Eclectic 18 UK – Hole No. 1: “Railway,” Prestwick

An analysis of the 1st hole at Prestwick Golf Club


The birthplace of the Open Championship, and the beginning of our Eclectic 18 UK….

Prestwick Golf Club captures the essence of a golfing culture exclusive to a handful of clubs in the United Kingdom. Though you’ll want jacket and tie for lunch, here the game remains true to its purest form. With its storied history, featuring Old Tom Morris as its designer and first professional, Prestwick is a course that all golf lovers must see.

But even putting aside history and prestige, No. 1 at Prestwick is just an outstanding golf hole—especially for those not satisfied with a “gentle handshake.” (Apologies to Donald Ross.) Aptly named, “Railway” abuts the Glasgow-to-Ayr line. A quaint stone wall along the right defines out-of-bounds but hardly protects the commuters! Although a mere 345 yards, this hole engenders both fear and intrigue, and instantly gets the golfer’s juices flowing.

The strategy is simple yet timeless: the closer you play to the boundary, the better you can see the green on your approach shot. So you have to answer a tough question right from the start: do you have the nerve to place you tee shot near the OB, or will you veer away from the penalty, taking your chances with the unpredictable hazards on the left?

At about 220 yards from the tee, a dune with diagonal trenchy-moundy hazards cuts in from the left and pinches tight toward the wall on the right. To thread a driver or even a 3-wood through the tiny gap between these obstacles appears impossibly fraught with danger. The safer option seems to be a long iron short left, but in that spot, marram and heathery textures combine unforgivingly with a longer, blind approach. Plus, from this angle, the graveyard on the hill behind the green takes on an ominous look! Overall, the first shot at Prestwick places an instant premium on stout long-iron play… and this is Scotland, so no practice range of note.

While the outcomes are not straightforward, the rewards are clear. Wedged between a bunker left and the wall right, the green calls for an approach down its length. A drive close to the boundary offers this angle and affords enough room to play just over the bunkers short—a delicate aerial approach, especially in firm summer conditions.

The green contours of the original 12 holes at Prestwick are a required study for any student of golf architecture. In contrast to some of the more famed green complexes on the course—the boldly undulating “Sea Headrig” and the severely falling away “Narrows”—the 1st has quieter, classical links undulation. That is no slight, as the green provides the ideal complement to the rest of this exacting opening hole.

If we didn’t have a rule against it, we might have been tempted to include more Prestwick in our Eclectic 18. Full of legendary holes—No. 3 “Cardinal,” No. 5 “Himalayas,” No. 13 “Sea Headrig,” No. 15 “Narrows,” No. 16 “Cardinals Back,” and No. 17 “Alps”—the course as a whole is greater than the sum of its parts.

Eclectic 18 UK is the brainchild of golf course architects Jaeger Kovich and Clyde Johnson. Read more about the series here.