Ask a hundred golfers to rank the greatest Open Championship courses and you’ll get a wide range of responses. We’ve attempted to narrow down the top 10 courses – see what you think…
1. St Andrews – Old, Fife
One of those places that’ll make the hairs stand on the back of your neck. How many golfers would choose the Old if they could only play one course for the rest of their lives? A very large number, you imagine, for this is the home of golf, where the great game has been played since the 15th century.
With its double greens, crossovers and gaping bunkers, there’s nowhere else quite like it in the world. Throw all that history into the mix, its famous landmarks and iconic holes, and you have golf’s undisputed number one golf course, never mind the best on the Open Championship rota. Agree?
2. Muirfield, East Lothian
For many, Muirfield, which first hosted The Open in 1892, offers the fairest test of all the Open Championship venues. Two circuits of nine rotate in opposite directions, the back nine looping inside the front nine, which ensures that golfers never face the same wind direction on two consecutive holes.
The layout might be slightly unusual for a Scottish links course, but it’s near-perfect – a little eccentric, maybe, but a masterpiece nonetheless, with the fairways and hazards beautifully designed. Then there’s the clubhouse, which, like the course, has its own special atmosphere.
3. Trump Turnberry Resort – Ailsa, South Ayrshire
Any mention of Turnberry and it’s hard not to picture the famous ‘Duel in the Sun’ – 1977, the year Jack Nicklaus and Tom Watson went head-to-head for the Claret Jug. Watson edged it, of course, but he did suffer heartbreak here, too, when in 2009, aged 59, he lost a play-off against Stewart Cink.
The Ailsa course features one of the most spectacular par 3s on the Open rota – the par-3 9th, which plays over the cliffs and crags to a green right by the famous lighthouse. Some of the holes by the sea will take your breath away, such as the short 11th, as will the halfway hut, which isn’t your typical stopover. We’re talking serious wow-factor from start to finish.
4. Carnoustie, Angus
If you like a tough test, they don’t come much sterner than ‘Car-nasty’. This is where Jean van de Velde succumbed to Carnoustie’s treacherous 18th hole in 1999, and no doubt many more will fall victim to this brute in the years to come.
Weak holes simply don’t exist on this Angus links, where the narrow fairways are protected by gorse, streams and devilish bunkers. It might lack the spectacular sea views that some of the other Open courses can boast, but there can be nowhere better to test your game – the challenge is relentless. As for the finishing stretch, it’ll live long in the memory.
5. Royal Birkdale, Southport
The North West of England is a links hotbed, with an array of excellent courses supplementing its three Open venues – although not everyone will agree how this particular trio should be ranked.
Royal Birkdale first hosted The Open in 1954, and since this time has been the most regular venue for the Championship other than St Andrews. It’s blessed with some of the most stunning dunes in the country, which frame the holes beautifully, and it’s one of the characteristics anyone who’s played here will remember most – that and the par-4 1st, which is surely one of the hardest openers on the Open rota.
6. Royal Portrush – Dunluce, County Antrim
Royal Portrush is stunning, and there’s every chance those who have played it would rank this Open venue – which returned to the Dunluce Links for the first in 68 years in 2019 – a lot higher. Shane Lowry, who landed a famous victory that year, might be one of those.
The Harry Colt masterpiece is characterised by towering dunes, and an array of standout holes. For many, the par-4 5th will top the lot, a hole where you tee off from an elevated tee, before following the fairway towards the sea. In truth, it’s one of those places where every hole feels dramatic in some way.
7. Royal St George’s, Kent
The Open returns to Sandwich in 2021 for the first time since 2011, when Darren Clarke kept his emotions in check to fulfil his boyhood dream and lift the Claret Jug. Located on the Kent coastline, this windswept links course, which is regarded as one of the strongest layouts in the UK and Ireland, will test your ball-striking and course management to the limits.
One of its best features, as well as its undulating terrain, dunes and deep bunkering, is the fact that the holes all point in different directions. As a result, golfers face ever-changing wind directions. You can’t fail to enjoy the test it offers.
8. Royal Liverpool, Wirral
Hoylake, which has hosted The Open on 12 occasions, is one of the most historic clubs in the country. Rory McIlroy triumphed the last time the Championship was held here in 2014, and who can forget Tiger Woods’ emotional victory in 2006?
At the tip of the Wirral peninsula and set on fairly flat ground, it may lack the dramatic views as a number of other Open venues, but it’s no less mesmerising and makes wonderful use of the natural contours.
9. Royal Lytham St Anne’s, Lancashire
The fact that this iconic Lancashire links is surrounded by urbanisation and is set back quite far from the sea only seems to add to its wonder. It’s an iconic Open venue that boasts many of the Championship’s most memorable moments – Seve’s recovery shot from the car park in 1979 to finish three shots clear and his third Open title in 1988 being among them.
Its pot bunkers and sprawling gorse will strike fear into anyone who plays here, and its difficulty cranks up a notch when the wind blows from the Irish Sea. Placement from the tee is essential if you master what is often described as a “beast” – which is certainly what the 206-yard par-3 opener is.
10. Royal Troon – Old, South Ayrshire
Royal Troon, which is set to host its tenth Open in 2024, is designed in the traditional out-and-back manner of the Old Course at St Andrews. Henrik Stenson and Phil Mickelson put on a show here in 2016 that was reminiscent of the Watson, Nicklaus duel at Turnberry – and much of the credit for that epic showdown can be attributed to the qualities of this superb links course.
It has three distinct sections: the first six out and along the coast; the middle part a technical test through the dunes; and a tough final third that’s generally played into the wind. The standout hole? There can’t be many better short holes on the Open rota than the famous “Postage Stamp”.