Links golf is nature in all its unforgiving force – and The Open is where nature is pitted against the very best of the very best.
It’s where champions must set aside what came before. Alone, skill and years of diligent preparation are not enough.
Here, on the links course, every hole is made new as the wind and weather shifts. And it has been this way since the first golfers placed the first tees into the first turf.
Links golf is how our game began, played on unforgiving shores where raw landscape meets the sea. These are fairways and greens shaped by nature. There is perfection in every imperfection.
Links golf is much more than a battle of skill and nerve told in scorecards. It is every player’s turmoils and strengths. At The Open, our game is played out for the world to see.
The test remains as stern as it ever was. And the rewards even greater.
Sand dunes swirl, rain cuts cold through gloved hands, and cresting waves carry guillemots and seagulls. But among all this movement is stillness. A truth that we have lived out here on links courses for over 150 years: this is golf’s original, timeless test.
For this, our 151st Championship, we wanted to understand what this unique form of the game means to fans and players. So we listened to the people who come here to be part of it. But we also talked to people who simply love our game – as well as fans who love sport in general.
This latter group told us that they love being part of a world-class sporting event. And they want to share that event with their friends and family, in an all-encompassing experience.
Golf fans feel something similar. However, for them, being part of The Open is about paying homage. They see it as golf’s oldest, truest and most significant championship.
We asked golf fans to tell us what The Open means to them. What they described was a battle against nature. Of these ancient strips of turf between shore and sea creating the incredible golf courses where our game began.
And there’s the difference: the land shapes the course, not the other way around. This is what makes links golf uniquely timeless.
Links golf sets the player against the raw and unpredictable power of nature. Nothing else comes close.
It’s about pitting yourself against fate, and finding the resilience to carry on. Links golf tests the golfer’s resolve and intuition as much as it challenges their fitness and skill.
It’s why intensity and emotion flow from every shot – and it’s what makes The Open so heart-stopping to watch. Every dramatic moment amplified by a crowd that understands the privilege of being so close to these moments of sporting greatness.
Our brand is based on a simple truth: every one of us faces challenges, our characters shaped by what we overcome. There will be bad luck. There will be good luck. At times, it feels as if there is no way of understanding what is going to happen.
This – all this – is what makes The Open a test like no other. These are courses renowned the world over, but which can never truly be understood. The quest never ends.
After all, this is The Open. Even the player who lifts the Claret Jug cannot claim to have all the answers.
Links golf doesn’t work like that. And that is why links golf is at the heart of what The Open stands for.
Imperfectly perfect. That is what makes each links course so special. Every fairway and green – and every hazard – is a test shaped by nature.
It's a setting where legendary golfers are made, including the great Seve Ballesteros. Royal Lytham & St Annes is where at least some of his story was written – Seve remains the only golfer to lift the Claret Jug twice at the course. At his first win, though, he was named the Car Park Champion.
Because it was here that Seve’s 16th tee shot landed under a visitor’s front bumper in the temporary car park. With a free drop in the nearby rough – flattened by car tyres all week – Ballesteros took advantage and went on to win his first major.
Thomas Bjorn’s final round at Royal St George’s in 2003 didn’t have the same fairy-tale ending. On the Sunday he stretched his overnight lead to three shots, with four holes left to play. But on 15 he drove into a fairway bunker, and went on to bogey the hole. Then on 16, the sand caught him again – this time requiring three shots to escape, and so the Claret Jug slipped through his fingers.
It's what links golf is all about. It’s players hacking out of the gorse, like Paul Casey seeing his hopes crumble at The Open in 2010. Or Nick Faldo’s new swing conquering the thick fog at Muirfield in 1987. These are the tests laid down by the landscape, and conquered by so few.
There’s nothing quite as beautiful as a sunrise on a links course. Or anything quite as cruel as the sun’s constant glare at midday. Even the sunset over the sand dunes may carry an omen of scorched greens and baked-out fairways.
Today, people in the UK still talk about the ‘long, hot summer’ of 1976. But it was a year later that The 106th Open became known as ‘The Duel in the Sun’.
The setting was Turnberry – the famous course left yellowed and hardened by a spell of intensely hot weather. Could this really be the west coast of Scotland? Our duellists for this sun-baked showdown: Tom Watson and Jack Nicklaus.
Watson was named Champion Golfer of the Year at Carnoustie in 1975, and Nicklaus had already won 14 majors. The pair went into the Saturday with identical scorecards, with the crowd only seeming to crank up the heat and the drama. Watson went on to beat Nicklaus by just one shot, lifting the Claret Jug with a total scoring record of 268.
Almost 30 years later in 2006, Royal Liverpool was also gripped by a heatwave. Parched and brown, the course became so fast that Tiger Woods was able to play irons off the tee all week – only once did he have to reach for his driver. Another close-fought battle, Chris DiMarco pushed Tiger throughout the final day. However, Woods finally secured his place in history as the first Champion to successfully hold onto his title since Tom Watson at Royal Birkdale.
Water shapes every Open Championship. It’s in the coastline carved by cresting waves. It’s in the storms, the burns and the sodden turf. Even in July.
If you know The Open, you know not always to expect blue skies and birdsong. But you probably don’t plan for what Ernie Els said was one of the most difficult days he can remember at an Open Championship. For him, and for the rest of the field – including Tiger Woods, who played the worst round of his professional career.
That was the third day at Muirfield in 2002. When it rained – and it rained a lot – it came in sheets, not drops. It whipped across the North Sea and along the Firth of Forth, and unleashed mayhem on the links.
Sometimes, though, the water isn’t from above – or sideways – but has been here all along. Like the infamous Barry Burn at Carnoustie, where Jean van de Velde realised that the double-bogey six he needed to win The Open was agonisingly out of reach.
The ball was half-in, half-out of the burn. And van de Velde was going to play it – shoes and socks left to one side. But as he weighed his options the tide rose – and the ball was soon fully under water. Van de Velde eventually opted to take a drop on his way to a seven, putting him in a play-off that was won by Paul Lawrie.
On these islands, on these links courses, the wind is always ready with its answer to the most perfectly struck shot. Here, the challenge is how to make the wind your friend, not your enemy, as the direction shifts from one moment to the next.
Then there’s the wind’s sheer intensity. When the players are blown off the course, it can only be The Open. This was Royal St George’s in 2011. When not one of the first 15 players on Saturday morning could better 74. When 22-year-old Rickie Fowler’s two-under 68 took everything he could give. And when Darren Clarke’s weekend rounds of 69 and 70 brought him a five-under aggregate – and the Claret Jug.
St Andrews in 1995 was even more extreme. 40 mph winds suspended play on the Saturday morning. This, after Friday’s flooding.
But the prize for windiest Open in history probably goes to Royal Birkdale in 2008. Not one player was under par. Vijay Singh went so far as to describe his opening round as ‘miserable, miserable, miserable’. Padraig Harrington would somehow go on to tame the gales – the first European since 1906 to retain the Claret Jug.
The Claret Jug, or to use its proper name, the Golf Champion Trophy, is presented to each year's winner of The Open.
Yet it is not the original prize. When the Championship began at Prestwick in 1860, the winner was presented with the Challenge Belt, made of rich Moroccan leather, embellished with a silver buckle and emblems.
1860. History Created.
In 1870, just 10 years after The Open began, Tom Morris Jr won for the third consecutive time and became the owner of the Challenge Belt. The future direction of the Championship was discussed at Prestwick Golf Club’s Spring Meeting in April 1871, during which a key proposal was put forward by Gilbert Mitchell Innes: “In contemplation of St Andrews, Musselburgh and other clubs joining in the purchase of a Belt to be played for over four or more greens it is not expedient for the club to provide a Belt to be played for solely at Prestwick."
The motion was passed, but no final decisions were reached about venues or the involvement of other clubs, with the result that The Open was not played in 1871. Moves to revive the competition resumed the following year. The minutes of The Royal and Ancient Golf Club, dated May 1, state that the green committee had been “empowered to enter into communication with other clubs with a view to effecting a revival of the Championship Belt, and they were authorised to contribute a sum not exceeding £15 from the funds of the club”.
Agreement was finally reached on September 11, 1872 between the three clubs that were to host The Open — Prestwick, the Honourable Company of Edinburgh Golfers and The Royal and Ancient Golf Club. They decided that the Champion would receive a medal and that each of the three clubs would contribute £10 towards the cost of a new trophy, which was to be a silver Claret Jug, instead of another Belt. Its proper name was to be The Golf Champion Trophy. These decisions were taken too late for the trophy to be presented to the 1872 Champion Golfer, who was once again Tom Morris Jr. Instead, he was awarded with a medal inscribed ‘The Golf Champion Trophy’.
“It's the coolest trophy that our sport has to offer” Jordan spieth, 2017 Champion Golfer
The impetus to provide the Challenge Belt had come from the Earl of Eglinton and derived from his keen interest in medieval pageantry. He was pre-eminent in encouraging sport throughout the social spectrum and was a leading light in setting up The Open Championship. The Earl donated many trophies for competition, including a gold belt for competition among the Irvine Archers. The original Challenge Belt was purchased by the members of Prestwick Golf Club.
According to the first rule of the new golf competition: “The party winning the belt shall always leave the belt with the treasurer of the club until he produces a guarantee to the satisfaction of the above committee that the belt shall be safely kept and laid on the table at the next meeting to compete for it until it becomes the property of the winner by being won three times in succession."
The first time a medal was given to the Champion was in 1872, when no trophy was available. Unlike the Claret Jug, which must be returned in time for the next Championship, the Gold Medal is kept by the winner. The early Gold Medals, which in fact were silver gilt, were large ovals with a central design of a shield and crossed clubs. Around the edge was the inscription ‘Golf Champion Trophy’. During the late 1880s and early 1890s, the design of the medal underwent several changes.
The circular medal was first introduced in 1893 and the basic size and shape has not changed since then. That same year, the medal was assigned a value of £10 and this was deducted from the advertised purse for the winner. In 1920, the value of the winner’s medal was increased to £25 and again deducted from his share of the prize fund. This practice stopped after The Open in 1929 and from 1930 onwards, the winner no longer had to ‘pay’ for their medal.
It had been suggested as early as 1922 that some recognition should be given to the leading amateur in The Open, but it was not until 1949 that a Silver Medal of the same size and design as the winner’s medal, was presented. It bore the inscription ‘Golf Champion Trophy’, with the addition of the words ‘First Amateur’. Frank Stranahan of the United States was the first to receive the Silver Medal and he went on to win it again in 1950, 1951 and 1953.
From 1972 all amateurs, other than the leading amateur, who have played on the final day of The Open, have received a Bronze Medal.
In recognition of the growing challenges facing our natural environment, The Open is committed to conserving the natural links landscapes which play host to the Championship.
Taking into account specific site sensitivities and wildlife considerations, great care is taken to protect nature throughout the entire event staging process. Working closely with an appointed ecologist and the host venue, The Open ensures that the links is safeguarded for the enjoyment of future generations.
The GreenLinks programme also addresses the broader sustainability considerations around staging a major sport event. In catering for hundreds of thousands of spectators during the week of the Championship, The Open is implementing sustainable procurement policies which focus on ethically produced food and drink from local suppliers.
To minimise the volume of waste material sent to landfill, The Open is collaborating with partner organisations to deliver effective waste separation and recycling initiatives.
You can help the successful delivery of the GreenLinks programme by taking the following steps during your visit to The Open:
The Open supports businesses in the region of the host venue by using local producers, when possible, to supply the Championship. The Open's goal to provide sustainable, local and healthy food choices is part of the continuing commitment to hosting a sustainable event.
To minimise the impact of spectators on the the natural landscape, strategies are implemented at The Open to separate waste material to facilitate recycling. Help to keep the links clean by not littering and using the designated recycling bins provided when you come to The Open.
Fairtrade certified tea, coffee, hot chocolate, sugar and bananas have been supplied at The Open for a number of years. This commitment to Fairtrade means that farmers and workers in developing countries producing these crops receive the Fairtrade Minimum Price to cover the cost of sustainable production. They also receive an additional Fairtrade Premium to invest back into their business or community projects. Supporting ethical food production is part of The Open's continuing commitment to hosting a sustainable event.
GreenLinks, The Open's programme for sustainable development, is being mentored by the GEO Foundation. GEO provides golf with a credible and accessible system of sustainability standards, supporting programmes, recognition and capacity building activities. Engagement with GEO enables the successful delivery of the GreenLinks programme.
For more information on the work of the GEO Foundation
The Open is the ultimate test of links golf, demanding firm and true surfaces which reward skill and penalise error. The Sports Turf Research institute (STRI) is working with The Open to ensure an authentic links experience is presented at every venue, every year. A comprehensive surface testing programme for firmness, smoothness, trueness and speed, coupled with sustainable greenkeeping practices, prepares the golf course for the best players in the world.
Open venues hold some of the UK's most precious wildlife habitat. Links landscapes are also home to endangered species, such as the skylark, a UK Red List species, which thrives in the wild rough grassland. The Open's efforts to ensure these precious landscapes are protected and conserved are part of the continuing commitment to hosting a sustainable event.
Find out more information on The R&A's advocacy of sustainability