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Are all British Opens played on links golf courses?

The 2022 British Open will take place at the Old Course at St. Andrews in Scotland, the home of golf and an authentic links course, which will be a true test for the world’s best players.

Joseph McMahon
Joseph McMahon
The 2022 British Open will take place at the Old Course at St. Andrews in Scotland, the home of golf and an authentic links course, which will be a true test for the world’s best players.
Tom Shaw/R&AGetty

A true links golf course is found near the coast and is located on sandy land with few water hazards and trees. Most of these courses can be found in Scotland, England and Ireland with examples being Royal Troon near Glasgow, Scotland or Lahinch Country Club on Ireland’s West coast, not far from Limerick. The British Open is played on a “rota” or rotation of venues including:

  • The Old Course at St. Andrews
  • Carnoustie
  • Royal St. George’s
  • Royal Lytham & St. Annes
  • Royal Birkdale
  • Royal Liverpool
  • Muirfield
  • Royal Troon
  • Royal Portrush

Characteristics of links golf

And yes, all of these courses are links and share some similarities that make them a challenge for modern golfers, although some were established over 500 years ago. The characteristics these courses have in common are their location and the type of land they are laid out on.

Follow the final day of the 150th Open Championship live from St Andrews

The wind is a factor that comes into play at some point in all British Opens. Players are forced to be creative with their shots and can’t always play high shots into the greens as they do on most courses in the United States.

The courses are near the sea with very few trees, if any, to protect the ball and players from the wind so one day a hole can play very short if the wind is behind the golfers and the opposite can be true even the same day if the “breeze” changes direction.

Dunes, hills and rough make things complicated too. The topology of the land is what makes the courses so beautiful, but so difficult at the same time. One of the factors players must consider is the hardness of the fairways and greens due to rain or lack of it. If conditions are dry, balls can roll for a long distance after landing, making holes shorter, but also making greens harder. Accuracy and keeping the ball out of the rough is a huge advantage for golfers on links courses, which are not as forgiving as their American counterparts.

Bunkers are different on links courses. Nobody wants to play out of a sand trap, but on many courses in the U.S., with perfectly raked sand and without steep inclines, playing out of a greenside bunker can be preferable to finding the rough. The pot bunkers at St. Andrews are famous for their depth and difficulty.

Battling these conditions can be unnerving and many golfers who excel in the U.S. have difficulty battling the elements on links courses. Knowing how to play knock-down shots and rolling the ball onto the green is essential when the wind is a factor.

Links course legends

In the last fifty years of golf several players have emerged as legends on the links courses due to their British Open success based on controlling the ball in difficult conditions. Tom Watson is the first name that comes to mind. The golfer from Kansas City, Missouri won the British Open five times between 1975 and 1983. The “Duel in the Sun” against Jack Nicklaus in 1977 at Turnberry is the stuff of legends.

Jack Nicklaus, the “Golden Bear” from Ohio is another modern-day golfer who was able to tame the links courses and win the British Open three times. He won at the Old Course at St. Andrews in 1970 and 1978.

Seve Ballesteros won the British Open three times in 1979, 1984 and 1988 and won the hearts of golf fans around the world with his creative style of play and confidence. The Spaniard thrived on all sorts of courses, but links courses really suited his style of play.

Tiger Woods is another three-time British Open winner with victories in 2000, 2005 and 2006. He is competing again in 2022 in what may be his last appearance at St. Andrews.

The list goes on and names like Padraig Harrington, Rory McIlroy and Phil Mickelson are examples of great golfers who have defeated the elements at the British Open. But what makes this championship so special is that little-known players can get hot and surprise the field as John Daly did in 1995.

Links courses outside of Scotland, Ireland and England

Links courses are not limited to Scotland, Ireland and England as some authentic links courses can be found in the U.S. as well. Although few American golf courses fit the category of links courses, there are some examples. One of the most spectacular and beautiful links venues can be found in Oregon on the Pacific Coast. Bandon Dunes is an exclusive golf resort with six links golf courses that are the delight of amateurs and professionals alike.