The Open Championship is the oldest of the four major men’s golf championships in existence today. The Royal and Ancient Golf Club of St Andrew, which governs the rules and development of professional golf throughout the world, is the current organiser of The Open. The popularity of the competition, not just in the golfing world, has led to it becoming one of the greatest and most revered events of the sporting calendar, and the championship’s commercial success means it attracts many visitors from across the globe.

The Open is held within the British Isles, and is the only major championship not held in the US, resulting in it often being referred to as The British Open, outside the UK. The competition takes place once a year, on one of the nine courses now used and is always played on the third weekend in July, making it the third major golfing championship of the year. Initially, the prize money awarded was the least of the four majors, but in 2002 this changed to it being the highest, representing the gain in popularity and status of the championship since its foundation.

The great commercial success of The Open Championship generates a great deal of money, which is placed back into helping grass roots projects around the world, including helping develop junior golf, funding the coaching and provision of open-to-all courses and practice amenities, as well as helping fund up-and-coming golfing nations.


The first Open Championship was held on 17th October 1860, when the Prestwick Golf Club hosted a golf competition for all leading professional golfers in the UK. The event was inspired by the Earl Of Eglinton and Colonel James Fairlie, who instigated the first competition, which consisted of three rounds of a 12-hole course, completed by the eight professionals who entered.

The following year, the organisers wanted to increase the number of people who entered, declaring it “open to the whole world”, thus making it open to amateurs as well. This, however, only took the total number of entrants up to eighteen, with ten of them professionals and eight amateurs. No prize money was offered in the first three of these Opens, but in 1863 a £10 prize was introduced, which was to be split between the golfers placed in second, third and four positions. The overall winner of the Championship received the Winner’s Trophy, which was a red leather belt, heavily decorated with silver.

The initial rules stated that in order to keep the trophy, the player had to win the competition three times in a row. The first golfer to do this was Young Tom Morris, so-called because his father, Senior Tom Morris, was also competing in the games.

The competition continued to be administered by The Prestwick Golf Club until 1871, when it was agreed that it would be overseen jointly by The R & A Golf Club of St. Andrews, The Honorary Company of Edinburgh Golfers and The Prestwick Golf Club, in order to be able to raise more money for the prize fund and trophy.

There was no championship held in 1871 due to the change, but normal play was resumed in 1872. With the change came a new trophy in the form of a silver claret jug, officially named The Golf Championship Trophy. This decision was made too late to award the jug to the winner of the 1872 Open Championship (Tom Morris), who instead was given a medal with “The Golf Championship Trophy” written on it.

The popularity of the competition increased, with the addition of the two extra clubs administering it, and so in 1892 the event was doubled in length from 36 to 72 holes. However, the organisers soon found that there were too many entrants being included in The Open, and so they cut the introduction after two rounds in 1898. All Open Championships were held at Prestwick, until 1894, when other courses began to be added to the rota.

In 1920 the full management of The Open Championship was handed to The R & A Golf Club of St. Andrew, and has remained in its hands ever since. In 1927 the committee running the championship decided that only a replica of the claret jug would be given to the winner. The original is still on display in The R & A Golf Clubhouse. The leading amateur player is awarded a silver medal inscribed with “First Amateur”.


If there is a tie at the end of regulation, a 4-hole playoff is held. This begins with the first hole being played, moving on to the sixteenth, seventeenth and then eighteenth holes. If the players are still tied after these four holes have been played, the eighteenth hole is played repeatedly until a winner emerges.

The rules also dictate what golf clubs and balls can be used during the championship. Each player must follow these, otherwise he or she can be disqualified from the game. The R & A recognises technological developments within golf and therefore these rules are regularly updated. It is up to the player to make sure that they are also up-to-date with these rules. For a list of these rules see The R & A Website.

The Winners

Although amateurs have been allowed to enter The Open, it has been dominated in the main by professional players, with only six amateur wins throughout its history. The majority of professional tours include The Open Championship on their circuits, including the European Golf Tour which has recognised The Open since its origin in 1972 as an official event.

The Japanese Golf Tour also includes the competition as an official money event. In 1995 the Professional Golfers Association (PGA) made The Open part of its tour’s official schedule, which meant that any prize money won by one of the PGA’s tour members was added to the official money list. If any PGA tour members had a win at an Open which took place before this year, they were retrospectively seen as PGA tour wins’ with the list of leading winners being updated accordingly.

In recent years Tiger Woods has dominated the leader board for the Open Championship, being one of the only players to have won three times. Winners have virtually always been those who are leading on the PGA tour. For a list of up-to-date winners from the start of the championship to present day see The Open Championship Website.

Exemptions and Qualifying Events

The popularity of The Open Championship has meant that a number of restrictions and qualifying methods have had to be placed’ on who can participate in the competition. There are over thirty categories, listing who is exempt from having to qualify and these can be divided into five main groupings: –

  • The top 50 golfers who are positioned on the official Golf rankings so that none of the top golfers are omitted.
  • The top 20 golfers on the previous season’s PGA tour money list and the European Tour order of merit.
  • All golfers who have previously won The Open Championship and are aged 65 and under.
  • All players who have won any of the other three majors in the last five years.
  • The top 10 players from the previous year’s Open Championship.

The main aim of the exemption categories is to make sure that all the members of The International Federation of PGA Tours are included in the Open and that there are also some amateur golfers included.

There are three main ways in which a place can be gained, with two thirds of the field being made up of leading players who are given automatic entry into the championship, and the rest being players who have gained entry either by “Local Qualifying” or “International Qualifying” means.

  • Local Qualifying – This is the traditional way in which non-exempt players have been able to gain entry into The Open Championship. Sixteen 18-hole regional competitions are held throughout Britain and Ireland. Successful golfers then go on to play in four 36-hole tournaments with twelve of these winning a place in The Open.
  • International Qualifying – This event was introduced to facilitate professionals from outside the UK. There are five 36-hole events played in Africa, Australasia, Asia, America and Europe (one in each) and only officially ranking World Golf players are allowed to compete. Thirty six places are available through this event.

The referees

Although The Open Championship is officially governed by The R & A Golf Club of St. Andrew, it does not have sole refereeing responsibility. Instead, to make the refereeing fairer, around 20 administration bodies are brought in from around the world, to act as officials during the championship. These referees act according to the rules set by The R & A and there are annual referee schools held in St. Andrews to train officials, as well as rules schools being taken around the world to train further afield.

Open Venues and dates

Listed below are the nine venues which have held the Open Championship since it began. The common factor which all the courses have, and which make them eligible to be used for the Open, is that they are all links courses. The host course is chosen by the R & A Golf Club of St. Andrews, usually around five years beforehand. The list shows when each course was added and some of the courses have not been used for many years. Others have been far more favoured.

Carnoustie – 1931, 1937, 1953, 1968, 1975, 1999

St. Andrews – 1873, 1876, 1879, 1882, 1885, 1888, 1891, 1895, 1900, 1905, 1910, 1921, 1927, 1933,1939, 1946, 1955, 1957, 1960, 1964, 1970, 1978, 1984, 1990, 1995, 2000, 2005

Royal Troon – 1923, 1950, 1962, 1973, 1982, 1989, 1997, 2004

Muirfield – 1892, 1896, 1901, 1906, 1912, 1929, 1935, 1948, 1959, 1966, 1972, 1980, 1987, 1992, 2002

Prestwick – 1860, 1861, 1862, 1863, 1864, 1870, 1872, 1875, 1878, 1881, 1884, 1887, 1890, 1893, 1898,1903, 1908, 1914, 1925

Musselburgh – 1874, 1877, 1880, 1883, 1886, 1889

Turnberry – 1977, 1986, 1994

Royal Portrush – 1951

Royal Lytham – 1826, 1852, 1858, 1863, 1869, 1874, 1879, 1888, 1896, 2001

Royal Birkdale – 1954, 1961, 1965, 1971, 1976, 1983, 1991, 1998

Hoylake – 1897, 1902, 1907, 1913, 1924, 1930, 1936, 1947, 1956, 1967, 2006

Sandwich – 1894, 1899, 1904, 1911, 1922, 1928, 1932, 1934, 1938, 1949, 1981, 1985, 1993, 2003

Deal – 1909, 1920

The only years that an Open Championship has not been held were 1871, for reasons described above, 1915 – 1919 due to World War I, and 1940 – 1945 due to World War II.

The Course

For the year preceding the Open Championship, officials make sure that the course will be at its optimal condition for the event. These include the course being firm, dry, and providing fiery links. These conditions are what makes the Open Championship so different from the other Majors, and it is what the organisers strive to maintain each year. The Open Champion will be the player who is able to control the ball and plays with the greatest creativity, and these conditions are essential to push them to their limits. The R & A Championship Committee is responsible for monitoring all changes that occur to each course and for the preparations before each Open.

Information for spectators

The Open Championship is open to spectators not only on competition days (Thursday to Sunday), but also during the practice days (Sunday to Wednesday). Tickets can be bought on the gate which remains open throughout the day. Buying in advance means that you are guaranteed a ticket and that you can avoid any queues. Under 16s are free as long as they have a Juvenile Admission Badge, which can be obtained by applying in writing to The R & A Ticket Office before the event, or if accompanied by an adult. If the youth does not fill either of these categories then they can purchase a Youth Ticket which is slightly discounted.

A season ticket can be purchased, which provides admission to the course for the whole week at a cheaper price than individual tickets being bought every day. Further discounts are available, depending on how far in advance the ticket is bought, with prices going up after January, again after March and then again after May.

Concession prices are available for both practice and championship days for those aged 16-21 and 65+.

A composite ticket is also available which includes access to the course, a reserved seat in the Composite Stand at the 18th Green, access to The R & A Club Marquee, access to the Composite Ticket Holders’ Marquee, a copy of the official programme and information guide for each day (this is the draw sheet) and an optional car park label. A reserved car parking space can also be included in the ticket for an extra cost.

For details on exact and up-to-date pricings see The Open Golf Website.

Hospitality packages are also available, which provide accommodation for the whole of the Open Championship. This is usually at high-quality hotels near to the course. Food and drink is sometimes also included in the price, as are full entry tickets to the whole championship and the opportunity to play a round of golf on the course after the event has ended. For information about such packages seeThe British Open Website. Other packages are available but they are not officially run by the organisers of the Championship and seldom include the chance for a round of golf on the course. If you wish to stay near the course but do not want to pay for a hospitality package then see The Open Championship Website which provides details of nearby hotels and B and Bs offering discounts during the time of the event.