The Open Championship -- or as the Americans call it, the British Open, to distinguish the tournament from the U.S. Open -- was first played in 1860 at Prestwick and won by Willie Park. It remained at Prestwick for the next 12 years. Currently it rotates among nine courses. The Open has been held every year with the exceptions of 1871, 1915 through 1919 due to World War I, and 1940 through 1945 due to World War II. The Open is held in July.
While the PGA Championship and U.S. Open have been held at numerous different courses throughout the United States -- through 2011 at total of 71 different courses located in 25 states have hosted at least one PGA Championship -- the British Open has been limited to 14 courses in the United Kingdom. British Open courses in Scotland include Carnoustie, Prestwick, St. Andrews, Muirfield, Turnberry, Musselburgh and Royal Troon. Courses in England include Royal Cinque Ports, Prince's, Hoylake, Royal St. George's, Royal Birkdale and Royal Lytham. Royal Portrush, located in Northern Ireland, has also played host to the Open.
Five of these courses have dropped out of the current rotation of hosting the Open: Prestwick, Royal Cinque Port, Royal Portrush, Prince's and Musselburgh.
Rules and Equipment
The Rules of Golf adopted by the United States Golf Association and the Royal and Ancient -- R&A -- apply to British Open play, penalties and equipment. Players may not ride but must walk the course unless special permission is granted. Players must use a caddie.
More than 2,500 players on five continents attempt to qualify for the Open beginning in January each year. The top three players of the International Final Qualifying events in Africa and Australasia win a spot in the Open. The top four from the IFQ Asia, the top eight of the IFQ America and the top 10 of the IFQ Europe also earn spots. Twelve spots are reserved from the Local Final Qualifying events for the Open. The regional qualifying events' top players -- the exact number depends on the size of the field -- go on to compete in the Local Final Qualifying event.
The Open field consists of 156 competitors. From one-half to two-thirds of that playing field earn exemptions through 32 different categories based on past achievement. A player may be exempt in several different categories -- for example, if the winner of the Masters also wins the U. S. Open and is one of the world's top 50 players.
The 32 categories include the top 10 finishers plus ties in the previous year's Open. The winners of the past Opens who are younger than 60 win exemptions, as do Open winners from the previous 10 years regardless of age. The last five winners of the Masters and the PGA Championships, the last three winners of the Players Championship and the current Senior Open champion win exemptions. The top 50 players in the World Golf Rankings are invited, as are the top 30 in the PGA European Tournament standings. The Top 30 finishers in the FedEx Cup competition are exempt. The player in first place and anyone tying for first place in the Order of Merit for the Asian Tour, Tour of Australasia and Southern Africa PGA SunShine Tour are exempt, as are the top-ranked players of various other tours. Amateurs who are exempt include the winners of the most recent Open Amateur, the U.S. Amateur and the European Amateur and the winner of the Mark H. McCormack Medal.
Play and Cut
If two or more players tie after the regulation 72 holes, the tournament winner is decided in a four-hole playoff. The player with the lowest total score for those four holes is declared the Open champion. The Open field is cut to the top 70 players plus ties after 36 holes. This is a change from the previous rule from 1968 through 1986 in which a first cut was made after 36 holes and a second cut after 54 holes.
Players who don't make the cut and amateurs receive no cash winnings, only the pride that they participated in the oldest and most prestigious golf tournament in the world. Prize money is around $8 million in total with about $1.5 million going to the winner -- along with the Golf Champion Trophy, famously known as the Claret Jug.