Here we take a look at 10 of the very best courses in the UK and the USA that have hosted Major Championships. You can play all of them, although some may be easier (and less expensive) to get onto than others!
St Andrews Old Course
As golf’s “Grand Old Lady,” The Old Course is the most famous of The Open venues and the most historically important course in the world. It’s a unique layout featuring double greens, crossovers, punishing pot bunkers and looming gorse.
Starting and finishing by the iconic Royal and Ancient clubhouse, the fairways here whisper of the greats of the game who have trodden them over the decades and centuries. The Links is owned by the town so it’s a Major course you can play, as long as you possess a valid handicap certificate.
Summer 15 Green Fee: £170
Turnberry’s Ailsa Course is one of the most striking in world golf. Superb links holes forge out through the dunes to the rugged Ayrshire shoreline with views to the Ailsa Craig, past the iconic lighthouse. The layout then runs precariously along the coast before turning for home and the grand white hotel on the hill.
Recently taken over by Donald Trump, the American is investing hundreds of millions of dollars to make improvements to the course that look set to heighten the thrilling challenge posed by this great Open venue. It’s a Major course you can play, and it’s a little cheaper if you stay in the hotel…. That might not work out cheaper in total mind you!
Summer 15 Green Fee: £250 (£180 for hotel guests)
The Open returns to Royal Birkdale in Southport on Merseyside for a 10th time in 2017. Surrounded by towering dunes, the fairways at Birkdale wind between those impressive sand hills. It’s a course that will test even the most accomplished links player to their limits, particularly when the wind is gusting.
The course features a number of recognisable holes and an outstanding finish. The last two are par-5s for amateurs – the 17th with its long green, the scene of Padraig Harrington’s famous 5-wood shot in 2008, then the 18th with out of bounds lurking right and a selection of treacherous bunkers to negotiate en-route to the green in front of the striking art-deco clubhouse.
Summer 15 Green Fee: £205
Set on the Angus coast between Dundee and Arbroath, Carnoustie has been host to The Open Championship on seven occasions and the great event will return in 2018.
It’s one of the very best links courses and, arguably, the toughest on the Open rota. The rough can be punishing, the bunkers have a magnetic appeal and out-of-bounds is often a threat. Ditches cross many holes, adding to the challenge, and the most famous hazard is the snaking “Barry Burn.” It crosses the 17th and 18th holes and is an ominous presence on both.
It was in this stream in 1999 that Jean Van de Velde’s Open dreams sank as Paul Lawrie went on to claim a playoff victory. Like St Andrews, Carnoustie is owned by the town so it’s another Major course you can play, open to all-comers of a sufficient standard to take on this brutish track.
Summer 15 Green Fee: £160
Until relatively recently, it’s been a challenge for visitors to gain a game at Muirfield on the East Lothian coast. But the club has relaxed its policy on itinerant golfers and times have become available to visiting golfers. That’s a great thing, as it’s one of the truly great courses, arguably, the very best.
This Open venue plays in two loops. The front nine skirts the perimeter in a clockwise direction before the 10th leads into the heart of the course and the inner loop, played in a largely anti-clockwise direction.
The routing means the golfer will never face a succession of holes with a consistent wind direction. It’s one of the characteristics making Muirfield such a wonderfully fair test of golf. It’s simply a fabulous design providing a stringent examination of every aspect of the game, both physical and mental.
Summer 15 Green Fee: Upon application
On the coast at Monterey in California lies another of the world’s most famous golf courses. Pebble Beach Golf Links has witnessed a number of the U.S. Open’s greatest moments: Tom Watson’s chip-in on the 17th green in 1982, Tiger Woods’ phenomenal 15-stroke victory in 2000, then on to Graeme McDowell’s gritty display to win in 2010. This is one of those “must-play” courses, a track where the hairs will stand up on the back of your neck as you tee up on the first. Each hole is recognisable and has it’s own history.
Take the par-3 7th, just 103 yards but straight down towards a green perched on the edge of the Pacific – remember Tom Kite pitching in back in 1992. The thrill continues right through to the fabulous par-5 18th, curving around the beautiful shoreline from right to left. It’s a Major course you can play, but it’s expensive!
Summer 15 Green Fee: $495
Kiawah Island – Ocean Course
Just south of Charleston in South Carolina, you’ll find one of Pete Dye’s most famous creations. Kiawah Island’s Ocean Course was host to the Ryder Cup of 1991, an encounter dubbed “The War on the Shore,” remember the “Desert Storm” caps and Bernhard Langer’s agonising missed putt? It was also the venue for Rory McIlroy’s memorable 2012 USPGA Championship victory.
This is another of those courses that all golfers have on their “must play” list, with a stunning array of holes, 10 of them playing right along the exposed Atlantic coastline. With no prevailing wind, it can be brutally difficult. But, with a wonderfully natural flow in a simply beautiful setting, this course provides a unique golfing experience no matter how you play, or how many balls you lose!
Summer 15 Green Fee: Various packages available, check website for details
Whistling Straits, owned by Kohler Company is another Pete Dye creation that has hints of a British links course about it. It’s an open and rugged layout where the wind off Lake Michigan is a significant factor. The course is constructed on an abandoned airfield and plays along two miles of the Great Lake’s shoreline. It’s an extremely striking track with expansive waste areas that, for the 2010 USPGA Championship, were classed as bunkers.
That proved costly to Dustin Johnson. One shot ahead coming to the last, the American made a bogey to seemingly tie Martin Kaymer and Bubba Watson atop the leaderboard. But after reviewing video footage it was decided he had grounded his club in one of the “waste areas” deemed to be bunkers so he incurred a one-stroke penalty and ended the week one stroke shy of making a playoff.
Summer 15 Green Fee: $385
In 2014 Pinehurst near Fayetteville in the heart of North Carolina played host to the U.S. Open and the U.S. Women’s Open. (Both contested on Pinehurst’s famous #2 course.)
Established in 1895, Pinehurst is one of America’s most historic golfing facilities. Founded by James W. Tufts, the resort is known for the work of prolific course designer Donald Ross.
The Scot arrived at Pinehurst at Tuft’s behest, at the very end of the 19th century. Ross was involved in a re-design of the first course at Pinehurst, but his masterpiece was Pinehurst #2. Although he completed the design in 1907, he continued to make alterations to the layout until his death in 1948.
Host to the 1936 PGA Championship, the Ryder Cup of 1951 and the U.S. Opens of 1999 and 2005, this is one of the USA’s very best courses. Routed between the pines and sand-hills, it’s a fabulous and fair test of golf with a selection of highly memorable holes. The greens are superb, yet with most crowned and heavily undulating, they provide a serious examination of the short game. If you’re not satisfied after one round at Pinehurst, don’t worry, there are seven other courses to enjoy there!
Summer 15 Green Fee: Various packages available – see website for details
OK, so this final one is a little tongue in cheek, as there are few courses in the world that are so hard to play as Augusta. You’ll either need to become a member…. good luck. Or you’ll have to make friends with a member and be invited on. One other option is to get a job with the media and enter the annual ballot at The Masters that gives a few lucky journalists the chance to play the course on the Monday following the tournament.
It’s probably the most recognizable course in the world: perfectly manicured with its impossible slopes, pine straw, towering pines and shimmering water hazards. Most golfers have dreams of playing at Augusta and unfortunately, for most of us, dreaming of playing is about as close as we’ll get.
Summer 15 Green Fee: Not applicable