The staging of the first Open in 1860 gave us tournament golf in the form that we recognise it today. Since that first championship, when Willie Park edged out Old Tom Morris, Scotland has continued to be the both the spiritual home of the game and a premier host of world class events. With such a rich heritage of tournament golf it is no surprise that so many Scottish golf courses are instantly recognisable for sports fans across the world.
From the golfing citadel of St Andrews to the banks of Loch Lomond from the days of Park and Morris through Watson and Nicklaus duelling in the sun to the pre-eminence of Tiger, Scotland's Signature Courses have quite a story to tell.
Ailsa Course, Turnberry
Back in 1860 it was thought that Old Tom Morris would have home advantage on his side when he attempted to capture the first Open. The venue was Prestwick and Morris served as Keeper of the Green. On that occasion Morris was denied but Prestwick's special relationship with the Open continued until 1925, the course hosting the first 12 Opens and 24 in total. Although no longer on the championship rota Prestwick remains a wonderful links test and a must play for anyone with even a fleeting interest in the game's history.
In 1874 the Open was played over the Musselburgh Links for the first time. There, on what is thought to be the oldest golf course in the world, local man Mungo Park followed in his brother Willie's footsteps and claimed the title. The course would host six Opens up until 1889. Today the nine hole course, surrounded by a racecourse, remains in play and each year visitors have the choice of tackling it with modern clubs or trying their luck with the hickory shafts of old.
When the Honourable Company of Edinburgh Golfers decided to leave Musselburgh they employed Old Tom Morris to lay out a new course further down the east coast at Gullane. The result was Muirfield which first staged the Open in 1892 and which is still today considered to be the fairest test of golf on the championship rota.
James Braid twice won the Open at Muirfield before retiring to become one of the most active of all course architects. In this second career he was responsible for refining the Championship course at Carnoustie. The result was a course that still provides a forensic examination of the world's best players. Armour, Hogan, Player and Watson are all Carnoustie champions and when the course rejoined the rota in 1999, Paul Lawrie became only the second Scot in over 60 years to win the Claret Jug.
Postage Stamp, Royal Troon
Prestwick's place on the Open's west coast swing has been filled by Royal Troon and Turnberry Ailsa. Troon first staged the Open in 1923 when Englishman Arthur Havers pocketed the £75 winners cheque. The 8th hole, "Postage Stamp," is the shortest, but not the easiest, hole in Open golf. Turnberry Ailsa first staged the Open in 1977. It was quite a debut as Tom Watson eventually outshone Jack Nicklaus in the epic "Duel in the Sun." A world class facility, Turnberry played host to the 2009 Open Championship and saw yet more heroics from Tom Watson.
The history of Scottish golf and Scottish courses is marked by the ability to adapt and remain relevant despite the passage of time. That will be proved again when Europe and America do battle for the 2014 Ryder Cup over the PGA Centenary course at Gleneagles. The course was designed by Jack Nicklaus on what he called "the finest parcel of land in the world I have ever been given to work with." Few that have played his creation would disagree.
From the ancient links of Musselburgh and Prestwick to the Golden Bear's more modern creation at Gleneagles, Scotland's Signature Courses offer golfers a chance to walk in the footsteps of the game's greatest players and to feel the history of the game come alive.