Over its 147 year (and counting) history, there have been a total of 14 golf courses that have hosted The Open Championship.
However, not all of them remain on the current rota. Demands of the Championship have changed over the years as it’s grown from an 8 man field at Prestwick Golf Club in 1860, to a 156 player field competing for £1,420,000 in front of a crowd of 235,000 in 2017 at Royal Birkdale.
We wanted to find out which of the current open golf venues was the toughest. So we took the scores from every round, for all players in the field, over the past 50 Open Championships giving each course an average score.
Current Open Championship rota courses
Below you can find the list of Open golf venues ranked by difficulty
Average Score: 75.23 (+4.23 over par)
Highest Average Score: 77.56 (1968)
Years Hosted: 8 (1931, 1937, 1953, 1968, 1975, 1999, 2007, 2018)
I think if you had to guess the most difficult Open course, you’d probably have picked Carnoustie. Coming in at over 7,400 yards the course is a brutal test of length. The course doesn’t let up on accuracy either with narrow fairways, thick long rough and who can forget the Barry Burn which snakes the 18th fairway and famously costs Jean van der Velde the Claret Jug in 1999. The links had the highest average score of any Open golf venue in the past 50 years with 77.56 in 1968.
2. Royal Lytham & St Annes
Average Score: 74.31 (+4.31 over par)
Highest Average Score: 77.41 (1974)
Years Hosted: 11 (1926, 1952, 1958, 1963, 1969, 1974, 1979, 1988, 1996, 2001, 2012)
Royal Lytham & St Annes is relatively short by Open Championships standards but the 200+ bunkers more than make up for it and explain why the course ranks second in the list. Swallowing up even the straightest of tee shots, the deep links pot bunkers play more like water hazards with most having to be played out of sidewards or even backwards!
There have been some great moments here down the line with Seve showcasing some short game mastery on the way to two of his three Claret Jugs at the venue.
3. Royal Troon
Average Score: 74.00 (+3 over par)
Highest Average Score: 75.67 (1982)
Years Hosted: 8 (1923, 1950, 1962, 1973, 1982, 1989, 1997, 2004, 2016)
A classic out and back links course, Royal Troon deceives most with a few fairly straight forward holes to begin with. The closing few are pretty straight forward too, but it’s the middle of the course where the rounds are made or lost. Henrik Stenson was the last golfer to win here with the epic Sunday afternoon duel against Phil Mickelson which will go down as one of the best Open final rounds in history.
4. Royal Birkdale
Average Score: 73.82 (+3.82 over par)
Highest Average Score: 75.56 (1976)
Years Hosted: 9 (1954, 1961, 1965, 1971, 1976, 1983, 1991, 1998, 2008, 2017)
Since first hosting The Open Championship in 1954, Royal Birkdale has gone onto become the most regular venue on the Open rota other than St Andrews.
A regular Top 10 in the UK & Ireland Top 100 golf courses and generally one of the favourites amongst the pros, it’s not too difficult to see why the R&A are keen on returning here. When the wind blows, it can be brutal.
Average Score: 73.72 (+2.72 over par)
Highest Average Score: 75.24 (1972)
Years Hosted: 16 (1892, 1896, 1901, 1906, 1912, 1929, 1935, 1948, 1959, 1966, 1972, 1980, 1987, 1992, 2002, 2013)
Muirfields reputation as an Open golf venue was put under threat when members voted not to allow women members in 2017. Luckily, common sense prevailed and the course still features on the current Open rota. Know for being one of the fairest courses on the schedule, the course still protects itself with classic links bunkers and undulating fairways that force slightly wayward shots into them.
Average Score: 73.50 (+3.50 over par)
Highest Average Score: 75.55 (1986)
Years Hosted: 4 (1977, 1986, 1994, 2009)
Known as simply Turnberry to most, the courses official name is now Trump Turnberry after US president Donald Trump bought the estate back in 2014. Highly regarded as one of the best golf courses in the country, if not the world, Donald Trump has already made his mark by implementing some big changes to the layout.
The course has been home to some historic Open Championship moments such as the famous “Duel in the Sun”, but the course having entered a new era will present a fresh challenge should the venue be offered a chance at staging the tournament again.
7. Royal St George’s Golf Club
Average Score: 73.20 (+3.2 over par)
Highest Average Score: 74.81 (1981 & 2003)
Years Hosted: 15 (1894, 1899, 1904, 1911, 1922, 1928, 1934, 1938, 1949, 1981, 1985, 1993, 2003, 2011, 2021)
Royal St George’s is due to host The 149th Open Championship in 2020 having previously hosted the tournament on 15 occasions.
The golf course was the first course outside of Scotland to stage The Open way back in 1894.
8. St Andrews
Average Score: 73.03 (+1.03 over par)
Highest Average Score: 75.52 (1970)
Years Hosted: 30 (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, 2010, 2015, 2022)
Arguably the most recognised golf course in the world, St Andrews is not only synonymous with the home of golf, it’s also the home of the R&A and The Open Championship having hosted the tournament on 30 separate occasions.
It won’t surprise many that the course comes ranked 8th in difficulty. The charm of the famous links venue isn’t the difficulty of the course but it’s history having been the spot for the birth of the sport.
9. Royal Liverpool
Average Score: 72.58 (+0.58 over par)
Highest Average Score: 72.78 (2014)
Years Hosted: 12 (1897, 1902, 1907, 1913, 1924, 1930, 1936, 1947, 1956, 1967, 2006, 2014)
Royal Liverpool, also known as Hoylake, comes in with the lowest average score to par of all the open golf courses in the past 50 years.
The average score at Hoylake is just +0.58 over par, making it the easiest Open Championship golf course on the rota.
Tiger Woods won the Open Championship here in 2006 with a score of -18. Famously he only hit one driver during the whole week on course to the Claret Jug. Rory McIlroy was the last Champion Golfer here, again massing up an impressive winning score of -17.
10. Royal Portrush
Average Score: 72.17 (+1.17 over par)
Years Hosted: 2 (1951, 2019)
Royal Portrush is the only golf club in Ireland to have hosted The Open Championship (albeit only twice in 1951 and more recently in 2019).
It’s the open championship course with the lowest average score in the past 50 years. However, the data is slightly skewed as there’s only been one Open Championship held here in that time.
The venue will play host to the Championship for the third time in 2025. So we’ll have to wait until then to find out how tough it really is!
Open Championship courses that are not on the current rota
Below is a list of the golf courses that have previously held the prestigious tournament, but are no longer on the Open Championship rota.
In most cases the modern game has outgrown these golf courses, and they are not long enough for modern professional golf.
1. Musselburgh Links
Years Hosted: 6 (1874, 1877, 1880, 1883, 1886, 1889)
Musselburgh Links has played an important part in the history of The Open Championship having hosted the event on six occasions. Not only that, but the first Champion Golfer to win The Open was Willie Park Snr, who was actually the club pro at Musselburgh Links. It’s fair to say the event has now outgrown the course, but the Links is now open to the public all year round, allowing you to follow in the footsteps of its history.
Years Hosted: 24 (1860, 1861, 1862, 1863, 1864, 1865, 1866, 1867, 1868, 1868, 1870, 1872, 1875, 1878, 1881, 1884, 1887, 1890, 1893, 1898, 1903, 1908, 1914, 1925)
The first venue to host The Open Championship, Prestwick was originally opened in 1852 as a 12 hole golf course. The course was later extended to 18 holes in 1882 meaning both layouts of the course had the privilege of hosting the tournament. Short by today’s standards, the course protects itself with blind tee shots and unusual angles into greens. Only St Andrews has hosted more Open Championships than this course.
Years Hosted: 1 (1932)
Opening in 1906 the golf course measured just under 7,000 yards, which back then was a monster of a golf course. It quickly earned the reputation of quality test of links and was rewarded with The Open in 1932. Today the venue features 27 holes, on-site accommodation and excellent dining options and still plays a part in The Open having been named a Final Open Qualifying venue from 2018 – 2022.
4. Royal Cinque Ports
Years Hosted: 2 (1909, 1920)
A traditional links course with an outward front nine followed by an inward back nine and large sand dunes surrounding the undulating fairways, Royal Cinque Ports is considered one of the finest links courses in the country. Despite hosting the Open for the last time nearly 100 years ago, the course retains some affiliation with the Championship having hosted Final Open Qualifying from 2014 – 2017.