The top-5 British Open courses you should play

Given the liberal, non-member playing policies at private clubs in the UK, you could theoretically play most, if not all, of the courses that host (or have hosted) the British Open.

But with such a grand golf smorgasbord, the question is: where should you begin?

Here is our list of the five British Open sites we think are the best to play and why.

The Links: The Old Course at St. Andrews (Scotland)
The Logic: C'mon, it's The Home of Golf! And it does not disappoint. Perhaps no other course in the world can match the Old Course's historic and iconic status (Swilcan Bridge, the Road Hole, Hell Bunker). And given that every five years or so it hosts the British Open, you're guaranteed to play this venerable venue not too far before or after it hosts the major championship. I will say this: some first-time visitors don't "get it," so read up on the course's significance and subtleties before you make this pilgrimage. 

The Links: Muirfield Golf Course (Scotland)
The Logic: Few people realize that Muirfield, whose "Honourable Company of Edinburgh Golfers" drew up the first Rules of Golf, is one of the 10 best golf courses in the world. Even fewer know that it offers one of the best golf experiences.  After your morning round, you put on your jacket (the one men are required to arrive in), sit at the club's long, community tables (often alongside members), and gorge yourself on an all-world lunch that begins with soups, moves to meats, then ends with a cornucopia of sweets and cheeses. After that, you head back out to the course for an afternoon round of alternate shot. By the way, if you ever wondered which British Open course most appeals to tour pros, this is it. Not dramatic or scenic, Muirfield is celebrated for its, "beautiful honesty as a test of golf" as Ben Crenshaw put it.

The Links: Dunluce Links at Royal Portrush Golf Club (Northern Ireland)
The Logic: Perennially ranked among the 15 best golf courses in the world, Royal Portrush also holds the distinction of being the only course outside of Scotland and England to host the British Open (1951) in the event's 150-year history. And here's another interesting fact: in 2005, tour phenom Rory McIlroy set the course record of 61...at age 16.

The Links: Ailsa Course at Turnberry Resort (Scotland)
The Logic: Another fixture among the world-top-10, Turnberry's Ailsa Course has hosted the British Open four times (most recently in 2009). Often called the "Pebble Beach of Scotland," the front nine contains a stretch of holes tracing the outline of the sea atop soaring cliffs. Any of these holes could easily be the signature hole at other courses. The course is surprisingly playable, too, even for high handicappers, although a windy back nine can wreck your card. Regardless, the course is so good, so beautiful and so rich in history that any round will produce fond, lifelong memories. Being part of a resort does have its pros and cons. On one hand, this is probably the easiest tee time to secure among the five listed. On the other, you don't get the ultra-clubby experience like you do at say, Muirfield.

The Links: Royal Birkdale (England)
The Logic: My colleagues at Golf Odyssey say this is their favorite of England's British Open courses, mainly because, "there is not a weak or indifferent hole in the entire layout." Top players like it, too, because, "quirkiness is absent here." The course has certainly had plenty of experience hosting them; since 1946, Royal Birkdale has hosted 44 championships, including the British Open (nine times), the British Amateur (three times), the Curtis Cup, the Walker Cup, and the Ryder Cup (twice). Another great thing about Birkdale is that it shares borders with two other worthy venues: Southport & Ainsdale Golf Club and Hillside Golf Club.

What do you think of my list? Please share your comments (or your own top-5 list) below.

Craig Better is one of the founding editors of Golf Vacation Insider. In addition to traveling to 15 foreign countries, he has twice traveled across America to play golf courses in all 50 United States. Prior to joining Golf Vacation Insider, Craig was a freelance writer who contributed to GOLF Magazine, Travel + Leisure Golf, Maxim Magazine, USAToday.com, and co-authored Zagat Survey’s book, America’s Top Golf Courses.
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The top-5 British Open courses you should play
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