Championship golf courses are often admired due to their “scarcity” and “prestige.” The truth is, there is no “standard definition” for a championship golf course, and the designation is mostly made up.
Generally speaking “championship courses” refer to the nicest course within a resort, county area, or a course that has held at least one major PGA or LPGA event.
In this article, we’ll review what the golfing community actually means when they are referring to “championship golf courses”, some of the most popular championship courses in the U.S. and U.K., as well as general characteristics of courses that hold professional golfing competitions.
Typically, the label “championship golf course” is reserved for golfing venues that have hosted significant professional golf tournaments, such as the PGA Tour, European Tour, or major championships. Additionally, championship courses may refer to the top course at country club or resort with multiple courses. Occasionally, “championship” is used as a marketing technique to attract golfers, but genuine championship courses have specific qualities that set them apart.
Key Takeaways For Championship Golf Courses
- Championship golf courses are generally known for hosting major tournaments.
- Championship golf courses should be avoided by beginners as they are typically very challenging
- Oftentimes champion courses have a rich history or are part of an elite country club.
- Common characteristics of championship courses include exceptional design, high difficulty level, and pristine course conditions.
- There is no standardized definition of a “championship golf course”
The 3 Types of Championship Golf Courses
Our team has had the privilege of playing at dozens of “championship courses.” These courses not only offer a challenge to the players looking to test their skills but also generally showcase the beauty and diversity of the region. Below we have the three primary definitions golfers use when referring to “championship courses.”
1. The Course Previously Hosted a Major Professional Golf Tournament
Championship golf course typically have a history of hosting significant golf tournaments. These courses are held to a high standard because they have been the battlegrounds for some of the greatest golfers in the sport. The courses become “championship” courses because they have had professional golfers competing in prestigious events, such as the US Open, the Masters, and the PGA Championship.
The Tournament Players Club (TPC) is a chain of public and private golf courses in the United States that are operated by the PGA Tour. Most professional golf matches are played on these TPC courses because they are carefully designed with input from professional golfers and are meticulously maintained to ensure optimal playing conditions for the highest level of competition. So if a course is part of the TPC chances are it would count as a championship course.
Some notable championship golf courses include the Augusta National, which hosts the Masters each year, and Pebble Beach Golf Links, a famous course on the California coastline that has hosted multiple US Open tournaments.
2. A Country Club’s Most Challenging Course
In our experience, many country clubs or golf complexes have multiple golf courses, and the “championship” or “stadium” course is considered to be the most difficult or prestigious course.
These championship golf courses often feature a mix of demanding holes, tight fairways, well-placed bunkers, fast greens, and elevation changes. This combination is what sets them apart from other courses at the club and allows them to host prestigious events and tournaments.
Although championship courses are generally considered to be especially difficult it’s important to note that there isn’t a mandated length required for a course to be considered a “championship course.”
To give you an idea of the specifics that you might encounter on a championship course, here are a few key elements:
- Narrow fairways: This requires accurate and controlled tee shots, forcing players to carefully plan their shots and navigate the course strategically.
- Deep bunkers: Well-placed bunkers can be both a visual and strategic challenge, especially if they are situated around the greens or in landing areas.
- Fast greens: The putting surfaces on a championship course can be extremely fast and challenging due to their undulation and designed slopes.
- Multiple Water hazards: Streams, ponds, and lakes could be strategically placed throughout the course, forcing players to manage their risk and choose their shots wisely.
By playing on championship golf courses, golfers are constantly being pushed to improve and adapt their game, which is part of the appeal of these challenging and prestigious courses.
3. “Championship” is just a marketing term
We’ve all come across the term “championship golf course” in advertisements or while browsing for places to practice our swing. But let’s be honest, sometimes that label is tossed around for marketing purposes to convey that the course is prestigious or particularly difficult.
While some championship golf courses have indeed hosted renowned tournaments and are designed for professional players, many golf centers will label their courses as such, even if no noteworthy competitions have been played on them. This is misleading, as golfers might expect a certain level of challenge or exclusivity when visiting a so-called “championship course.”
In this context, the term “championship” is more about creating an image – a perception of prestige. It implies that the golf course is at the highest level in terms of design, facilities, and overall golfing experience. But many times, the reality may not always live up to the hype.
So, before you spend hours researching the perfect championship golf course, it’s essential to take a closer look at why it’s actually labeled as “championship” before you reserve a tee time. This will help you to determine whether the course truly meets the standards of being a championship-worthy venue or if it’s simply a marketing tactic to attract more golfers.
In the end, a great golfing experience isn’t solely about whether the course carries the “championship” label. It’s about the challenge, the ambiance, and the way a course pushes you to improve our game. Just make sure you don’t pay top dollar unnecessarily!
What are common characteristics of championship golf courses?
Champtionship courses generally have similar difficultly ratings, amenities, and a history of prestigious events and members. These traits are usually found on courses where prestigious tournaments such as the PGA Tour, European Tour, and major championships are held.
Course Length and Difficulty: Championship golf courses are often known for their significant length and challenging layouts. The courses are designed to test the abilities of top professional golfers and provide an engaging experience for spectators. Many of these courses have tight fairways, strategically placed bunkers, and exceptional green complexes that demand accurate and thoughtful shot-making.
Course Conditioning: A key characteristic of championship courses is their impeccable conditioning. From the tee boxes to the putting greens, these courses are meticulously maintained, ensuring a consistent playing surface. The fairways are perfectly manicured, and the greens are fast, smooth, and true, allowing golfers to showcase their skills in the best possible conditions.
History and Prestige: Many championship golf courses have a rich history of hosting significant events and producing iconic moments in the sport. This history adds to the allure and prestige of playing on the same grounds as past legends, and it also speaks volumes about the course’s ability to stand the test of time and adapt to the ever-evolving game.
Facilities and Clubhouse: Hosting a championship requires not only an exceptional course but also world-class facilities and support services. From top-notch practice areas to well-appointed locker rooms and dining facilities, these courses offer an unparalleled experience for both the players and the visitors. The clubhouse often serves as an impressive and welcoming centerpiece that reflects the timeless beauty and charm associated with the heritage of golf.
Designers and Architects: Championship golf courses are often conceived and designed by renowned architects who have a deep understanding of the game and the landscape. Their expertly crafted courses provide a strategic challenge that pushes golfers to use every club in their bag and employ a thoughtful game plan. Each hole is thoughtfully crafted with attention to detail and a vision of how it should play for golfers of all levels.
By considering these characteristics, we provide a comprehensive understanding of what makes a championship golf course unique and memorable. Playing on these courses offers us a privileged opportunity to walk in the footsteps of legends and admire the beauty of golf at its finest.
Famous Championship Golf Courses
In the United States
In the United States, there are numerous prestigious championship golf courses that we have had the pleasure of visiting and playing on. Some of these top courses include:
- Oakmont Country Club in Pennsylvania is one of the oldest golf courses in the country. Designed by Henry Fownes, it has been the host of several major championships.
- Firestone Country Club in Ohio, a course designed by Bert Way and later modified by Robert Trent Jones. This course has been home to several professional golf tournaments, including the famed WGC-Bridgestone Invitational.
- TPC Harding Park in California, which has hosted numerous events on the PGA Tour, including the 2020 PGA Championship, won by Collin Morikawa.
- Quail Hollow Club in North Carolina, a challenging course that has hosted the Wells Fargo Championship and the 2017 PGA Championship.
- Kiawah Island Golf Resort in South Carolina, offering stunning ocean views, and home to the famous Ocean Course, which has hosted the 2012 PGA Championship, and will be the venue for the 2023 Presidents Cup.
- Baltusrol Golf Club in New Jersey, featuring two 18-hole courses, both designed by A. W. Tillinghast, and has been the host to many major championships.
- Winged Foot, Oakland Hills, and Hershey Country Club are all classic courses designed by the legendary Donald Ross that have been host to major championships.
Other notable championship golf courses in the United States include Atlanta Athletic Club, Oakland Hills Country Club, Bellerive Country Club, Hazeltine National Golf Club, Inverness Club, Crooked Stick Golf Club, Congressional Country Club, Southern Hills Country Club, Valhalla Golf Club, and Oak Hill Country Club.
In the United Kingdom
In the United Kingdom, the birthplace of golf, there are many iconic championship golf courses that we have had the honor of playing:
- St. Andrews in Scotland is not only the oldest golf course in the world but also the home of golf. This historic course has hosted numerous Open Championships, and its Old Course is a must-play for any serious golfer.
- Carnoustie in Scotland is another legendary course known for its challenging layout and has been the site of several Open Championships. Its famous 18th hole known as “Hogan’s Alley” is regarded as one of the best finishing holes in golf.
- Royal Troon in Scotland is another Open Championship venue with a rich history. Its signature hole is the par-3 8th hole, also known as the “Postage Stamp” due to its small, challenging green.
- Lastly, Musselburgh in Scotland is one of the oldest golf courses in the world and one of the founding members of The R&A, the governing body of golf.
All of these courses showcase the rich history and tradition of golf in the United Kingdom, and we believe they offer unforgettable experiences for any avid golfer.
Frequently Asked Questions About Championship Golf Courses
Championship golf courses are designed to test the skill level and expertise of professional golfers. These courses adhere to high standards of quality and maintenance, ensuring that each hole offers a challenging experience. In order to be deemed a championship course, we often find that factors such as course length, design features, and green difficulty play a significant role in meeting the criteria set forth by professional golf organizations.
Championship courses distinguish themselves from other courses by incorporating strategic design elements that demand precision, accuracy, and strategy. We notice that these courses often have narrow fairways, strategically placed hazards, challenging green complexes, and varied elevation changes. Additionally, championship courses typically have fast and firm playing conditions which require golfers to factor in course management and shot selection as a key component to their overall performance.
While championship courses can be parkland, heathland, or links-style courses, the main difference lies in the level of challenge and requirements set forth by the governing organizations. Parkland courses, characterized by lush green landscapes and tree-lined fairways, often offer a more forgiving and leisurely experience. On the other hand, heathland courses are defined by open landscapes with few trees, heather, and gorse vegetation.
Championship courses, regardless of their type, are designed to challenge professionals and test their skills under tournament conditions. They often feature a combination of tight fairways, strategic bunkering, and fast greens, setting them apart from the more forgiving layouts found in typical parkland or heathland courses.
The United Kingdom boasts some of the most iconic and historic links-style championship courses in the golfing world. Some of the most notable courses that we would like to highlight are:
The Old Course at St. Andrews: Often referred to as the “Home of Golf,” this legendary course has played host to numerous championships including The Open Championship.
Carnoustie Golf Links: Known for its challenging layout and unpredictable weather, this course has a reputation as one of the toughest on the professional circuit.
Royal Birkdale Golf Club: A frequent host of The Open Championship, this course is renowned for its pristine conditioning and demanding holes.
Muirfield: This highly respected course is home to The Honourable Company of Edinburgh Golfers and has been a regular venue for The Open Championship.