The Open Championship -- More Scottish than British

July 16, 2007
David Brice, Golf International, Inc.

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.

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Prestwick hosted 24 Open Championships before being retired in 1925

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 136 times The Open has been staged since 1860, a Scottish club has hosted 90 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 5 of the 9 British courses that 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 is 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.

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Carnoustie - Host to the 2007 Open

Carnoustie -- Championship Course: 2007 marks the 7th time Carnoustie has 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 rough ride.

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Turnberry's Ailsa Course next hosts The Open in 2009

Turnberry -- Ailsa: Next slated to host 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.

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St. Andrews Old Course takes Open honors for the 28th time in 2010

St. Andrews Old Course: 2010 will be the 28th occasion that the Grand Dame of links golf has 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.

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Muirfield has been a regular Open venue since 1892

Muirfield: This is home to the Honourable Company of Edinburgh Golfers, the oldest golf club in existence and 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 15 times so far, most recently in 2001 when David Duval claimed victory. Look for this noble links to be called upon for further Open duties, shortly after St. Andrews in 2010.

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Royal Troon has produced 6 US champions from the 8 Opens it has hosted

Royal Troon: 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 has not yet been decided, but look for it to follow close on the heels of Muirfield.

Prestwick: 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.

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Musselburgh Old Links an original Open host in the 19th century

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 90 different Opens since 1860. Play them all or just a few. Whichever you choose, you will be experiencing golf history and walking in the footsteps of the greatest names the game has ever known.

For suggestions on how to fit a few Open Championship courses into your Scottish golf trip, click here.

© 2007 David Brice / Golf International Inc. All Rights Reserved.

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