Is the British Open the most Scottish golf tournament of all?
The following article was originally written for PGATour.com by David Brice, President of Golf International. The articles represent trips available to Golf International customers.
Often mistakenly referred to as The British Open, the oldest golf tournament in existence (and the only Major to be played away from American soil) should be correctly called, The Open Championship. There is no reference to any country or nationality in the name, although it remains very much a Scottish flavored event.
When the very first Open Championship was held in 1860, it was an entirely Scottish affair. The venue was Prestwick Golf Club on Scotland’s Ayrshire Coast and the competitors, 8 professional golfers from Scottish Golf Clubs. Prestwick continued as the regular venue for each of the first 12 years the event was staged, when two other Scottish courses, St. Andrews and Musselburgh joined Prestwick, each taking turns as The Open venue.
It wasn’t until 1894 that English clubs began to be included in the venue rotation of what has become one of the world’s most famous and widely viewed sporting events. Of the 143 times The Open has been staged since 1860, a Scottish club has hosted 93 of them. Born, weaned and raised in Scotland, The Open Championship retains the strong Scottish accent of those formative years.
Today, Scotland is home to five of the nine British courses that currently share the privilege of hosting The Open. St. Andrews, Muirfield, Royal Troon, Carnoustie and Turnberry are the crème de la crème of Scottish links and among the best in the world. But in Scotland, golf is the game of the people and readily accessible to everyone. Unlike privileged courses in other parts of the globe, these fabled links also remain very much available for visitors to play.
The golfer who dreams of playing an Open course that has confounded, confused and frustrated the world’s best players, can easily do so — all it takes is a little advanced planning and deciding which of these icons they want to play. And don’t overlook the two past venues, no longer included in the rota. Prestwick and Musselburgh continue as fine links layouts today; their retirement from active Open duty was only brought about by a lack of sufficient space to handle the crowds associated with modern day golf events.
Choosing which of these champions to play will not be easy and the following thumbnail sketches are offered as an initial guideline. If you would like more information and recommendations, contact Golf International for some expert, Open advice.
Muirfield: This is home to the Honourable Company of Edinburgh Golfers, the oldest golf club in existence, responsible for writing the very first Rules of Golf. This historic club rivals the importance of the Royal & Ancient Golf Club in terms of its role in the development of golf since the 18th century. A visit to Muirfield ranks alongside St. Andrews for any golf aficionado. The course is arguably the fairest and most straightforward of any Open venue and has hosted The Open 16 times so far.
Carnoustie Championship Course: 2007 marked the 7th time Carnoustie had hosted, since being first brought onto The Open circuit in 1931 when Tommy Armour took the crown. This is also the course where Ben Hogan won his one and only Open effort in 1953. Considered the toughest of all, the nick name, Carnasty, only adds to the temptations of the gauntlet thrown down to visiting golfers eager to tackle the complex, links test presented. Finish Carnoustie with a presentable scorecard and you will be a hero’s hero and certainly have gained one more notch to your belt. Just be prepared for a tough ride.
Royal Troon Old Course: In 2004, Royal Troon hosted The Open for the 8th time, when a little known American walked away with the claret jug. Nobody should have been surprised — Troon is a layout that has always smiled kindly upon Americans playing golf’s Event of the Year, producing a chain of 6 successive American Champions since Arnold Palmer started the trend in 1962. In 1973 it was Tom Wieskopf and in1982, Tom Watson. Mark Calcavecchia was the 1989 winner, Justin Leonard took the title in 1997 and in 2004, it was Todd Hamilton’s turn. Royal Troon’s next time at bat will be 2016.
St. Andrews Old Course: 2015 was the 29th occasion that the Grand Dame of links golf hosted The Open — more than any other and at over 600 years old, why not? Everybody’s sentimental favorite, this is a layout that has influenced the world of golf and most other courses like no other. The Old Lady also presents one of the most strategic tests known to the game — pot bunkers, shared fairways, double greens and always the pressure of knowing you are playing the most revered course around. Every golfer owes it to themselves to play this beauty at least once before they die.
Turnberry Ailsa Course: Most recently hosted The Open in 2009, Turnberry is very much the baby on The Open circuit. Its debut came in 1977 when it was the scene of the famous “duel in the sun” between Tom Watson and Jack Nicklaus; one of the most memorable finishes in Open history, with Watson coming out as the 72nd hole victor. Now ranked the number one course in the entire British Isles, Turnberry is a sophisticated jewel that uses handsome good looks and its superb, Mackenzie Ross design to outwit the most accomplished players.
Prestwick Old Course: This is a very special piece of Open history. After hosting the first dozen Opens between 1860 and 1872, it was called upon for a further 12 occasions until being retired from The Open rota after the 1925 event. Second in its frequency of hosting, only to St. Andrews, Prestwick Golf Club, the originator of the event, is deserving of every serious golfers attention. At times quirky, sometimes devious, usually frustrating, but always with a charm of its own, Prestwick is the way links golf was originally intended. Taste a slice of golf history and gain a new respect for those golfers of old who played with hickory clubs.
Musselburgh: A nine-hole layout, encircled by a horse-racing track may not sound too appealing, but golf is documented as having been played here since the mid 17th century and Mary, Queen of Scots, reputedly played Musselburgh links in 1567. The course hosted The Open on 6 occasions between 1874 and 1889. For a golfing experience to remember, play two rounds on 9-hole Musselburgh, renting a set of Hickory clubs from the pro-shop for the first round. For the second, play with your own clubs and see how far golf equipment technology has come over the past 150 years.
There you have it, seven Open Championship venues in Scotland, which together have shared in the glory of 92 different Opens since 1860. Play them all or just a few. Whichever you choose, you will be living golf history, experiencing the world’s premiere links courses and walking in the footsteps of the greatest names the game has ever known.
But don’t limit yourself to playing only the famous names. This is Scotland, a country over-flowing with excellent golf courses and many of the best may not be familiar. Remember, wherever you find one good Scottish links, chances are there will be others in the area and every Open venue has a few hidden gems nearby, just waiting to be discovered.
For suggestions on how to fit some Open Championship courses, together with a few hidden gems into your Scottish golf trip, contact the Scotland experts at Golf International.
©2015 David Brice / Golf International, Inc. All Rights Reserved.