I had perhaps my most surreal experience in golf on the 1st tee at Prestwick Golf Club yesterday, before going on to enjoy a fabulous afternoon and evening at one of golf’s most historic venues.
Yesterday at Prestwick Golf Club the inaugural TaylorMade Industry Cup was contested between two teams of 12, representing the golfing media and golfing trade. I was fortunate enough to be selected to play for the scribes. Golf and dinner at Prestwick sounded a tough gig, but someone was going to have to do it.
Having arrived in Troon yesterday morning, checking in at Golf Monthly towers and completing an obligatory run for provisions (read booze,) I decided the best way to travel the final four miles to Prestwick would be by train, (for that read, I wanted to enjoy a few glasses post round.)
But, taking the short train journey past Royal Troon and Prestwick Golf courses was a great way to kick things off. I had opted to go with just a pencil bag and as I stepped on board I felt a sudden sensation of timelessness, how many generations of golfers had made this wee journey with a bag slung over their shoulder? As the train click-clacked out of Troon, I felt I was headed back to a more sophisticated age of two-hour rounds and long lunches.
Arriving at Prestwick station it isn’t exactly hard to find the golf course – you could hit a sand wedge from the platform onto the 1st tee! I strolled round the corner and into the historic clubhouse. After greeting the team from TaylorMade I enjoyed a sustaining sandwich and a pint of beer (I had taken the train after all,) before making my way out for team photos.
I was a little surprised to walk out of the front door straight into U.S. Open champion Dustin Johnson. He wasn’t there by chance. The TaylorMade Industry Cup has already achieved such a level of fame that Major champions are prepared to take time out of their schedules to watch the opening tee shots! What? I can tell myself that if I like…
And DJ wasn’t the only golfing legend present on the 1st tee: The teams would be announced by none other than Ivor Robson. I thought he’d given up, but it seemed a competition of this magnitude was enough to make him reconsider.
I must confess, I was in something of a fluster when our tee time came around. I hadn’t made a practice swing or even taken a putt, I’d been too busy soaking up the atmosphere and chatting to members of both teams. I was struggling to force my wallet and watch into my crammed pencil bag pocket as Ivor called – “This is the 3.08 tee time…”
‘aaah get in there you little swine, now where are my tees? What club is this?..’
“On the tee, representing Golf Monthly magazine…”
‘I’ll just hit 4-iron. Oh my god, that railway line is close on the right.’
‘OK, stay calm… There are only about 100 people watching and one of them is currently the second ranked player in the world. Don’t hit it OB, don’t hit it OB….”
I pulled it about 40 yards left into the rough, but at least it wasn’t on the railway line. I breathed a sigh of relief and my caddy Kenny uttered those words that every errant golfer loves to hear, “we’ll find that one.”
As I trudged down the rough to the vicinity of my smothered iron shot, I wondered if I was having some sort of bizarre dream. I’ve had similar before where I’ve been unable to take the club away in front of Jack Nicklaus, or have lost my clubs five minutes before a tee time with Seve and Tom Watson. But, no, I looked round and Ivor and DJ were still there. That had actually happened… Pretty amazing stuff.
The rest of the round was far more standard – lost balls and three putts in the main, with the occasional moment of inexplicable competence. The format was singles matchplay and I enjoyed an excellent game against Kilmarnock-based professional David Knapp. Also in our fourball; James Bunch a +3 handicapper and member at Prestwick was playing for the media against Chris from TaylorMade.
The course at Prestwick is one of my absolute favourites. It’s unique. Much like the Old Course at St Andrews, one must look beyond the unusual appearance in order to understand the subtle nuances of the challenge it poses. It’s a track from another time, demanding a strategic approach, a full arsenal of shots and a creative short game. There are humps and hillocks, huge sleepered bunkers, towering sand dunes and perplexingly contoured greens to negotiate. Above all, it’s great fun to play. It’s certainly a track where a caddy’s advice is invaluable and Kenny did a great job of keeping me on the right track, and finding my ball in some strange spots!
With a few good bounces and a couple of decent shots at the right moments I managed to earn a point in my game against David. James played some fine golf to get past Chris – two points for the Media. We were using the V-Par system of scoring on the day so it was possible to follow how the other groups were getting on. That’s great fun on a day like this and it really adds something to the competition.
At one point, things were looking pretty desperate for the fourth estate – we were down in 8 matches. But, tenacious as ever, we fought back and managed to earn an honourable half in the inaugural TaylorMade Industry Cup – six points each.
After the game we retired to the clubhouse’s characterful Smoke Room (no smoking these days although the ash trays remain) to enjoy a few beers served in the club’s pewter mugs and a fascinating talk by club secretary Ken Goodwin on the history of the club and the origins of The Open Championship. I’ll attempt a synopsis:
Founded in 1851, Prestwick Golf Club pulled off a coup when they managed to appoint Tom Morris of St Andrews as Keeper of the Green. He laid out 12 holes across the links and a couple of those remain as they were some 160 years ago – the current 17th as an example.
In the mid 1800s Alan Robertson was considered the best player in Scotland and, when he died in 1859 aged just 43, there was some uncertainty over who would take on the mantle as the game’s greatest.
The founding members of Prestwick thought it would be fun to find out, so they sent out letters advising of a competition to be held over their course in October 1860. There were eight entrants and Willie Park Snr of Musselburgh was the winner. It was slightly surprising as most expected the man who had designed the course, Old Tom, to prevail.
For that first Open Championship a red morocco leather and silver ‘Challenge Belt’ was on offer to the winner. No prizemoney was up for grabs, although the professionals were able to earn some pay by caddying for Prestwick members during the week of the competition.
In total 24 Open championships were contested at Prestwick with the last in 1925. At that event, huge crowds spilled onto the links and the players were swamped by the galleries. The Prestwick members felt their course unable to cope with such spectator numbers and, as such, they decided it was best not to host another Open.
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But Prestwick continued to welcome significant championships. The club has hosted The Amateur Championship on 11 occasions, the Scottish Amateur 8 times. Most recently the club was the venue for the 2013 British Ladies Amateur strokeplay and, of course, the 2016 TaylorMade Industry Cup.
After the results of this momentous tournament were announced and David Silvers of TaylorMade had thanked the club on behalf of all the participants, we made for the dining room and an incredible feast. I’ve seldom seen such a spread and I felt rather guilty as I walked back from the buffet with a plate laden with beef, ham, coronation chicken, potato salad and asparagus. I felt better after sitting down and noticing my pile of vittles was by no means the largest.
The clubhouse at Prestwick is incredible, packed with history and character. Portraits of founding members and early professionals adorn the walls together with old clubs, trophies and other amazing items of golfing paraphernalia. I found Young Tom Morris’s scorecard from The Open of 1870 in which he scored a three on the 578-yard 1st hole. Think of that: Nearly 600 yards over rough ground with a gutty ball in three shots!
Feeling suitably well fed and refreshed I sauntered back round the corner to catch the train to Troon. At 10.20pm the platform was empty save for two young lads with golf bags, clearly heading home after a long day on the links. Nods were exchanged to signify a sense of solidarity but no words needed to be spoken – we knew we were doing the right thing.