Scotland’s Prestwick is the quirkiest championship course in golf
Former USGA Executive Director Frank Hannigan called it “kinky.” Dan Jenkins noted it was replete with “charming atrocities.” Bernard Darwin was so smitten with its peculiar enticements that in 1913 he wrote, “A man is less likely to be contradicted in lauding Prestwick than in singing the praises of any other course in Christendom.” Jenkins was less charitable in 1970: “Your first impression as you gaze out on a wasteland surrounded by an old stone fence is that this has to be the biggest practical joke in all of golf.” In 2022, we opine, embrace the originality. Celebrate the quirk. Vive la difference!
Located in the west of Scotland, three miles south of Troon, Prestwick features the handiwork of Old Tom Morris, who left his St. Andrews home in 1851 to design a new 12-hole links for the club. He also assisted in 1882–83 when the course was altered and expanded to 18 holes. The club hosted the inaugural Open Championship in 1860, plus the next 11 editions. Its last hurrah a 24th Open, came in 1925. Afterwards, it was deemed too cramped to host golf’s oldest major. Or maybe it was simply the opening drive that drove away the R&A.
The 345-yard 1st hole, “Railway,” greets you with a high stone wall and an active railway flush with the landing area’s right side. Intruding from the left, and progressively narrowing the fairway, is a dense patch of dunesland, pocked with sand and scrub. The green itself practically melts into the stone wall. Small wonder writer Jim Finegan described the hole as “a truly demoralizing opener.”
At “Cardinal,” the dogleg-right, 533-yard par-five 3rd hole, the second shot must carry an unseen chasm of sand and broken ground, anchored by the massive Cardinal bunker, perhaps 11 feet deep, its steep face shored up with ominous black railway sleepers (ties). Fade it a smidge and the Pow Burn and OB lurk the entire length of the hole. The reward is a blind wedge to a sunken green.
Stretching 231 yards, the par-three 5th, “Himalayas,” beckons with an imposing ridge that completely obscures the green. Complicating matters are six greenside bunkers, five of them on the left side. The club advises to aim for the sleeper on the hill that matches the color of the tee you are playing from. Understandably, Tom Doak stated that the Himalayas is beyond the pale: “If you’re going to have a blind approach there ought to be a receptive target to hit to on the other end.”
“Sea Headrig,” the 458-yard par-four 13th, includes a wildly undulating fairway and a hidden bunker on the left side called “Willie Campbell’s Grave.” Survive the drive and a freakishly small, severely two-tiered green awaits. Most famous—or infamous—is number 17, “Alps,” a unique, 394-yard par four that demands a blind approach over both a tall, heather-clad dune and the gigantic Sahara bunker.
Not every course will appeal to the masses, nor should it. Nevertheless, with its endless variety and 19th-century purity, look for delightfully kooky Prestwick to amuse and confound golfers for generations to come.
Three more eccentric Scottish links that mystify and delight
Bewilderment eventually leads to enchantment at North Berwick’s West Links, runner-up as the quirkiest of all the great Scottish courses. Home to the legendary “Redan” par-three 15th, this 145-year-old antique also serves up “Pit,” the par-four 13th that features a low stone wall in front of the green, and “Gate,” the par-four 16th with its bizarre double-plateau green.
Funky, 4,799-yard par-66 Dunaverty occupies a stunning spit of land on the tip of the Mull of Kintyre in south-west Scotland, just 12 miles from Northern Ireland. Architect David McLay Kidd, who played there often as a boy, notes, “It breaks many of the written rules of golf architecture—blind doglegs, drives over the crest of a hill, small, square greens—but once played, it’s never forgotten.”
Since World War I, Shiskine on Arran has delivered a 12-hole round that’s entirely free of conventional architecture. The par-42, 2,996-yard topographical roller coaster serves up five blind approaches, paired with a variety of “all-clear” signaling devices. Notable are a red f lag at the 128-yard 3rd that plays halfway up the Drumadoon Cliffs and the 172-yard 7th, which utilizes a rope-pulley system.