When the first tee shot was struck at the 2017 U.S. Open, the Erin Hills Golf Course became the 32nd public-access course around the world (including the nine-hole Musselburgh Links in Scotland) to host a major championship.
Both the United States Golf Association, guardians of the U.S. Open, and the PGA of America, organizers of the PGA Championship, have made it a point to bring more public courses into their major championship rotations.
Wisconsin's Erin Hills is the sixth U.S. Open venue open to the public. TPC Harding Park, a municipal course in San Francisco, became the 16th PGA Championship venue open to the public when it hosted in fall 2020, a pandemic-delayed, fan-free event won by Collin Morikawa. Both organizations have used Pinehurst No. 2 and Pebble Beach Golf Links in the past. More cross-over occurred when the 2019 PGA Championship invaded New York's Bethpage Black, host of rowdy U.S. Opens in 2002 and 2009.
The Open Championship offers the most democratic of all majors. All 14 of the R&A's venues are available to visitors willing to pay the green fee.
Here are the public major championship venues I'd like to play the most, ranked first through 32.
1: Old Course at St. Andrews, Scotland
Open Championships (winner): 1873 (Tom Kidd), 1876 (Bob Martin), 1879 (Jamie Anderson), 1882 (Bob Ferguson), 1885 (Bob Martin), 1888 (Jack Burns), 1891 (Hugh Kirkaldy), 1895 (John Henry Taylor), 1900 (Taylor), 1905 (James Braid), 1910 (Braid), 1921 (Jock Hutchison), 1927 (Bobby Jones), 1933 (Denny Schute), 1939 (Dick Burton), 1946 (Sam Snead), 1955 (Peter Thomson), 1957 (Bobby Locke), 1960 (Kel Nagle), 1964 (Tony Lema), 1970 (Jack Nicklaus), 1978 (Nicklaus), 1984 (Seve Ballesteros), 1990 (Nick Faldo), 1995 (John Daly), 2000 (Tiger Woods), 2005 (Woods), 2010 (Louis Oosthuizen), 2015 (Zach Johnson).
Comment: Isn't taking a selfie while walking across the Swilcan Bridge on every golfer's bucket list? It's one of the few links in the world still on mine.
2. Pebble Beach Golf Links, Pebble Beach Resorts, Calif.
U.S. Opens: 1972 (Nicklaus), 1982 (Tom Watson), 1992 (Tom Kite), 2000 (Woods), 2010 (Graeme McDowell), 2019 (Gary Woodland); PGA Championship: 1977 (Lanny Wadkins).
Comment: Ditch the cart and hire a caddie to best enjoy the walk along Stillwater Cove. Pebble Beach celebrated its 100th birthday by hosting the 2019 U.S. Open. If any course is worth a $575 green fee, it's probably this one.
3. Straits Course at Whistling Straits, Kohler, Wis.
PGA Championships: 2004 (Vijay Singh), Martin Kaymer (2010), Jason Day (2015).
Comment: The PGA of America has taken ownership of Pete Dye's monsterpiece (half monster, half masterpiece) with 1,000-plus bunkers on Lake Michigan. The Straits will host the Ryder Cup in 2021.
4. Dunluce Course at Royal Portrush Golf Club, County Antrim, Northern Ireland
Open Championship: 1951 (Max Faulkner).
Comment: The successful 2012 Irish Open essentially willed this adored links back onto the Open rota in 2019. A redesign by Martin Ebert removed the final two holes from the routing, adding a new par-5 seventh and par-4 eighth in the dunes. The ginormous bunker named "Big Nellie" lost from the 17th hole was duplicated in a similar spot on no. 7.
5. Muirfield Golf Club, Gullane, Scotland
Open Championships: 1892 (Harold Hilton), 1896 (Vardon), 1901 (Braid), 1906 (Braid), 1912 (Ted Ray), 1929 (Walter Hagen), 1935 (Alf Perry), 1948 (Henry Cotton), 1959 (Gary Player), 1966 (Nicklaus), 1972 (Lee Trevino), 1980 (Watson), 1987 (Nick Faldo), 1992 (Faldo), 2002 (Ernie Els), 2013 (Phil Mickelson).
Comment: Now that the club altered its men-only membership policy in 2017, Muirfield -- laid out by Old Tom Morris in 1891 -- might land its 17th Open down the road. Regarded as the fairest of all Open venues, Muirfield, overlooking the Firth of Forth, is only open Tuesday and Thursday for visitors. Don't forget to pack the jacket because nobody enters the clubhouse without one.
6. Ailsa Course at Trump Turnberry Resort, South Ayrshire, Scotland
Open Championships: 1977 (Watson), 1994 (Nick Price), 1986 (Greg Norman), 2009 (Stewart Cink).
Comment: As much as I loved the old Turnberry - where I made an ace in 2013 - the new version after a partial redesign by Ebert is even better. The changes, bankrolled by owner Donald Trump with the blessing of the R&A, offer up more holes on the rocky coast and a stop at the famous lighthouse that now doubles as a halfway house with a two-bedroom suite upstairs.
7. Ocean Course at Kiawah Island Golf Resort, Kiawah Island, S.C.
PGA Championship: 2012 (Rory McIlroy), 2021 (Phil Mickelson).
Comment: To most of us, Pete Dye's Ocean Course is a beautiful coastal menace. Playing the 1991 Ryder Cup venue was a breeze for McIlroy, who set the PGA Championship record for margin of victory at eight shots. Mickelson's epic 2021 victory at age 50 endured the course to millions of golf fans around the world.
8. Pinehurst No. 2, Pinehurst, N.C.
U.S. Opens: 1999 (Payne Stewart), 2005 (Michael Campbell), 2014 (Kaymer)
PGA Championship: 1936 (Schute).
Comment: The 2013 restoration by Bill Coore and Ben Crenshaw reintroduced the native grasses and sandy waste areas along the fairways that was overrun by torturous rough over the years. Playing this Donald Ross original and its inverted-saucer-shaped greens has become fun again. Last year's announcement that Pinehurst will become an "anchor" site of future U.S. Opens cements the notion that this is the "Home of American Golf".
9. Bethpage Black, Farmingdale, N.Y.
U.S. Opens: 2002 (Woods), 2009 (Lucas Glover).
PGA Championship: 2019 (Koepka).
Comment: The Black, originally designed by A.W. Tillinghast in 1936 and renovated by Rees Jones in 1997-98, is a ferocious test of golf famous for its sign at the first tee that reads: "Warning - The Black Course is an extremely difficult course which we recommend only for highly skilled golfers." They should call it Bethpage Black and Blue because it beats people up. The 2025 Ryder Cup is on deck.
10. Royal Birkdale, Southport, England
Open Championships: 1954 (Thomson), 1961 (Palmer), 1965 (Thomson), 1971 (Trevino), 1976 (Johnny Miller), 1983 (Watson), 1991 (Ian Baker-Finch), 1998 (Mark O'Meara), 2008 (Padraig Harrington).
Comment: As a favorite of the R&A, Royal Birkdale hosted its 10th Open Championship in 2017. Only St. Andrews has hosted more Opens than Royal Birkdale since 1954.
11. Chambers Bay, Tacoma, Wash.
U.S. Open: 2015.
Comment: During a controversial 2015 U.S. Open, pros griped about the wild greenside slopes and the inconsistent green speeds of this gorgeous faux links by Robert Trent Jones Jr. set in a former quarry along the Puget Sound. I've played it four times, and love it. I think you will, too. The recent announcement of the 2022 U.S. Women's Amateur following an important greens renovation puts Chambers Bay on a path to host another U.S. Open in the future.
12. Carnoustie Golf Links, Carnoustie, Scotland
Open Championships: 1931 (Tommy Armour), 1937 (Cotton), 1953 (Ben Hogan), 1968 (Player), 1975 (Watson), 1999 (Paul Lawrie), 2007 (Harrington).
Comment: It's called "Car-nasty" by everybody who's tried -- and failed (often miserably) -- to play well on this feared links. Carnoustie tested the world's best again in 2018.
13. Royal St. George's, Sandwich, England
Open Championships: 1894 (John Henry Taylor), 1899 (Vardon), 1904 (Jack White), 1911 (Vardon), 1922 (Hagen), 1928 (Hagen), 1934 (Cotton), 1938 (Reg Whitcombe), 1949 (Locke), 1981 (Bill Rogers), 1985 (Sandy Lyle), 1993 (Norman), 2003 (Ben Curtis), 2011 (Darren Clarke).
Comment: The host of 14 Opens recently voted to allow women members, strengthening its position to host again. The first English golf course to secure an Open gets criticized for lacking dunes and aesthetics. Shot-for-shot, though, it's as strong as they come.
14. Old Course at Royal Troon Golf Club, Troon, Scotland
Open Championships: 1923 (Arthur Havers), 1950 (Locke), 1962 (Arnold Palmer), 1973 (Tom Weiskopf), 1982 (Watson), 1989 (Mark Calcavecchia), 1997 (Justin Leonard), 2004 (Todd Hamilton), 2016 (Henrik Stenson).
Comment: Troon, another longtime men-only club that recently altered its policies, tinkered with its links prior to the memorable 2016 Open. Removing gorse and altering a few holes set the stage for a remarkable shootout between Phil Mickelson and Henrik Stenson. Playing the par-3 "Postage Stamp" hole is, without a doubt, its signature moment. Visitors can choose from limited tee times on Mondays, Tuesdays and Thursdays.
15. Royal Lytham & St. Annes, Lytham St. Annes, England
Open Championships: 1926 (Bobby Jones), 1952 (Locke), 1958 (Thomson), 1963 (Bob Charles), 1969 (Tony Jacklin), 1974 (Player), 1979 (Ballesteros), 1988 (Ballesteros), 1996 (Tom Lehman), 2001 (David Duval), 2012 (Els).
Comment: The host of 11 Opens, a neighbor of Royal Birkdale, is defended by more than 200 bunkers. Jones won the 1926 Open as an amateur.
16. Royal Liverpool, Hoylake, England
Open Championships: 1897 (Harold Hilton), 1902 (Sandy Herd), 1907 (Arnaud Massey), 1913 (John Henry Taylor), 1924 (Hagen), 1930 (Jones), 1936 (Alf Padgham), 1947 (Fred Daly), 1956 (Thomson), 1967 (Roberto De Vicenzo), 2006 (Woods), 2014 (McIlroy).
Comment: The links called "Hoylake" has the unique distinction of having the first Frenchman (Massey), the first Irishman (Daly) and the first South American (De Vicenzo) to win the claret jug. It disappeared from the rota for nearly five decades until 2006, when Woods dominated the field with an assault of irons off the tee.
17. South Course at Torrey Pines, La Jolla, Calif.
U.S. Open: 2008 (Woods).
Comment: Woods has owned Torrey Pines, winning seven PGA Tour events in addition to his 14th major on one leg in 2008. Three-time champion Phil Mickelson regularly tore it up, too, until a redesign by Rees Jones in 2001 ruined his love affair. Getting a tee time to tour SoCal's coastal cliffs remains a tough get for non-residents.
18. Erin Hills Golf Course, Erin, Wis.
U.S. Open: 2017 (Koepka).
Comment: The USGA became smitten with the grand scale of Erin Hills early on, consulting with architects Dr. Michael Hurdzan, Dana Fry and Ron Whitten, from the beginning. Tinkering was constant in the early days on the Irish-inspired, treeless site.
19. Royal Cinque Ports, Deal, England
Open Championships: 1909 (John Henry Taylor), 1920 (George Duncan).
Comment: The links many call "Deal" lost Open Championships in 1938 and 1949 when a sea surge flooded the links. A large seawall built in the 1970s protects the layout but also stole some of its views of the water.
20. Prestwick Golf Club, Prestwick, Scotland
Open Championships: 1860-72 (no tournament in 1871), 1875 (Willie Park Sr.), 1878 (Jamie Anderson), 1881 (Bob Ferguson), 1884 (Jack Simpson), 1887 (Willie Park Jr.), 1890 (John Ball), 1893 (William Auchterlonie), 1898 (Vardon), 1903 (Vardon), 1908 (Braid), 1914 (Vardon), 1925 (Jim Barnes).
Comment: A lack of length will keep Prestwick from hosting an Open again, but it would be fun to watch the pros try to solve its wild blind shots. Prestwick hosted the first 12 Opens, won four times each by Old and Young Tom Morris and three times by Willie Park Sr. Take time to tour the historic artifacts in the clubhouse.
21. Champion Course at PGA National Golf Resort & Spa, Palm Beach Gardens, Fla.
PGA Championship: 1987 (Larry Nelson).
Comment: This Nicklaus course is now more famous for its Bear Trap, a three-hole stretch that torments players during the PGA Tour's Honda Classic. It's a typical Florida golf course splashed with water and bunkers.
22. Donald Ross Course at French Lick Resort, French Lick, Ind.
PGA Championship: 1924 (Hagen).
Comment: French Lick's Hill Course opened in 1917, then was renamed after a $5-million restoration in 2005. The 7,030-yard, par-70 layout currently takes a back seat to the resort's over-the-top, 8,000-yard Pete Dye Course, host of the 2010 PGA Professional National Championship and 2015 Senior PGA Championship.
23. West course at Hershey Country Club, Hershey, Pa.
PGA Championship: 1940 (Byron Nelson).
Comment: From atop the hill on the front lawn of Milton Hershey's estate — High Point Mansion - this par-73 course features a great view of this 'sweet' town. Its tree-lined fairways hosted the LPGA’s Lady Keystone Open for almost 20 years.
24. Bay Course and Pines Course at Seaview Resort & Spa, Atlantic City, N.J.
PGA Championship: 1942 (Snead).
Comment: This major was played at Seaview Country Club, a layout dating to 1914 that consisted of holes and land now dispersed between the Bay and Pines Courses. A handful of architects, including Ross, have done work on the site. The scenic but short Bay Course at Seaview, a regular LPGA Tour stop, is favored by tourists. Locals gravitate to the tighter and more strategic holes of the Pines.
25. Shawnee Inn & Golf Resort, Shawnee On Delaware, Pa.
PGA Championship: 1938 (Paul Runyan).
Comment: In the era when the PGA Championship was determined by match play, Runyan dismantled Snead in the final, 8-and-7. Shawnee, originally designed by Tillinghast in 1911, features 24 holes located on an island in the middle of the Delaware River. It's a thrill hitting tee shots over the river on two fun par 3s.
26. Championship Course at Tanglewood Park, Clemmons, N.C.
PGA Championship: 1974 (Trevino).
Comment: Not only did Trevino win a major at this municipal course owned by Forsyth County, edging out Nicklaus and Snead. He also secured a bucket of cash by winning the Vantage Championship, a senior event held from 1987-2002 on the Robert Trent Jones Sr. design.
27. Prince's Golf Club, Sandwich, England
Open Championship: 1932 (Gene Sarazen).
Comment: All three nines have been recently renovated to enhance what's an underrated links. Prince's co-hosted the 2013 and 2017 British Amateur Championships with its neighbor, Royal St. George's. A 38-bedroom lodge makes for a cozy stay-and-play.
28. Red course at Eisenhower Park East Meadow, Long Island, N.Y.
PGA Championship: 1926 (Hagen).
Comment: I had a chance to play the Red the last time I was on Long Island, but a flight home got in the way. The historic Devereux Emmet design, the only remnant remaining from an old private club, is a popular place for city dwellers looking for a game. Its reviews on GolfPass are all over the map.
29. Keller Golf Course, Maplewood, Minn.
PGA Championships: 1932 (Olin Dutra), 1954 (Chick Harbert).
Comment: This county-owned municipal course hosted dozens of top tournaments back in the day - the PGA Tour's St. Paul Open from 1930 to 1968; the 1949 Western Open and the LPGA Tour's Patty Berg Classic in the 1970s. A two-year renovation by architect Richard Mandell gave the classic parkland layout new life in 2014.
30. Cedar Crest Golf Course, Dallas, Texas
PGA Championship: 1927 (Walter Hagen).
Comment: Originally designed by A.W. Tillinghast in 1919, the 6,532-yard course underwent a significant renovation by D.A. Weibring/Golf Resources, Inc., in 2004. It continues to be a favorite of locals with its rolling terrain and tree-lined fairways.
31. Belmont Golf Course, Richmond, Va.
PGA Championship: 1949 (Sam Snead).
Comment: A.W. Tillinghast designed this former private club for members of the Hermitage Country Club in 1917. The county bought it in 1977 and opened the muni to the public. After a long period of decline, Belmont will get new life in 2021, opening a new 12-hole routing designed by Davis Love III. There's also a putting course and short course that the new operator, the First Tee of Greater Richmond, can use to grow the game.
32. Musselburgh Links, The Old Golf Course Musselburgh, East Lothian, Scotland
Open Championship: 1874 (Mungo Park), 1877 (Jamie Anderson), 1880 (Ferguson), 1883 (Willie Fernie), 1886 (David Brown), 1889 (Willie Park Jr.).
Comment: The only reason I put it last is I've already played Musselburgh with hickory clubs back in 2013. It was great fun, but if I'm in magical East Lothian near so many great links on the seas, I'm going elsewhere. But if you haven't played it, you must tee it up on the reputed oldest golf course in the world. It's a playing history lesson through the town's horse track.