I expected to like Prestbury because I’d seen photos and knew it was going to have the sort of bold contours and marvelous terrain that I really enjoy. With my visit there being on the final day of my week, the thought crossed my mind that I might be a bit jaded after playing several courses I really enjoyed.
Talk about an unfounded concern! By the time we reached the third green, shelved precariously into the side of a hill, I had no time or desire to ponder other golf courses. There is so much topography to process and so many demands on the golfer’s shot-making that Prestbury fully concentrates ones attention from start to finish. The routing also cunningly reveals what’s to come. At most points during the round you can see one or two interesting features on holes yet to be played. Of course in some cases like the 9th hole, what seemed “interesting” from a distance becomes closer to “frightening” when standing on the tee.
As for particular holes, I hardly know where to start. Of all the Par 5 opening holes I’ve played (not all that many in truth) Prestbury is in my opinion the best. It’s a short, uphill, curving Par 5 to start the round and then the green is perched up and a bit domed. It takes two good shots just to have a relatively easy third shot into a green where you’ll really want to be putting from the favorable side of the hole. OTOH, with a good tee shot and second it is not really all that hard an opener relative to its par figure.
That’s just the first hole. The third is one of my favorites on the entire course and it’s followed by one heck of a drop shot Par 3. When the hole is cut front-right on Prestbury’s 4th I’ve no clue how one gets a simple birdie putt. Or a simple par putt for that matter. All from a mid-iron, downhill Par 3 that looks pretty darned simple from that hill 50 feet above the green. Then there’s the short Par 4 fifth with another perfectly shelved green.
There are photos tours on GolfClubAtlas that do a better job than my words of describing Prestbury hole by hole. So I’ll just say it goes on and on offering one hole after another that could easily be the single best hole on many courses. I will also pause to brag for a moment and say that on a day when my golf game was woefully insufficient to the task at hand I somehow managed to hole a par putt from the fringe on the 9th hole…and it felt like an eagle to me. I’ve seen lots of Par 4 holes that play like Par 5’s but this one would be no pushover if it were marked Par 6. Gorgeous, thrilling hole but a brute.
If forced to mention weaker holes, the only one that instantly springs to mind is the 10th. Short Par 3 squeezed into some inhospitable terrain. It wouldn’t be considered an awful hole most places but at Prestbury it is slightly disappointing. No worries, though. The 11th is one of my favorites, playing as easy relative to its par as the 9th plays difficult.
My host and our playing companions mentioned that there’s a thriving junior golf section at Prestbury. I think that’s wonderful because to my mind anyone learning the game at Prestbury is going to find flatter, plainer or less boldly designed courses much simpler by comparison. The same sidehill and awkward lies that bedeviled my game on that Monday ought to be the perfect training ground, instilling in a talented young golfer the ability to handle anything a golf course might throw at him.
While I’d relish any chance to play at Prestbury I could probably play there dozens of times and never sniff playing to my handicap. The repeated requirement of hitting shots from awkward lies is in my opinion the reason a course of under 6,400 yards from the whites stands up to all levels of player without playing “short”. In the end, Prestbury seemed more of a golf course than I am a golfer. Of the very best inland courses I’ve played, I would have to say Prestbury has the finest routing and best variety of shots. That said, given my double-digit handicapper’s game my ego forces me to admit having a soft spot for one or two other courses that don’t so ruthlessly expose my inability to hit the ball from difficult stances and lies.
One final thing. I can’t believe I wrote this many words without mentioning possibly my favorite subtle difference between Prestbury and some other courses I’ve played. Like many classic courses the majority of greens at Prestbury allow a ball to run or bounce onto the green from 10, 20, 30 yards or occasionally even farther back into the fairway. But I can’t recall any of them having as interesting contoured “apron” areas. Very few of those run-in areas are flat and they don’t necessarily contour in a way favorable w.r.t. the slopes in the green itself. That’s a subtle but very impressive feature that rewards local knowledge and careful play, as opposed to simply giving us short-hitting old guys an easy entree to the green when hitting long-iron approaches.