Did you happen to hear the British Open announcers say that Royal Birkdale Golf Club's championship course was completed in 1922 but it didn't become "royal" until 1951? Were you left wondering what that means and how certain layouts go from being mere golf courses to "royal golf clubs?"
The answer is that while anyone can slap the word "royal" on their golf course (i.e. Royal Links Golf Club in Las Vegas and Royal New Kent Golf Club in Williamsburg, Va.), true "royal" golf clubs, such as Northern Ireland's Royal County Down Golf Club and Scotland's Royal Troon Golf Club, are designated as such by the British Royal Family; specifically, the Queen, and previously, the King.
It works like this: if a member of the Royal Family decides a golf course is worthy of "royal" status, typically because it has hosted a number of prestigious events or simply because they really enjoyed themselves there, that member becomes the course's "royal patron," an advocate as the course tries to obtain the full, royal designation. Ultimately, it's up to His or Her Majesty. If they're so inclined, they can accept the nomination and designate it a royal golf club.
While the number of true, royal golf clubs in the world is limited, they are not limited to the United Kingdom; you can find them in several golf vacation destinations worldwide, including the Republic of Ireland, Australia, New Zealand, Canada, Asia, Africa...there's even one in Malta.
In general, royal courses are a safe bet to play on golf vacations, but there are exceptions. It just so happens that the July and August issues of our flagship publication, Golf Odyssey, contain unbiased reviews of three royal courses, including a very famous one that we feel is completely overrated. Our online, back-issue archive contains dozens more, including assessments of the royal courses that take turns hosting the British Open. You can get free, instant access to all of these expert, unbiased reviews simply by trying Golf Odyssey for free. As part of your free trial, you'll get the current issue, and instant access to the best golf vacation research tool in the world: our online, back-issue archive. Again, all at no cost and no risk to you.
Now that's what I call getting the royal treatment.