Watching The Masters unfold this weekend will give many viewers the urge to play Augusta National themselves sometime -- good luck, that's a privilege reserved for the very exclusive membership of 300 or so and their guests. If you think the way you'll get to play America's most revered and exclusive course is by becoming a member, that's another tall order. This club doesn't even accept applications; membership is strictly by invitation. That's fine if you are a titan of industry, a banking magnate or a national politician, but for mere mortals like you and me, it's a very long shot at best.
Fortunately, you can watch any of the other 3 Majors and for those with the desire to play the venue course, it's there for them to play. Arguably the most intriguing of these events is The British Open.
The Open Championship (as the world's oldest golf tournament is officially called) is rotated each year between an exclusive listing of the very best links courses in Britain. The current list contains just nine names, four are in England and five in Scotland and it's Scotland's Open venues that garner all of the attention from visitors, as they should. Scotland is not only the home of golf, it's also where The British Open was born in 1860 and remained a strictly Scottish affair until 1894 when it ventured south of the border and into England, for the very first time.
All nine venues on the current Open rotation accept visitors, whether exclusive private clubs or public courses. Demand to play them is understandably very high, but with long term planning, the welcome mat is always there.
In the case of the Scottish courses and with the help of an experienced professional golf travel company, all five current Open venues, Carnoustie, Turnberry, St. Andrews Old, Royal Troon and Muirfield could all be played on a single week's golf trip. Just be prepared to start making arrangements very soon if you're thinking of taking such a trip in 2008.
But remember, these are the toughest links courses of all and trying to tackle too many is going to be a strenuous undertaking and perhaps too much. If you would just like to include two or three of these icons of golf, there will be some decisions to be made and the following may help decide which are best suited to you.
Carnoustie -- The Championship Course: Nobody disputes the fact that this is the toughest of all nine Open courses and there won't be a single player in this year's tournament who will not leave the course with anything but the greatest respect for the layout some call, Carnasty.
Presenting a gargantuan, 7,400 yards from the back tees, this is a challenge no big hitter can resist -- it's the ultimate golf test. Constant changes of hole direction make the wind a variable to be contended with from start to finish and on the rare days when the winds subside, things get no easier. Wickedly placed bunkers, streams meandering back and forth across fairways, devilishly tricky greens and optical illusions that manage to confound everyone when it comes to club selection, make this a monster like no other.
2007 marks Carnoustie's 7th hosting of The Open and it's the layout even cream of the crop tour players fear most.
Turnberry -- The Ailsa Course: Genteel, handsome and beguiling when compared to Carnoustie, beware - a book should never be judged by its cover and neither should The Ailsa. The course has worked its way to the very peak of fame this year by being anointed the number one layout in the entire British Isles. This is one every golfer should savor and enjoy to the fullest and a calm, windless day offers the best opportunity. Catch Turnberry on a blustery day and you will be taking on a horse of an entirely different color, confronted by a fiery, untamed mustang that refuses to be broken.
Stunning water views abound and after a rather slow start, a run of 8 of the best seaside holes to be found in all of Britain followed by a closing sequence that is nothing less. Turnberry is slated to next host The Open in 2009, its 4th time to be so honored.
St. Andrews Old Course: No course is so revered, nor as old as the fabled Old Course and none have hosted The Open as frequently. When this grand old lady welcomes the world's best players for the 2010 British Open, it will be the 28th time she has been called upon to do so.
This is golf's Mecca and the one course that manages to raise goose bumps on the flesh of even the most seasoned golfer, amateur or professional. Every great name the game has ever known has walked these hallowed fairways and the sense of history and privilege in being able to follow their footsteps, for many is an overwhelming experience. From the huge, double greens, to the infamous Road Hole, to Hells Bunker and the Valley of Sin, this is the stage that has witnessed every great event in the game's 600 year history and every golfer should experience it at least once.
Muirfield: Home to The Honorable Company of Edinburgh Golfers, the oldest and perhaps the most prestigious golf club in the world. This is the club responsible for writing the very first rules of golf and the course is no less inspiring. Muirfield is simply one of the greatest tests of golf skills in existence.
Demanding perfectly shaped shots and a solid strategy, anything falling short is penalized to the extreme. Thick high rough with deep pot bunkers and narrow fairways combine with tricky greens, making finesse and a complete game, prerequisites for any hope of a decent score.
A 15 time Open venue, with many more to come, visitor times are very limited, but for the fortunate few, Muirfield offers a golf experience like no other. If you are able to secure a time, you have the option to make it a day ticket; include lunch in the historic, men-only clubhouse and you'll be living a piece of golf history never to be forgotten.
Royal Troon: The front half of this 8 time Open host may seem mild mannered, but the back 9 more than compensates for any perceived weaknesses. Containing both the longest and shortest holes on the British Open circuit, Royal Troon dishes up variety and challenge in generous portions. There are those who consider Troon's close to be the strongest of any Open venue, due in large part to the cantankerous wind for which this stretch of Ayrshire coastline is notorious.
Perched among the sand dunes, it's the world- renowned Postage Stamp hole, the seemingly short, 126 yard, 8th, that is the focus of every visitor's attention. Be warned, this is likely to be the longest "short hole" you have ever played.
At the 1950 Open, it took a talented German amateur, Herman Tissies, 15 strokes before his ball eventually vanished beneath the pin. By comparison, a 72 year old Gene Sarazen, playing a couple of rounds at the lead-up to the 1973 Open, took a grand total of only 3 strokes to play the 8th twice, using the putter for only one of the three.
Only the very best of Britain's links courses are brought onto the prestigious, British Open circuit and each and every one of them lays out the welcome mat for visitors. Don't resist the opportunity to play one or all; you'll be testing your golfing abilities to the extreme.
With the help of a professional golf travel company such as Golf International, you can enjoy the best links courses the world has to offer and perhaps, attend the 2007 Open as well. For a few ideas on how, click here.
© 2007 David Brice / Golf International Inc. All Rights Reserved.
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