1851 Prestwick

Course Start 1851
Initial Holes 12
Date 18 holes 1882
Course management Owned and managed by Prestwick Golf Club
Home Clubs Prestwick Golf Club (1851)

Prestwick Golf Club was founded on 2nd July 1851 by a group of 57 golfers who met at the Red Lion Inn, Prestwick, a few years after the railway between Glasgow and Ayr had opened.

Prestwick Red Lion W

The Earl of Eglinton, the first Captain of the club, presented a gold medal for which the members still play. A few years later, he would become Lord Lieutenant of Ireland and organise the Curragh golf course. 

Old Tom Morris, then 30 years old, was appointed from St. Andrews to be ‘Keeper of the Green’, as well as Ball and Club Maker. The club purchased two cottages opposite the Red Lion Inn - one for Tom Morris and his family, and the other as a clubhouse. Both buildings still exist in reconstructed form.

Prestwick Old CH C

Prestwick GC Old Clubhouse and Old Tom Morris house 1851-1864

Young Tom Morris had just been born and spent his formative years here, learning how to play golf. In fact he spent more years at Prestwick (13) than he did at St Andrews (11). Consequently Prestwick have as much right to claim him as St Andrews do.

Prestwick Cairn C

Prestwick Cairn marks the old 1851 first tee; the green is now 16th green 578 yards distant

Old Tom Morris laid out the original Prestwick course, the first of many that he was to do. A stone cairn, to the west of the Clubhouse, marks the first tee of that 12-hole course. The old first hole measured 578 yards 1 foot and 9 inches and stretched to what is now the 16th green. In 1870, Young Tom Morris holed out in 3 on his way to his third successive Open victory. This was in the days before par or bogey ratings, but on the assumed basis that it would have been given a bogey 6, then this could be considered the first known 'albatross’.

The third and sixth hole shared a green, which is now the 2nd green, with the old third hole called Tunnel (Red) and the old sixth Tunnel (White). There were several fairways crossing each other. 

In 1857, Major James Ogilvie Fairlie of Coodham, one of Prestwick's founders and long-time playing partner of Old Tom, was the driving force behind organising a Grand National Tournament at St Andrews, which was really a gentlemen's club competition. It was foursomes (alternate strokes) match-play and was won by Blackheath represented by George Glennie and Lieutenant JC Stewart. The following year, in 1858, the competition was changed to individual match-play and was won by Robert Chambers of Bruntsfield. Then in 1859, it was changed again to individual holes-play and won by George Condie of Perth.

Prestwick Hole 17 W

Prestwick Hole 17 Alps - the largely unaltered 2nd hole from 1851 course, with Sahara bunker to right and clubhouse in background

Allan Robertson, known as ‘Laird of the Links’ at St Andrews, was considered the best golfer of his day. On his death in 1859, members of Prestwick decided to hold a competition to establish a successor to his champion status. Thus a championship was held at Prestwick on 17th October 1860 with a field of 8 professional players. The prize was then a red morocco belt. The first winner was Old Willie Park of Musselburgh with a score of 174 for 36 holes.

In 1861, following criticism of the low scores of the professionals in 1860, the competition was opened to amateurs, making it truly 'The Open', and two amateurs scored in the top ten. One of these was Major James Ogilvie Fairlie of Coodham (who came 8th) and the other Mr Robert Chambers of Bruntsfield (who came 10th), both mentioned above.

Belt and Claret Jug

The Open Prizes - The Belt (1861-1870) and Claret Jug (1872 onwards)

Amateurs and professionals have competed alongside each other ever since. Initially, the prize was 'The Belt'. Old Tom won the Belt four times (1861, 1862, 1864 and 1867), before his son, Young Tom Morris won it three years in succession (1868 to 1870). Under the rules of the day, as in boxing, he was thus entitled to keep it.

Young Tom died in 1875 and his Belt is now in the keeping of the Royal and Ancient Golf Club at St. Andrews, bequeathed by his father who worked for them until his death. A replica Belt can be seen in the St Andrew’s British Golf Museum and another is on display in the Cardinal room in the Prestwick clubhouse.

When Old Tom Morris was persuaded to return to St Andrews in 1864, Charlie Hunter was made the 'Keeper' but left for Blackheath in 1865. Andrew Strath was then appointed to the post and won the Belt in 1865 but tragically died of tuberculosis in 1868. After his untimely demise, Charlie Hunter returned from Blackheath and stayed for 53 years until his death in 1921, during which time he competed in, or was the official starter at, every Open Championship at Prestwick. Charlie was a cousin of Old Tom's son-in-law and often caddied for him in matches.

In 1871, there was no prize, because Young Tom now possessed it. As a result no Championship was held. The following year, Prestwick Golf Club, the Royal and Ancient Golf Club of St. Andrews and the Honourable Company of Edinburgh Golfers contributed to the purchase of a silver ‘Claret Jug’ for £30, which has been the prize for The Open ever since. Under its revised rules, the winner has no rights of possession to the cup. However, Young Tom won again in 1872, thus effectively winning the Open an unequalled four times in a row.

Prestwick Hole 14 CH

Prestwick Clubhouse with Hole 14 (centre) and Hole 18 (left)

From 1871, Prestwick’s medal competitions were 18 holes, comprising the 12 holes round plus the first 6 holes played twice.

In 1882, the course was extended to 18 holes with additional ground to the north. This was not the present layout and included two double greens - The Tunnel (White) 2nd hole with the Tunnel (Red) 16th hole as well as the Himalaya (White) 5th hole with the Himalaya 10th hole.

Prestwick Hole 5 C

Prestwick Hole 5 Himalaya - view from the tee; the green is over the hill

Today, several holes still play much as they did in 1851: the old second hole Alps (385 yards) is very nearly the 17th hole Alps (394 yards); the old third hole Tunnel (Red) (167 yards) is roughly the 2nd hole Tunnel (164 yards); the old fourth hole Wall (448 yards) is over the same ground as the 3rd hole Cardinal (477 yards); and the old fifth hole Sea Headrig (440 yards) is much the same as today's 13th hole Sea Headrig (458 yards). The tees are new but the fairways and greens as where the old ones were. In total six of today’s greens are where seven of the original greens were.

2015 Green1851 Green
2 3 Tunnel (Red) and 6 Tunnel (White)
3 4 Wall
13 5 Sea Headrig
15 10 Lunch House
16 1 Back of Cardinal
17 2 Alps

The present course at Prestwick is very challenging, requiring length and accuracy as the positioning of every shot is essential.

Prestwick Hole 13 Lunch House

Prestwick old course, 13th green with 16th tee behind - the octagonal hut to the right is the original Prestwick St Nicholas (formerly Mechanics) Lunch House