Golf Monthly Editor Mike Harris takes a tour round the Open rota courses, which can be played by all
Playing Every Open Rota Course In One Year
Unlike other sports, ordinary golfers can follow in the footsteps of the game’s greats and play courses that have staged the biggest competitions.
Nowhere is this truer than in the UK and Ireland, where all of the courses on the current Open rota can be played by anyone prepared to pay a green fee.
There’s no need to be accompanied by a member and for all bar the Old Course you can book a guaranteed tee time online.
I’d played all except Royal Troon before last year, but sampling them all in the same calendar year allowed me to fairly benchmark them all against the criteria we judge the Top 100 rankings on.
Here’s how my year unfolded…
Carnoustie – April 19
The reputation for the severity of the test here is well merited, with the final three holes exciting and petrifying in equal measure.
Despite the volume of play it gets, Carnoustie is among the best-conditioned courses on the Open rota.
The new clubhouse has really added to the visitor experience.
Royal Liverpool – April 28
Hoylake might not have the visual drama of some of its fellow Open layouts, but what it lacks in this department it more than makes up for in the quality of test.
Unforgiving on a calm day, it’s brutal when the wind whips off the Dee Estuary.
The magnificent clubhouse oozes history and visitors are welcomed warmly.
St Andrews – May 2
For me, the Old Course is in a league of its own when it comes to experience.
The spine-tingling excitement is most keenly felt on the 1st, 17th and 18th holes, but the entire course is magical and the unique layout means it’s playable for all golfers.
Turnberry – May 9
The Ailsa has always been the most visually appealing course on the Open rota, but some weaker holes to start and finish were its achilles heel.
The recent changes by architect Martin Ebert have not only strengthened the weak holes, but almost inconceivably improved the immense holes that run along the coastline, both aesthetically and from a playing perspective.
Royal St George’s – June 5
Perhaps the quirkiest of the rota courses, George’s can leave you scratching your head – especially playing it as I did in the midst of the hot summer, where the rumpled fairways yielded some unpredictable bounces and greens proved hard to hold.
However, golf, especially by the seaside, isn’t meant to be fair, so embrace the challenge and you’ll be rewarded!
Royal Troon – June 12
Having attended both the 2004 and 2016 Opens I was excited to play the course, and it lived up to my lofty expectations.
The classic out-and-back routing means that holes played with the wind (usually the front nine) are scoreable, but those that play back into the draft are savage.
Royal Lytham – July 2
Played in the middle of the heatwave, the course was running fast and demanded even more precise play than usual to avoid the many bunkers.
Despite few changes in elevation, the layout offers terrific variety.
The lack of sea views is an obvious minus point, but Lytham undeniably boasts an inner beauty.
Muirfield – September 18
With Storm Helena surging across Scotland, I played this round in bizarre conditions – flat, calm and humid for eight holes, before the wind got up.
Muirfield remains the most traditional experience on the rota and the lunch is phenomenal.
Royal Portrush – September 25
I’d only played the course once before, 14 years ago, and was a little underwhelmed.
Not so on my return.
The two new holes (7 and 8) are incredible and it went straight into my personal top 10.
Start to finish I think it’s the hardest course on the rota.
Royal Birkdale – October 17
Alongside Muirfield, it’s the fairest Open course.
Everything is out there in front of you and you know what’s required of you on every shot – executing, of course, is a different matter!
It’s very consistent from start to finish – only the 5th could be considered a weak hole – and the closing stretch is exceptional.
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