The most illustrious list of top golf courses in the British Isles is not the ranking of the 100 most technically perfect layouts in the land, neither is it a display of the country's most historic courses that have captured the imagination of golfers for eons.
While all of the courses on Britain's most prestigious listing hold positions at or close to the top of each of these rankings, the elite honor-roll of the true, crème de la crème links courses is much shorter and even more exclusive. It's the listing of links accepted as members of The Open Championship Rota. These are the select few windblown layouts that share between them the honor of hosting the most historic of the four Majors, The Open Championship, commonly known on this side of the Atlantic as The British Open.
The only Major to be held outside of the USA and the solitary international championship to be played exclusively over links courses, The Open is unique, taking on a level of excitement, pomp and grandeur, unmatched by any other sporting event on the globe.
The current Open Rota consists of just nine links courses deemed qualified for the honor; five are in Scotland and four in England. There is no tougher club to get into and even for those that make it, no guarantee how long they will remain as members. Any can be eliminated at the choosing of the Royal & Ancient Golf Club, should that august body decide a course no longer meets the exacting standards and consequently, is suited no more to host the oldest and most revered golf championship in existence.
This year's Open comes back to Scotland after journeying "South of the Border", for a year, where England's Royal Birkdale hosted the 2008 event. Returning to golf's homeland and the country of The Open's beginnings, couldn't be more appropriate than this, the year designated by the Scottish Parliament as Scotland's official, Homecoming Year - a twelve month-long celebration of all things Scottish.
There are few things more Scottish than golf - this is the country where the game was born over 600 years ago. Similarly, no event is more relevant to golf and the game's proud history than The Open and the sparsely attended, very first Open that took place in 1860 at Prestwick Golf Club, located just a few miles from this year's host, Turnberry.
First accepted as an Open venue in 1977, no other new-comer has been brought into the Rota during the 32 years since, so at 103 years old, Turnberry's Ailsa Course remains the junior member of The Club and 2009 marks its fourth hosting of golf's event of the year.
It was at Turnberry's inaugural Open in 1977 where one of the most thrilling final rounds in Open history took place. Now referred to as The Duel in the Sun, Tom Watson and Jack Nicklaus were the combatants in a nail biting finish when Watson eventually came out the victor, winning by a single stroke on the 72nd hole.
Nine years would pass before Turnberry was called upon to host the 1986 Open and true to its earlier form, The Ailsa again produced an exciting tournament. This time a flamboyant young Australian named Greg Norman played head to head against some of golf's greatest names, including Nick Faldo, Berhard Langer, Ian Woosnam and Seve Ballesteros. Sweeping the field over the final two rounds, Norman was to take the claret jug by a very comfortable 5 strokes -- a new golf star had been born.
Turnberry's third hosting of The Open took place in 1994 when crowd pleaser, Nick Price put forth a gargantuan effort to beat the Swede with the funny hat, Jesper Parnevik, who came in a sadly disappointed second. Now, 15 years on, Turnberry takes front and center stage for the fourth time, but for any who may have had the privilege of playing this classic links personally, many changes have taken place since you were here.
Both the Ailsa Course and the hotel have undergone extensive refurbishment and re-tuning and the Ailsa Course returns after a 9 month closure as a rejuvenated and if it's possible, a more exhilarating experience than ever before.
The 10th hole always looked spectacular, laid out along the shoreline, but the proximity to water barely affected the strategy of the hole. Now with a new tee perched on a rock and widened fairways extending toward the beach, this has become an exceptionally invigorating experience, requiring a 200 yard carry over the bay.
Radical changes on the 16th and 17th holes have only added more teeth to the Ailsa's defense arsenal. On other holes, strategically placed fairway bunkers have been added, more ridges and hollows have been built and the course has been lengthened by some 247 yards, bringing it to a very serious, 7,204 yards for the 2009 Open.
The Ailsa may have lost some of the gentlemanly attributes it once had, taking on a less congenial character than before. The changes demand far more thought from the tees and for those who choose an aggressive strategy, the risks have been increased considerably -- but so have the rewards. All in all the new Ailsa has turned a previously serious challenge into one that is extremely serious from the back tees, yet retains an eminent playability from the front.
Changes made to any course, specifically for a Major, inevitably bring a share of criticism, but in this case any criticism would be difficult to justify -- a previously excellent course has been transformed for the better into one that is absolutely superb. Those who may have questioned why this links classic was last year elevated to the number 1 position among the Top 100 Courses in the British Isles, have had their question answered -- The Ailsa Course is without a doubt, the best of British golf.
For those who remember the old Turnberry, it's time to experience the rejuvenated course that will be inaugurated by the world's best this weekend. For those who may never have played here, see how the tour pros play it, then pack your bags and test your skills against what many will be speaking of as the best links course in the world.
For more information on how Turnberry can be included in your Scottish golf trip, or if you would like to experience the magic of the 2010 Open, taking place at the fabled St. Andrews Old Course, in person rather than on television, click here.