2010 marks a landmark year in the world of golf. For the first time, the three major championships that rotate host venues will all take place on courses that are open to the general public. Pebble Beach Golf Links will host the U.S. Open this June; The Open Championship will be contested at the Old Course at St. Andrews in July; and the season’s Grand Slam will conclude with the PGA Championship at Whistling Straits in August.
However, while anyone can theoretically enjoy a round at any of these courses, it won’t come cheap. At $495 per round, Pebble Beach’s green fees are the most expensive in the world — and that doesn’t include the two-night resort stay required to book a tee time. A round at Whistling Straits during peak season, plus the required caddy, costs $400. Compared to those two, St. Andrews’ going rate of £130 (roughly $200 using current exchange rates) is a relative bargain; but its lottery system of allotting tee times means access can be very hard to come by, especially for golfers making a trans-Atlantic pilgrimage.
The reality is that most major venues, even the ones that are open to the public, are out of the price range of most golfers. A round at Pinehurst’s No. 2 course, site of two U.S. Opens, can only be purchased with a hotel reservation and two meals at the resort: a grand total of $651. Even in the United Kingdom, where access to championship courses is much more egalitarian, none of the links in the Open rota can be played for less than $200. Championship venues demand premium prices: that is how the golf business works.
Despite this, affordable courses with championship pedigrees do exist. Here are five former major sites where anyone can play, for a price that anyone can pay.
Number Five: Bethpage State Park, Black Course
Farmingdale, New York
Major Credentials: In 2002, Bethpage Black became the first municipal course to host the U.S. Open. In front of record crowds, Tiger Woods led wire-to-wire to win what was dubbed “the People’s Open.” Bethpage served as such a good host to the tournament that the USGA quickly assigned Bethpage the 2009 Open, which was won by Lucas Glover after persistent rainfall pushed the tournament’s finish to Monday.
The Scoop: By now, ESPN production teams and sports columnists have told countless stories of golfers camping out in the parking lot overnight for a tee time. The fact remains that for non-New York residents, a weekend tee time at the Black can be acquired for $120 and lots of patience.
Number Four: Prince’s Golf Club
Sandwich, Kent, England
Major Credentials: As the next-door neighbor to 13-time Open Championship host Royal St. George’s (and along the same strand of shoreline as Royal Cinque Ports in nearby Deal, another former Open venue), Prince’s held the 1932 Open. Prince’s lone major did provide the setting for one of golf’s most revolutionary moments: it was here that Gene Sarazen unveiled the sand wedge to an unsuspecting world, taking the Claret Jug and changing the way the game was played.
The Scoop: Prince’s was the most modern links in Britain when it opened in 1906, being designed with the new wound golf ball in mind. Like Turnberry, the course sustained damage in World War II, and a redesign worked the untouched parts of the old course into a new, 27-hole layout. A fine course often caught in the shadows of its more famous neighbors, Prince’s is a frequent host for Open Championship qualifying, as well as a secondary course when the Amateur Championship is held at St. George’s or Deal. A weekend round at Prince’s during peak season costs £85 (about $125).
French Lick Resort, Donald Ross Course
Number Three: French Lick, Indiana
Major Credentials: In the early years of golf, professionals were held in less esteem than the wealthy sportsmen who made up the game’s amateur ranks. As a result, the PGA Championship was often held at second-tier clubs or resort courses prior to World War II. The French Lick Springs Resort was one of these courses, where in 1924 Walter Hagen claimed his second PGA title over Jim Barnes. Those two finalists would claim 15 majors between them during their respective careers.
The Scoop: While French Lick Resort has made headlines in the last year because of the opening of its monstrous new Pete Dye Course (8100 yards from the tips; $350 for a round), the resort’s original Donald Ross design was also recently subject of a massive renovation project. Newly restored to resemble how its original architect intended it to play, the Donald Ross Course can be played during the weekend for $120.
Number Two: Tanglewood Park, Championship Course
Clemmons, North Carolina
Major Credentials: A generation before Bethpage hosted the U.S. Open, Tanglewood Park outside of Winston-Salem was the first municipal course to hold a major, the 1974 PGA Championship. The final round was a closely fought battle between Jack Nicklaus and Lee Trevino; the Trevino ultimately won by a stroke. At 62, Sam Snead finished in a tie for third.
The Scoop: Tanglewood Park sits on the former estate of the R.J. Reynolds tobacco empire. When the Robert Trent Jones-designed Championship Course opened in 1958, it was considered one of the best courses in the Southeast. With the rise of Myrtle Beach and the resurgence of Charleston and the Pinehurst area, though, Tanglewood has become overlooked within the Carolinas. The consequence of its relative obscurity is that weekend rates for the Championship Course are only $48.
Number One: Musselburgh Links
Musselburgh, East Lothian, Scotland
Major Credentials: As the home course of the Honourable Company of Edinburgh Golfers, which co-organized the Open Championship during the late 1800s, Musselburgh hosted the Open six times between 1874 and 1889. After the HCEG moved to the now-famous Muirfield links down the road, Musselburgh was abandoned as a championship venue.
The Scoop: One look at Musselburgh is all it takes to see why Muirfield needed to be built: the course consists of only nine flat holes which meander through the infield of a racecourse. Apart from the Opens, these humble links are notable for being the oldest golf course in the world, with the game documented as being played here since 1672, and likely for many years before then. One time around the Musselburgh nine during the weekend costs £12.30 (less than $20); hickory-shafted clubs can be rented for an additional £29 (about $43). For around $60, a golfer can go around the oldest course in the world with the same clubs that were used 100 years ago. It may be the greatest golf deal in the world.