who saw his bid for the 1887 Open Championship disintegrate here when he made an eight.

For a hole that measures less than 300 yards, the sixteenth causes an uncommonly great amount of woe. Just ask Willie Campbell who saw his bid for the 1887 Open Championship disintegrate here when he made an eight.

Seventeenth hole, 395 yards, Alps; Often copied, but never bettered, Prestwick’s Alps remains the original and best. It duly impressed C.B. Macdonald who incorporated it as a template hole into his best designs. Indeed, some aficionados of the third at National Golf Links of America consider it to be the finest hole on that course – yet it doesn’t surpass its namesake. Great pressure is put on the player to hit the fairway so that he can then carry the alpine thirty-foot dune. The approach is uncommonly exacting. The great seven feet deep Sahara bunker fronts the green which at only 22 yards deep is the shallowest target on the course. Additionally, the putting surface features a severe roll at its back. The tension created between the deep Sahara and the nasty back to front pitched green puts the screws to the golfer just when the pressure of his match is at its peak. In this regard, it is reminiscent of the penultimate hole at St. Andrews, another Macdonald template.

Finding the fairway is imperative off the tee.

Finding the seventeenth fairway is imperative off the tee.

Does the golfer have what it takes to host his approach shot high over the Alps and find the putting surface? That very question has been posed to golfers for over 160 years. The challenge remains as fresh today as when Old Tom devised the hole in 1851.

Does the golfer have what it takes to hoist his approach shot high over the Alps and find the putting surface? That very question has been posed to golfers for over 160 years. The challenge remains as fresh today as when Old Tom devised the hole in 1851. The hollow in front of the Alps is known as the Slough of Despond. It fronted the seventh green on Old Tom Morris’s course, which was to the right.

 

One of the greatest views in golf is afforded from the top of the Alps. The golfer has no view of the putting surface should his approach land in the massive Sahara bunker. Recovery from behind the green is even more problematic.

The gentle Home Hole might ease the pain from the damage inflicted over Prestwick’s famous final four-hole loop. Upon returning to the clubhouse, and after a sip or two of Kummel, the golfer is bound to think back over Prestwick’s long history. Perhaps a tinge of regret will emerge that the stone wall that ran forty yards in front of the twelfth green is no longer. The club elected to take it down sometime in the 1920s. That’s a pity but because there is so much to cherish, one ultimately finds it hard to imagine that Prestwick, or any other course,  could have better withstood the changes to the game from the gutty to the Haskell and from hickory to steel. The course’s mix of quirky features and stout holes provide a perfect blend that asks every imaginable question of the golfer.

Sir Peter Allen has it right in his book Famous Fairways published in 1968 when he wrote, Prestwick ‘… is to me much more than a museum of what golf was like sixty years ago; I find it still a wonderfully subtle and exacting links. True, there are a lot of old-fashioned features, like wooden sleepers in the faces of some of the bunkers, blind shots, and tiny greens with protecting humps and hillocks which may kick your ball away, often unfairly, which can’t appeal to the lordly professionals of today, whose appetite for money, provided by you and me, makes ever-increasing demands that the tailoring of the game and the courses should suit them rather than their patrons, lest they should have to learn to adapt their play to the conditions.’

Space constraints and logistical considerations have obviated any chance that Prestwick will host another Championship. A benefit of that reality is that the course will be spared the tinkering that the Old Course must suffer from time to time. Standing tall and pure, Prestwick remains an anchor for the best that golf has to offer and a beacon for others to understand the origins and principles of the grand old game.

The End