The Open Championship, better known in America as the British Open, is the oldest of golf’s four majors. It was first contested in 1860 at Prestwick Golf Course in Prestwick, Scotland. This was in the earliest days of what would become professional golf, and the first title would go to Willie Park, Sr. In 1872, the Claret Jug replaced the original “Challenge Belt” to become the instantly recognizable trophy still in use today. The British Open has been held at 14 different courses across Scotland, England and Northern Ireland. It currently rotates through 10 courses. These courses represent some of Great Britain’s greatest courses as well as golf’s most historic grounds. Amazingly, many of these current and former hosts of the British Open are available for play. The following list included British Open courses you can play. Be advised, most of these courses do require the golfer to have a certified handicaps to prove proficiency.
Prestwick Golf Club
photo courtesy Prestwick Golf Club
2-4 Links Rd.
Prestwick Golf Club hosted the inaugural British Open in 1860. It is no longer in rotation, having last hosted the tournament in 1925. The course was originally 12 holes designed and kept up by “Old” Tom Morris, who would go on to win four Opens, and opened in 1851. The 12 holes were extended to 18 in 1882, and the course is a representation of a classic Scottish links course. Golfers should expect sand dunes, numerous bunkers (including the 50 yard bunker known as “the Cardinal”) and the Irish Sea as natural obstacles. Though a private club, visitors can book tee times at this historic club.
The Old Course at Royal Troon Golf Club
photo courtesy of Royal Troon Golf Club
The Old Course at Royal Troon Golf Club last hosted the British Open in 2016 and remains in rotation for future tournaments. The course was opened in 1878 with a links course designed by George Strath and British Open winner Willie Fernie, who together would expand the course to 18 holes in 1888. The course lies adjacent to the previously mentioned Prestwick Golf Club, making it very easy for tourists to play two historic and world class courses. This 9-time British Open host is notable for having the both the shortest and longest holes at the British Open. The shortest, the 123-yard par-3 8th hole nicknamed the “Postage Stamp” has a famously small green while the par-5 6th hole is 601 yards long. Golfers also have the option to play the Portland course or the 9-hole par-3 Craigend course.
photo courtesy of Muirfield
Muirfield, one of golf’s historic courses, has hosted 16 British Open Championships and is still in rotation. It is home to the Honourable Company of Edinburgh Golfers, an organization with records dating back to 1744. The club would build Muirfield in 1891 with a course designed by Old Tom Morris. It would host its first Open Championship the following year in 1892. It is a links style course that is noted for its looping layout, something incredibly uncommon for its time. It also makes sure that the prevailing winds blowing in from the Atlantic Ocean remain widely inconsistent and prove to be a constant challenge.
Royal Liverpool Golf Club
photo courtesy Royal Liverpool Golf Club
The links course was completed in 1869 by Robert Chambers and George Morris and would host its first British Open in 1897. It is also the location of the first international golfing match, contested between England and Scotland in 1902. It would also host the first contest between Great Britain and the United States in 1921, originating what would become known as the Walker Cup. The course is noted for its difficult par-3s. For example, the 15th hole features a very narrow green surrounded by five deep pot bunkers. Golfers should look to book tee times well in advance, as members are given preference in tee times.
Dunluce Links at Royal Portrush Golf Club
photo courtesy of Royal Portrush Golf Club
Portrush, Northern Ireland
The Royal Portrush Golf Club is home to two link courses, the Dunluce Links and Valley Links. While the Valley Links is a fun course in its own right, the Dulce Links is the more famous of the two and has hosted the British Open and is scheduled to host the tournament again in 2019. The club, founded in 1888, only hosted its first British Open in 1951 and remains the only course outside of England and Scotland to host the tournament. The course was designed by Harry Colt and features numerous difficult and striking holes. One signature hole is the 5th hole that features a heavily rolling green perched on the edge of a small cliff. The course demands accurate shotmaking and looks to punish golfers for errant shots.
Championship Course at Carnoustie Golf Links
photo courtesy of Carnoustie Golf Links
Carnoustie Golf Centre, Links Parade
The Championship course is a links style course that has hosted 7 Open Championships and remains on the hosting rotation. The course has its origins in the Carnoustie Golf Club, founded in 1839. The course was first designed by Allan Robertson, considered by some golf historians as the first professional golfer. However, the course today was extended to 18 holes in 1867 by none other than Old Tom Morris, and was again updated in 1926 by James Bird. The course is often considered one of the most difficult links course in existence. The course requires excellent course management with numerous large roughs and strategic bunkers. This public owned course is open to all golfers, but due to popularity tee times should be booked well in advance.
photo courtesy of Brandon Tucker/TravelGolf
The Old Course at Musselburgh Links is considered the oldest documented golf course still in use, with documentation of golf being played on the Links dating back to 1672. . Musselburgh was expanded to 8 holes in 1838, and to its current 9 holes in 1870. Musselburgh hosted its first British Open in 1874, shortly after the Claret Jug became the trophy for the event. Though no longer a candidate for hosting the tournament since it never expanded to the now standard 18 holes, Musselburgh offers golfers a chance to see the roots of their sport firsthand. It is located in the middle of a horse track, and remains the same land played on not only by the greats of the early game, but also by Mary Queen of Scots and King James VI. The challenge remains as the undulating nature of the fairways and greens, along with strategic bunkering, test even seasoned golfers. For an added challenge, rent some replica hickory shafted clubs and gutta percha balls to enhance the historic feel of the course.
Royal St. George's Golf Club
photo courtesy Royal St. George's Golf Club
CT13 9PB Clubhouse
Royal St. George’s Golf Club was opened in 1887 and can boast 14 British Opens and holds the distinction of being the first non-Scottish course to host the championship. The links course was famous, or some would argue infamous, for its many blind holes. In addition, no consecutive hole plays in the same direction. This means golfers have to adjust for the oftentimes strong sea breezes from numerous angles as they play this course. Like other links courses, Royal St. George’s punishes golfers and demands excellent shotmaking and course management. But even when frustrated by the deepest bunker in the British Open, the beautiful views of the ocean and the picturesque white cliffs of Dover will offer any golfer an experience to savor.
The Old Course at St. Andrews
photo courtesy St. Andrews
St. Andrews, Scotland
Last and certainly not least, the Old Course at St. Andrews is the stuff of golf legends. The oldest 18 hole course, indeed setting the standard of 18 holes, St. Andrews is the spiritual home of golf and responsible for codifying the rules of golf. Golfers can feel the importance of the links and the 600 years of history that permeates the course. Perhaps unsurprisingly, Old Tom Morris was the principal designer of the 18 hole course, introducing the concepts of the double green in the 1860s. The course has hosted the most British Opens, a record 29, and hosted its first tournament in 1873 when the Claret Jug was debuted. The course remains a public course, but golfers must have a handicap of 24 or lower for men and 36 or lower for women to be able to play the Old Course. Golfers are well advised to book far in advance to play such hallowed grounds.