THINGS were a bit different back in 1860. “Old Tom Morris had no concept of health and safety,” chuckled the Prestwick secretary Ken Goodwin as he gazed out on Morris’s 12-hole layout that’s been recreated to mark the 150th Open celebrations.

This particular course, used for that very first staging of golf’s most cherished championship in Ayrshire all those years ago, has more criss-crosses than the checks on auld Tom’s bunnet. With players mingling here and balls flying there, a box-ticking summary from some stern-faced, tut-tutting, clipboard-wielding risk assessment officer would probably put the course on a par with a beachhead under heavy mortar fire. “There’s a part of it we jokingly call ‘the killing zone’,” added Goodwin with a wry grin. But more about that later.

While July’s Open at St Andrews was the centrepiece of the R&A’s 150th festivities, this Monday, October 17, will mark the true anniversary of the championship’s birth in its Prestwick cradle.

On that autumnal day of "fitful sunshine" back in 1860, eight of the country’s best professionals – seven Scots and one Englishman – gathered for three birls around the 12-hole course to determine a successor to the late Allan Robertson, who was widely regarded as the best golfer on the planet.

Teeing off at high noon – Morris hit the first ba’ – they zipped through 24 holes, nipped to the Red Lion pub for lunch and a couple of libations, and returned for a final circuit of 12. The 36-holes were all done and dusted in a sprightly four-and-a-half hours. In those days, players didn’t undertake meticulous scrutiny of the yardage book or perform elaborate, pre-shot routines that resemble the mating rituals of the Greater Sage Grouse like they do now.

Nine years before that first championship, Old Tom had laid out the original Prestwick links in his own style. “He would look for good places to put greens and he’d take a bundle of feathers with him,” said Goodwin. “Once he’d found a good place, he’d put a feather in the ground. Then he’d wander off and find another place. Tom didn’t walk in straight lines. He criss-crossed. If there was a sand dune in the road it was up to the golfer to negotiate it. You either went over it or round it. I’m not sure if it’s true but it’s suggested Old Tom had two shovels, a wheelbarrow and a navvy as his earth moving equipment.”

The current custodian of the links, head greenkeeper Dave Edmondson, had a bit more heavy machinery to work with as he set about reinstating five greens, shearing away long grasses and moulding special teeing areas to replicate the original routing of this treasured golfing antiquity. “Old Tom’s mantra was saund, saund and mair saund,” said Goodwin with a smile. “And given the amount of sand Dave put down, he’s obviously followed that too.”

To prevent players being clattered and battered by shots hurtling hither and yon, caddies and members have been trained up as walking marshals to usher groups safely around the course. They wear re-enforced caps, have walkie-talkies to keep abreast of movement and utilise high-tech neon torches flashing green or red to signal whether the coast is clear or not. What were we saying about that killing zone again?

“The most interesting hole is the sixth,” noted Goodwin of this eye-opening intersection. “If you stand on the tee, you have the first, the fifth and 12th crossing immediately in front of you. When you get further down you have the second, seventh, the ninth and the 10th to the side. When you get to the green you have the third hole. That’s just a flavour of it.”

Regular readers will be delighted to know, then, that your correspondent, armed with a hickory set of mashies, niblicks, jiggers and cleeks, emerged unscathed from this wonderfully quaint and quirky step back in golfing time. Well, not quite. On the first – a mighty 578-yarder where Old Tom’s son, the great Young Tom, made a quite astonishing three during The Open of 1870 – I thrashed, swiped, skittered and hoiked my way to a 10. It wasn’t the only double digit. All in all, I like to think I cobbled together a fairly solid round that was sullied by a solitary par.

It wasn’t a day for worrying about scoring, though. It was a day for wallowing in Prestwick’s glorious history.