What is an Open Golf Tournament?

Golf OpenAn ‘Open Golf Tournament’ is one that is quite simply open to all in terms of entrance and taking part. In amateur terms this is referring to the idea that you do not have to be a member of the specific golf club to play in the tournament. However, in more usual terms, in the professional game, an open golf tournament is one that generally admits any golfer to enter the tournament, regardless of professional standing or amateur handicap.

To prevent the complete carnage of any Tom, Dick or Harry entering into competitions when they may not be able to even swing a club, “Open” tournaments are not actually truly open. There needs to be some entry requirements in order to restrict numbers, and the associated costs, time, and administration that huge swathes of golfers would bring.

Many top professionals will qualify automatically for open tournaments, which have various criteria. This may include past winners, high finishers from the previous year’s tournament or world ranking position, as well as current standing on money lists and performances in events in the lead-up to the tournament.

Amateurs, on the other hand, can hope to earn their spots through qualification rounds and minor qualification tournaments, allowing them to dream of the big time. In addition, many open tournaments restrict entrance to players with a handicap below a certain level. For example in the case of the toughest major of them all, the US Open, only golfers with a handicap of 1.4 or lower may play, irrespective of other criteria.

Opens form some of golf’s top events across the calendar year, with the chance of glory for amateur golfers only adding to the excitement of the competition. As such they often form parts of both the European and PGA tours, meaning the top golfers in the world can compete with minor regional competitors, local club pros, up and coming stars yet to join the pro ranks and even potentially seasoned old amateurs. To get even more idea of what an open is, let us now look at how they compare to invitationals and also take a look at some of the major opens from around the world.

Open Vs Invitational – What Is The Difference?

Female Golfer

The two main types of golfing tournaments are ‘Opens’ and ‘Invitationals’. In an invitational, such as The US Masters, players are invited to play based on a range of factors, like world ranking. Not just anyone can apply to enter, making it an extremely exclusive competition to even make it as far as the first tee, let alone actually win. Every golfer dreams of making it to Augusta National but only a select few will ever be able to compete.

However, technically in an open, anyone (subject to certain criteria mentioned already) has the chance to compete. By winning qualifying tournaments, amateur players can earn their spot in the tournament proper, and so have a chance to play against those that were invited, and even have a chance of beating them and, in theory at least, winning the entire tournament. Anyone can play in these events providing they have a sufficient handicap, again trying to filter out those that are not serious competitors.

The History Of The Open Format

The first open tournament was the biggest and best of them all, the British Open. The inaugural tournament was held way back in 1861, at the Prestwick Golf Club (in Scotland) and allowed amateur competitors to enter what was previously a professional-only event. This started the oldest competition in golfing history and it is still considered one of the most prestigious tournaments in the world, making up one part of golf’s four “Major” tournaments.

Other competitions soon followed suit, like the US Open in 1895. Due to the difficulty of qualifying for these competitions, these major open tournaments are realistically not that “open” at all, with much of the playing field being made up of professional players, with other places being supplemented by top amateurs that made it through the qualification stages.

The British Open – July – $10.75 Million Prize

British Open
Lino Quickels, CC BY-SA 2.5, via Wikimedia Commons

We begin with the oldest of them all, the British Open. As with all the majors, The Open Championship (or just The Open) is co-sanctioned by the European and PGA Tours. As already mentioned, not only is it the oldest and largest open competition in golf, but it is also the oldest competition in golf full stop. In its early years it was held exclusively in Scotland, before being changed to a system whereby it rotates each year to a different course across the UK, bringing the biggest names in golf to these shores.

Like the US Open, the best golfing professionals do not need to qualify to take part in the British Open, however there are still some spots for amateurs to claim a place, through a system of local, regional, and international qualification competitions. Because of its history it is considered probably the most important event in the regular golfing calendar, with the successful winner not only taking home the fabled Claret Jug, but also around a $2 million share of the more than $10 million total prize fund.

The British Open has hosted some of the most memorable moments from golfing history. From Tiger Woods completing the grand slam at the age of 24 in 2000, to the famous 1977 “Duel in the Sun” between Jack Nicklaus and Tom Watson. We also saw Phil Mickleson winning his first open title in 2013 but proceeding to lose in the legendary play-off between himself and Henrik Stenson in 2016. Perhaps one of the biggest events from the point of view of amateur golf was when a 17 year old Justin Rose finished tied fourth at the 1998 event – he turned pro the next day. The British Open is the competition that just keeps on giving and will surely not let us down in the future.

The US Open – June – $12 Million Prize

US Open
From: USOpen.com

The US Open is the second-oldest and second largest open even in golf. It makes up one of the four golfing majors and is played as part of the US PGA tour and the European golfing tour – the two most watched, and successful golfing tours in the world. Taking place in June, it has a total prize purse of around $12 million, with the winner taking home over $2 million of this amount.

The competing field is made up of 156 individuals, and around half of these are allowed in without qualifying, through either previously winning the event, or based on world ranking and other such factors. Aside from this, the other half of places make it a freely open competition, with anyone that can qualify through opening tournaments earning their spot on the list. Because of this we see a lot of unheralded, lesser US pros and some amateurs regularly making the field.

By winning the US Open players are eligible for several perks. They automatically qualify for the other three majors for the next five years without having to compete, and don’t have to qualify for the US Open itself for the next decade. This makes it a huge competition for someone to win, especially if they are not considered a “favourite” since it provides long-term security and stability for their career.

Canadian Open – June – €7.8m Million Prize

Canadian OpenPerhaps surprisingly, the Canadian Open is the third oldest golf tournament to run continuously and has been a regular fixture since 1904, only breaking for the two World Wars and, rather sadly, in 2020. That great history, and the tidy winner’s cheque of around $1.4m, means just about all the best golfers in the world head to Canada for its national open.

Rory McIlroy, Dustin Johnson and Jason Day have all won since 2015. Prior to that titles Jim Furyk (twice), Tiger Woods, Nick Price and Greg Norman (both also twice), and Arnold Palmer have also claimed glory at this illustrious event. Home-grown winners have been rather thin on the ground but Canada does boast seven titles, with three locals winning two national opens each.

The Canadian Open is part of what some call the Triple Crown of the PGA Tour. In 1971 and 2000 Lee Trevino and Tiger Woods respectively won the British, US and Canadian Opens in the same year. These are the oldest three events to be sanctioned by the PGA Tour and in 2019 McIlroy joined an elite list of just six golfing greats to land the career Triple Crown.

Open de France – October – €1.6 Million Prize (Down From $7m in 2017)

Open de France Trophy
Cyrille Bertin, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons

The French Open, or Open de France, is one of the most prestigious national championships around. First played in 1906 it is the oldest national open on mainland Europe and has been a part of the European Tour schedule every year since the tour began. For a short period it was a Rolex Series event and so thus offered the sort of prizes we tend to see at majors. Whilst that is no longer the case, the French Open still attracts some top players and offers a significant prize pool.

The structure of this tournament has not always been open in the true sense of the word. However, in the 21st century organisers have tried to adopt a model more similar to that used at the British and US Opens. As such we now see regional qualifying events and more amateurs making it all the way to Le Golf National in Paris (which also hosted the 2018 Ryder Cup and will host the Olympic competition in 2024).

Recent winners include Martin Kaymer, Graeme McDowell (twice), Tommy Fleetwood and Alex Noren, whilst in the past the likes of Nick Faldo, Seve, Greg Norman and Sandy Lyle have all triumphed. Notably, English golfer Cyril Tolley won this tournament twice as an amateur, in 1924 and 1928.

The Mauritius Open – December – €1 Million Prize

Mauritius OpenOne of the newest tournaments in golf, the Mauritius Open, was first played in 2015 and includes professional golfers that make up the Asian tour, the European tour, and the South African (or Sunshine) tour. Normally held in December, and carrying a total purse of €1 million, the majority of the field is made up from previous event winners, tour members, and top ranked players, with just a handful of spaces for amateurs.

Despite mostly consisting of invited members, the Mauritius Open is still considered an open event due to the, however limited, mixing of both professional and amateur golfers. Interestingly, Spanish golfer, Javier Colomo, hit a hole in one on a par-4 in the inaugural 2015 tournament, the first time this had ever happened in any of the tour events taking part in the Mauritius competition.

Despite limited fame, especially due to its youth, the tournament is a fascinating watch. Not only can you see brilliant golfers battling it out, but there is also the matter of the location at hand. The small east African island of Mauritius has some of the most beautiful scenery in the world, with a wealth of plant life, beaches, and spectacular golf courses. Watching this open on TV alone makes you wish you were there, so what an unbelievable experience it must be to spectate or play.

The New Zealand Open – February – $1,45 (NZ) Million Prize

New Zealand Open

Another open event worth keeping an eye out for is the New Zealand Open, usually played in February. This is the top golfing event in New Zealand, and one of the main competitions on the Australasian tour. In recent years it has also seen regular involvement from the European and Asian tours, making it a well competed for and exciting tournament. With a prize fund of $1.45 million New Zealand dollars, approximately £750,000, it is certainly not a reward to be sniffed at.

The competition has actually been played since 1893, making it one of golf’s oldest events, and it has gone through many different iterations across different venues in NZ during this long history. The field is mostly made up of players from the region, and the tournament’s past winners reflect this, mostly being from New Zealand or Australia. However, back in 2002 Tiger Woods took part, a major scoop for the organisers of what is relatively a small tournament compared to other events around the world.

The New Zealand Open also forms part of the US PGA Development tour. This is a minor tour designed for young aspiring professionals to help them work on their game before earning a spot on a fully fledged PGA tour. This gives New Zealanders a chance to watch future world number ones and major champions first hand, as this is where the top golfers come to play.

The Singapore Open – February – $1 Million Prize

Singapore OpenOne of the larger open events on the Asian Tour is the Singapore Open, held in Singapore in February. Being part of the Asian golf tour, and intermittently the US PGA and European Tours, it is an incredibly significant event in the golfing year in this region and offers a prize pool of $1 million (USD).

First established in 1961, it has run fairly consistently, bar a short period off due to lack of sponsorship in recent times. The competition commands one of the biggest prize rewards on the local tour and as such attracts some of the biggest names from world golf. Matt Kuchar won it in 2020, with Justin Rose as the runner-up in that year, and Sergio Garcia won the event in 2018.

Despite not always being co-sanctioned by either of the major tours, top players often still flock to this revered event.