It has long been known that Scotland, with its many nooks and crannies, is a golfers’ paradise. Places such as Prestwick, the small town on the South Ayrshire coast that helped pioneer the ‘great game’, have helped to add gravitas to the state of that claim.
But Prestwick in recent years has come into its own, regardless of one’s handicap. Known to locals as a buzzing town, Prestwick is fast becoming the place to party in South Ayrshire. A great hive of activity on weekends, the town has a holiday feel during the week thanks to the number of boutiques, independent coffee shops and pubs.
Prestwick, a small coastal town slightly smaller than St Andrews, is only 34 miles south of Glasgow and is Scotland’s oldest baronial burgh, dating back 1000 years. Originally an outlying farm of a religious house, Prestwick’s name comes from the Old English for priest’s farm: preost meaning “priest” and wic meaning “farm”.
The first Golf Open Championship was held in 1860 at the Old Prestwick Golf Course, which hosted it until 1872. Nearby St Nicholas’ Golf Club was designed by golfing royalty, Old Tom Morris.
Speaking of royalty, from Robert the Bruce to James VI, numerous kings have trodden the coastal walks of Prestwick. The Bruce is said to have been cured of leprosy by the waters of the well at St Ninians church, and to this day Bruce’s Well is Prestwick’s number one attraction.
The most famous monarchic member to grace Prestwick with their presence, however, has to be The King himself, Elvis, whose quick re-fuel in Prestwick airport en route to Germany was actually the first and only time Elvis spent in the UK.
What to do
Similar to its neighbour Troon, Prestwick is big on golf and the seaside. Although Prestwick last staged an Open in 1925, it remains a golfers’ paradise and it is not uncommon to pass groups of American golfing tourists testing the ‘Himalayas’ of Old Prestwick Golf Club. Alighting from the train, the first tee of Prestwick Old Course can actually be seen on the train platform. A private members’ club, visitors must book to play, and women are still not permitted to become members although they may play on the course.
St Nicholas Golf Club was founded in 1951 by Old Tom Morris, and golfers can spot Arran and Ailsa Craig from the course.
Prestwick beach is a wide stretch, mixed with sand and pebbles, with a wider promenade. Although there are toilets and a café on the walk down from the train station, Prestwick beach is one of central Scotland’s more rugged beaches, which is beautiful when the sun is out and wild when not. Both sides of the coin are equally fun.
This beach is included in the Prestwick Purse-Snatcher Trail, which can be downloaded to smartphones for £8.99 and, by solving clues and riddles, takes kids on a trail to Prestwick’s most historic spots. On the trail are the ruins of St Nicholas’ Church, the old railway line, and the Mercat Cross.
Prestwick is home to a large soft play area on the Esplanade, Kidzplay, which although may not be unique to the town is perfect for placating the kids prior to another of Prestwick’s best tourist attractions: a pub-crawl.
Out of the nearby coastal towns, Prestwick boasts the highest number of pubs on the Main Street.
There is the historic Golf Inn, or the casual Prestwick Pioneer for those partial to an old-fashioned boozer. More adventurous drinkers should head to The Buff, Lido or Vic’s Bar, all of which have an innovative and well-stocked cocktail menu. On weekends, most nights will find their end at Scruffy Duffy’s, Prestwick’s vibrant Irish bar which is always jovial: in fact, you can usually hear it before you see it.
Where to stay
For those who are looking for a quieter stay, there are a number of residential B&Bs dotted around Prestwick from the waterfront to residences on Main Street. However, these come recommended…
Waterfront: The Parkstone Hotel, adjacent to Prestwick Golf Club, is the closest hotel to the waterfront. With 30 ensuite bedrooms – many of which boast views directly onto the beach – and a beer garden for sunnier days. Rooms from £95 per night.
Modern: The Carleton Hotel, with rooms from £85 per night, is a more modern take on the traditional guest-house with a relaxed atmosphere and a streamlined interior.
Where to eat
Rather than the usual chips wrapped in newspaper, it is quite common for visitors to Prestwick to dine on lobster and Prosecco. While many diners are attracted to the Glasgow glamour that Buzzworks’s Lido and The Vine bring to the Prestwick coast, quality food can be found in Caprice and Vito’s. From brunch to gourmet burgers and seasonal lobster, Caprice is known for its locally sourced food and craft beers, many of which are on tap, and Vito’s is an Italian with good energy looking out onto Main Street.
As for daytime choices, you will not be hard-pressed to find a café or coffee shop that struggles to deliver high quality, no-nonsense lunches. Along with its ice-cream, Costley has a good lunch menu, as does the Teapot across the road.
Buckley’s Café and Bistro is another local favourite, with special praise for the various home-baked cakes and their buttermilk chicken. The Buff also does an adventurous and quality good day-to-night menu: their Cajun Crepes are my favourite.
Where to shop
A busy main street complete with two Boots, a B&M and a Tesco Metro, visitors to Prestwick will be more attracted to the plethora of independents.
Prestwick is home to a number of boutiques, such as Hi Street, the gift shop of local charity, Hansel which sells anything from handmade gifts from local crafters to Cath Kidston and Ayrshire-dwelling Steven Brown Art numbers, and Emporium Boutique.
Prestwick is interesting, as alongside mainstream everyday stores niche spots are squeezed alongside. Among the independents, favourites are Bunny Beau Baby, a boutique popular for those with wee ones or expecting, which brings many a Silver Cross to the Main Street and Wand’rin’ Star, a crystal gift shop which also offers tarot card readings and spiritual workshops. Could the spirit of Old Tom Morris still be kicking about?
What to do nearby
A big must-do for anyone coming to Ayrshire is the Rabbie Burns Birthplace Museum in Ayr, which offers a unique encounter with Scotland’s Bard in the home that he was born in.
Located under the thatched roof of the Burns Cottage, the museum details the historic Ayrshire landmarks where he set his greatest works, as well as his monument and gardens created in his honour.
History lovers will also love Dundonald Castle, the imposing landmark that Robert II built in the 1370s to mark his succession to the throne of Scotland.
The Fullarton Wood’s Fairy Trail is set in the heart of nearby Fullarton Woods, a free trail with themed fairy and elf doors. Children are encouraged to visit the fairys and learn about the history of the woods whilst respecting the magic within.
Troon is less than a ten-minute drive or seven-minute train, where visitors may take a trip to the historic Royal Troon clubhouse, get a chippy from the Wee Hurrie or walk along the promenade. The perfect place to cure a Prestwick hangover is a brisk walk along neighbouring Barassie beach. Heat up by getting a vindaloo in the Maharani on the way home!