The natural challenge of links courses, with the coastal winds, the sunshine or the rain, provides the best golfers in the world with a situation unlike any other in golf.
The Open currently rotates around some of the best links courses in the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland. Some venues naturally create more problems than other and before attentions turn to Royal Portrush this upcoming summer, we take a look back at the toughest of the toughest in the modern era – starting with a course we all remember well.
Francesco Molinari was the man to tame Carnoustie last year and stands as the reigning Champion Golfer of the Year.
The Angus links with its long and narrow fairways, deep rough and infamous Barry Burn remains the most renowned test of toughness in links golf.
And while conditions were relatively benign last summer, you only have to go back to 1999 for proof of how tough the course can play.
That year is best remembered for Paul Lawrie’s win after Jean Van de Velde’s dramatic conclusion but the scoring was tough.
Indeed since 1980, no Open has been won by a higher score to par than Lawrie’s six-over-par total – who also needed a play-off to get the job done.
Indeed the average winning score at Carnoustie since 1980 is three-under with an average of only 15 players under par per Championship – the total is the toughest of all the Open venues in that time frame.
Not far behind Carnoustie on the ‘tough-ometer’ is Royal Birkdale.
The site of Jordan Spieth’s win back in 2017, the Claret Jug does not come easy in Southport.
Indeed, the average winning score there is marginally lower at -5 when comparing the results at The Open since 1980.
And in 2008 – when Padraig Harrington won the Open back-to-back, the course was tough to tame.
When the wind blows, Birkdale is a brutal mistress and Harrington was three-over-par when he took the Claret Jug that year.
However, the course can be brought to heel. Just ask Branden Grace – he fired an astonishing 62 here two years ago.
The southernmost Open venue on the rotation is Royal St. George’s in Kent.
This too is a difficult course, the winner here averages only a shade over Carnoustie at -3.6 with an average of only six players finishing under par after four rounds of The Open there.
Never was this more evident than 1985 at Sandwich when Sandy Lyle took home the title of Champion Golfer of the Year despite concluding after four rounds at two-over-par.
Darren Clarke won the last time The Open was hosted here, back in 2011 on another day of devilish difficulty.
That final round saw Clarke come home at five-under-par but there were only four other men under par on an historic weekend for the Northern Irishman.
Best of the rest
Turnberry, and Muirfield come next in terms of highest winning scores.
Muirfield is often recognised as the fairest of all the venues while few will forget the duel in the sun between Tom Watson and Jack Nicklaus that saw Turnberry turned inside out.
The same can be said for another iconic venue in Royal Troon where the scoring can be low, just ask Phil Mickelson and Henrik Stenson for proof.
Royal Lytham & St Anne’s is pockmarked with over 200 hundred bunkers but again, low scores can be made.
The Home of Golf
St Andrews remains the most played venue on The Open rota and a favourite for many of the players.
There have been record high and low rounds but there is a reason why The Open returns time and again to the Old Course. Sometimes it is not just about the toughest courses, but the inspiration it provides players to score better. Since 1980 it has averaged a winning of 14-under-par and great Champions such as Seve Ballesteros and Tiger Woods.