Prestige is, obviously, in the eye of the beholder. But some golf courses have clearly raised themselves above the pack based on their histories, the challenges they present, and the quality of golfers who’ve competed on each course over the decades -- or even the centuries.
Old Course at St. Andrews
The Old Course at St. Andrews in Scotland bills itself as the “Home of Golf,” and the course’s history proves that is no idle boast. Golf has been played on the site since around 1400, although the course has changed over the years. For example, in 1764 the course consisted of 22 holes. Several holes were eventually merged, leaving the course with 18, which is how the modern round of 18 holes was established. As of 2012, the Old Course has played host to 28 British Opens -- more than has been conducted at any other location -- and the 29th is scheduled for 2015. St. Andrews Golf Links includes seven courses, all of which -- contrary to popular perception -- are open to the public. To play the Old Course, however, a man must have a handicap of no more than 24 and a woman may not have a handicap greater than 36. The par-72 course is 7,279 yards long.
Augusta National Golf Club
The home of the Masters, Augusta National was voted the PGA Tour’s best course in a “Golf Digest” poll of tour players in 2012. After legendary amateur golfer Bobby Jones retired from the sport in 1930, his first golf-related project was to build a course in Augusta. With Alister MacKenzie as primary architect, the course was built in 1932, and it began playing host to an invitational event that became the Masters in 1934. The 6,905-yard par-72 course is most famous for “Amen Corner,” its 11th through 13th holes, which may be the most difficult three-hole stretch on any course in the world. Augusta National is a private course.
Pebble Beach Golf Links
California’s Pebble Beach Golf Links is similar to St. Andrews in many respects. It is built along the coastline of the Pacific Ocean, and the wind off the ocean often makes the 6,737-yard par-72 course quite tricky. The Pacific becomes, in effect, the world’s largest water hazard on many holes. The course isn’t long, but the narrow fairways add to the challenge. Pebble Beach is a public course that’s played host to numerous amateur and professional championships, including five U.S. Opens as of 2012. The Open returns to Pebble in its centennial anniversary year, 2019.
Muirfield Village Golf Club
The Honourable Company of Edinburgh Golfers is one of the two oldest golfing societies, along with the Royal & Ancient Club at St. Andrews. Created in 1744, the company eventually built the current Muirfield Village Golf Club in 1891 in Gullane, Scotland. The par-71 course is 7,221 yards long and frequently features tricky wind conditions. The course plays host to its 16th British Open in 2013. Golfers with handicaps no greater than 18 may play the course year-round on Tuesdays and Thursdays.