2005: Features - Prestwick pressure starts at No. 1

Prestwick, Scotland

The first hole at Prestwick Golf Club is a mere 346-yard par 4.

Although Old Tom Morris designed the original course at Prestwick in 1851, he didn’t conceive this hole. (Old Tom’s starting hole was a 578-yard par 5.) When asked to speculate on the identity of the architect of the present No. 1, a quipster might retort, “The devil himself,” for this innocently short hole has tortured legions of golfers.

The opening shot at Prestwick is one that strikes fear in the hearts of American visitors. The fairway narrows precipitously at just more than 200 yards. To the left are high rough and bushes. To the right, that diabolical stone wall.

The wall separates the course from the railway that has run alongside the layout for more than 150 years. Hit a drive over the wall, retee hitting 3.

An old story tells of a lady who sliced her tee shot over the wall, the ball hit a railway engine and bounced back onto the fairway. Leaning out of his window, the engineer yelled, “If it will be of any help to you, I’ll be here at the same time tomorrow.”

What is the most common error made by Americans on this hole?

“Most of them try to hit driver from the first tee,” said Prestwick head professional David Fleming. “It’s a big mistake. Just hit whatever it takes to keep the ball in play – a fairway wood, a long iron, a Rescue-type club.”

Fleming, 29, who turned pro at 17 and spent nine years at Turnberry, has been the head pro at Prestwick for nine months. When he took over from Frank Rennie, he did so with an appreciation of history. The first dozen British Opens were held at Prestwick, and a total of 24 Opens were played at the course.

“I am very aware of the grand traditions here at Prestwick, and I know how lucky I am to be here,” said the 29-year-old Fleming, who is just the seventh professional in the club’s 154 years.

Rennie stayed at Prestwick for 42 years, and his predecessor, Bob McInnes, was here for 35 years.

One of Fleming’s projects is to promote the Prestwick name through the sale of golf merchandise. The club’s updated Web site for merchandise is www.prestwickgcproshop.com, and items shipped overseas are done so without the 17.5 percent tax that applies to domestic sales.

In addition to maintaining all the relationships fostered by Rennie during his noteworthy career, Fleming has embarked on another active project at Prestwick – teaching. The club has a large practice area at the far end of its property, and Fleming is the first Prestwick pro to place so much emphasis on instruction.

“So far it’s a huge success,” he said. “Anything we can do to make golf more fun, we want to pursue it. The whole ethos of this golf club is, ‘Let’s have fun.’ ”

And fun at Prestwick starts with avoiding the stone wall on the first hole.

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