In the golfing world, no competition is more cherished than that which occurs at the game's four major championships. While each event in this "fab four" has its own tradition, the British Open is golf's oldest.
First held in 1860, the Open has pitted golfers against the harsh elements of links courses in Scotland, England and Ireland. While the most iconic venue is without a doubt the Old Course at St. Andrews, there are eight other courses in the R&A's current British Open rotation. In no particular order, these include Carnoustie, Muirfield, Turnberry, Royal Troon, Royal St. George's, Royal Birkdale, Royal Lytham & St Annes and Royal Liverpool.
It is our opinion that Europe's governing body should consider expanding the offering of courses that host the Open. Let's look at our top six suggestions.
Scotland's Prestwick Golf Club was the first site of the British Open in 1860. The course hosted the event each year until 1870 and was removed from the R&A's rotation in 1925.
At present day, Prestwick would serve as a good host of the Open because it would offer the game's greats a reminder of the tournament's humble beginnings, when no prize money—just pride—was given to the winner.
Located a short drive from Glasgow, there would be plenty of infrastructure available for the club if it was added to the R&A's rotation, not to mention the course's penchant for sand and blind tee shots—two British Open requirements.
Modern-day golfers would still have trouble with Prestwick, as it features blind shots on the fifth and 17th, in addition to a mammoth 50-yard bunker known simply as the "Cardinal," which is on the third hole.
According to popular record, Musselburgh is believed to be the oldest golf course in the world, as continuous play has occurred on the Scottish links since 1672. According to the club's own course history, its hole width was 4.25 inches, which was made the standard for all courses under R&A authority in the late 19th century.
As you can probably guess, Musselburgh was originally used as an Open venue in the tournament's early days before the construction of Muirfield prompted the R&A to replace the classic course.
While the course isn't in the British Open rotation because it only has nine holes, we'd consider it an honor to witness today's pros tee it up here. Our solution to get past the nine-hole issue: play the course back-to-back each round, with tee locations changing drastically each time. The wind will take care of the rest.
Royal Cinque Ports Golf Club was used for Open play throughout most of the 1900's second decade, though its Kent County (Southern England) counterpart, Royal St George's, now holds a spot in the R&A's rotation.
Royal Cinque still hosts Open qualifying rounds, but it was removed from the tournament's "big show" because of a freak tide incident in 1938 and 1948.
As the Open's own website attests to, Royal Cinque's main challenge is its unusual "out-and-back routing, which demands that players finish their rounds into the teeth of the prevailing south-westerly wind," in addition to the course's bevy of sand dunes and traditional high grass.
At an official length of close to 6,700 yards, Royal Cinque isn't the longest course in England, but it would give knockdown artists (we're thinking of Tiger's stinger) a chance to strut their stuff if it was added to the official rotation again.
Prince's Golf Club, also located near Royal St George's, only hosted one British Open in 1932, but we think it'd be a great addition to today's rotation. The course, which is a modernized version of old-school links golf, plays close to 7,000 yards, and it features the gargantuan Sarazen bunker (pictured left) on the ninth green.
According to the club's history, Prince's was "used for bombing target practice by the Royal Air Force" in World War II; the course was restored in the 1950s.
We'd love to see Tiger, Rory and Co. hit out of the Sarazen bunker. It looks like a doozy.
Royal Portrush holds the distinction of being the only Open Championship to ever be held on Irish land, which occurred 1951. Located in Northern Ireland, Portrush also hosted the Irish Open this summer and will host the R&A's Amateur Championship in 2014.
Unlike most of the courses that have been previously mentioned, the governing body has discussed the possibility of Open golf returning to Ireland.
Portrush's Dunluce Links is its best course, as it plays close to 7,200 yards and even closer to the shores of the Atlantic Ocean. For the sake of wonderful scenery like this, and insane bunkers (see above), let's hope the R&A follows through and returns Portrush to its rotation.
Castle Stuart Golf Links is a relatively new course, but it has already hosted the Scottish Open twice and a few other smaller European Tour events. As the course's management seems to believe, Castle Stuart was built for a future British Open, as it is nestled on the sea and features a number of so-called "infinity edges" that truly turn lag putts into a daunting challenge.
On the whole, Castle Stuart's newer design gives it a better "shock and awe" appeal than most other British Open locations, and the course's landscaping is simply breathtaking. Here's a flyover.