The world’s oldest golf tournament has been played at just 14 locations since 1860, but the repetition never gets old. Eleven of the 14 historic venues are ranked in GOLF’s World Top 100, and all 10 on the active rotation are in the top 80 (top 30 in the UK and Ireland).
Four courses – Musselburgh, Royal Cinque, Prestwick and Prince’s – have not hosted The Open in about 100 years. Each has its own fascinating history and conception: many royal, and all ancient. Let’s dive into the current lineup.
Old Course at St. Andrews
World ranking: 3
Notable characteristics: An abundance of short grass makes the birthplace of golf exciting for all abilities. If you want to go low, though, you must avoid blind bunkers and stay on the correct side of huge, double greens.
Signature hole: The Road Hole 17th: With an out-of-bounds road looming to the right, and a deep pot bunker that collects the “safely” played approach shots, this 495-yard par-4 yielded a scoring average of 4.83 in 2015.
Open Championships hosted (incl. 150th): 30
Most recent winner: Zach Johnson, 15 under (2015)
East Lothian, Scotland
World ranking: 11
Notable characteristics: Continuous direction change creates a ball-striker’s test. Different winds test competitors in every aspect of their game as they avoid areas that trickle into pot bunkers and a meandering creek that often comes into play.
Signature hole: 13th: An uphill par-3 with a large green shouldn’t be too daunting, but a false front and five defending bunkers require a perfectly strategized tee shot.
Open Championships hosted: 16
Most recent winner: Phil Mickelson, 3 under (2013)
Royal St. George’s
World ranking: 33
Notable characteristics: Built across large dunes, this host site challenges players through blind shots and elevated greens. Pot bunkers are strategically placed to create forced carries off the tee.
Signature hole: The Maiden 6th: The green of this par-3 sits naturally between surrounding dunes. The relatively short distance is offset by its defence: four pot bunkers and a two-tiered green.
Open Championships hosted: 15
Most recent winner: Collin Morikawa, 15 under (2021)
World ranking: 79
Notable characteristics: Well-placed bunkers and internal out of bounds make Hoylake one of the most challenging links courses. Unlike its companions on this list, it doesn’t have undulating surrounding terrain; the charm comes from the architectural design.
Signature hole: The Hilbre 12th: This 452-yard, dogleg par-4 offers a risk-reward opportunity to carry the corner bunkers. With a steep drop off to the right of the green, this hole requires two perfect swings (played as the second hardest hole in 2014).
Open Championships hosted: 12
Most recent winner: Rory McIlroy, 17 under (2014)
Royal Lytham and St. Narrative
Lytham St. Annes, England
World ranking: 67
Notable characteristics: If you think St. Andrews’ 112 bunkers pose a threat, try Lytham’s 205. Finding one is inevitable due to their sheer capacity, and those who emerge victorious here must be able to recover from them.
Signature hole: 17th: If you manage to hit the tiny landing area guarded by seven of the 15 traps on this hole, you’ll find a plaque commemorating amateur Bobby Jones’ first Claret Jug.
Open Championships hosted: 11
Most recent winner: Ernie Els, 7 under (2012)
World ranking: 42
Notable characteristics: Birkdale is by no means easy, but it’s definitely fair. The property lies between dunes rather than on top of them, and Phil Mickelson said that bounces are easily anticipated here.
Signature hole: 10th: Players are given the opportunity on this short par-4 to lay up with an iron or drive it over a series of bunkers to wedge distance. A narrow fairway is better protected by thick rough and thick to either side.
Open Championships hosted: 10
Most recent winner: Jordan Spieth, 12 under (2017)
Royal Troon (Old)
World ranking: 59
Notable characteristics: Split into three sections, winds of each direction test competitors. The first six go out, the middle six play inland, and the closing six come back. Watch out for the stone wall separating the course and the rail line just off the 11th green.
Signature hole: The Postage Stamp 8th: Don’t mistake this 123-yard wedge shot for an easy hole, as this tiny green rolls off into even smaller, deep pot bunkers.
Open Championships hosted: 9
Most recent winner: Henrik Stenson, 20 under (2016)
World ranking: 39
Notable characteristics: This place earns its nickname “Carnastie.” Fairways lined with gorse and fescue along with deep bunkers make for one of the most challenging Open Championship venues.
Signature hole: Home (18): Jean Van de Velde isn’t the only victim of one of the best closing holes in golf. Fairway bunkers, high fescue and a skinny, protected green means par is more than satisfactory.
Open Championships hosted: 8
Most recent winner: Francesco Molinari, 8 under (2018)
World ranking: 18
Notable characteristics: Utilizing a jagged cliff line, the renovation of these links makes it one of the most beautiful and scenic Open venues. Winds howl by the iconic lighthouse now that many holes are directly on the shore line.
Signature hole: Bruce’s Castle 9th: This 248-yard par-3 (formerly a par-4) stretches from the famous lighthouse over the rocky coastline, requiring a massive carry.
Open Championships hosted: 4
Most recent winner: Stewart Cink, 2 under (2009)
Royal Portrush (Dunluce)
Portrush, Northern Ireland
World ranking: 15
Notable characteristics: Set in the high dunes along the Irish Sea, both nines use the cliff line and include many dog legs, forcing creativity off the tee.
Signature hole: White Rocks 5th: This downhill par-4 turns right towards a cliff overhanging White Rocks Beach. Club selection is vital when approaching the two-tiered green.
Open Championships hosted: 2
Most recent winner: Shane Lowry, 15 under (2019)