"It was a very good score, Sir. Your first of the round."
There is much to see in the neighborhood of Turnberry and along the route to either Prestwick or Troon, like a castle here and there or a birthplace of Robert Burns, of which there must be a dozen, but never should a visitor miss that hill—that thing—called the Electric Brae. Years ago bicyclists discovered it, one is told. They found themselves forced to pedal sweatily to get uphill when it obviously looked as if the road were going downward into the woods. It is an optical illusion, and you would lose your wallet betting on it. The proof is this: stop the car at a point where you are certain you are headed uphill. Put a golf ball on the road, a shiny new Dunlop 65. It will roll uphill, that's all.
As mysterious as the Electric Brae is, it is no more mysterious than the course at Prestwick, the one where all of those early British Opens were staged beginning in 1860. Your first impression as you gaze out on a wasteland punctuated by a crumbling old stone fence is that this has to be the biggest practical joke in all of golf. "I've got it," you say. You pay your green fee, put down a ball, aim at the world, take four or five steps and are never heard from again.
Consider the 1st hole, only 339 yards. On your right: the stone fence about 10 feet away, separating you from a train that will come chugging by at intervals. On your left: mounds of heather and scrub. Directly in front: wasteland. Absolute wasteland. Small and large clumps of it, sheltered by thin layers of fog. And the caddie hands you a driver. The fairway, presuming one is actually there, can't be more than 20 yards wide but the caddie hands you a driver.
"Where is it?" I asked.
"Straightaway, Sir," said Charles, who was distinguished from my caddie at Turnberry by two things. Charles wore a muffler and had his own cigarettes. "It's just there," he said. "Just to the left of the cemetery."
It is asking a lot, I know, to expect anyone to believe that you can bust a drive about 250 yards on a 339-yard hole, have a good lie in the fairway and still not be able to see a green anywhere, but this is Prestwick.
The green was there, all right, as are all of the greens at Prestwick, but you never see them until you are on them, which is usually eight or 10 strokes after leaving the tee. They sit behind little hills, or the terrain simply sinks 10 or 15 feet straight down to a mowed surface or they are snuggled over behind tall wood fences where you have nothing to aim at but a distant church steeple.
You would like to gather up several holes from Prestwick and mail them to your top 10 enemies. I guess my alltime favorite love-hate golf hole must be the 3rd hole of this course. Like most of the holes at Prestwick, it is unchanged from the day in 1860 when Willie Park Sr. shot 174 to become the first Open champion. Quite a good score, I have since decided.
First of all, without a caddie it would take you a week and a half to find the 3rd tee. It is a little patch of ground roughly three yards wide perched atop a stream—a burn, rather—with the cemetery to your back and nothing up ahead except mist. Well, dimly in the distance you can see a rising dune with a fence crawling across it. "The Sleepers," the caddie says. But nothing more. Nothing.