The professional golf season is year-round, with tournaments taking place each month around the world. First-place prizes vary in digits, players vary in ability and courses vary in difficulty. But every year, four major tournaments stand out from the rest. And each year, those four tournaments, dubbed the “ four majors,” provide the highest quality of golf and the most dramatic final rounds.
The Masters Tournament
The Masters is the first major tournament of the year, played during the first full week of April at Augusta National Golf Course in Augusta, GA. Officially known as The Masters Tournament, it is the youngest of the majors, but it’s also the most prestigious. This picturesque course is dominated by plush green landscape, along with the famous “Amen Corner” three-hole stretch on the back nine that comprises holes 11, 12 and 13. The Masters provides for some of the best drama in golf against arguably the most beautiful backdrop in the game.
When all is said and done, the winner receives a green jacket, undoubtedly the most distinctive award handed out in professional golf. The Masters is the only major tournament that never changes location. It has been played at Augusta since the tournament’s inauguration in 1934.
Next during the golf season is the United States Open Championship, most commonly referred to as the U.S. Open, which is held during the third week of June. The final always falls on Father’s Day. The inaugural U.S. Open was played in 1895, and, like the two majors following it, the U.S. Open rotates to a different golf course each year. Still, there are distinct characteristics that define U.S. Open golf courses. Typically they are long courses with high-cut rough and narrow fairways that put a premium on accuracy. The U.S. Open commonly proves to be the toughest challenge of all the majors for golfers each year.
The oldest major is The Open Championship, commonly known as the British Open, which was first played in 1860. It is the only major held outside the United States and is usually scheduled to fall during the weekend of the third Friday in July. Currently, there are nine courses in the site rotation, four in England and five in Scotland, though the British Open was once played in Northern Ireland.
No matter where the tournament is held, it is always played on a links course, which is typically on a coast, providing plenty of wind and rain throughout the competition. The British Open is known for its unpredictable weather, extreme wind gusts, uneven fairways, thick rough and small, deep sand traps known as “pot bunkers.” While Augusta’s green jacket is the most prestigious award handed out in professional golf, the Claret Jug is undoubtedly golf’s most recognizable trophy. Officially called The Gold Champion Trophy, it has been handed out to the winner of the British Open since 1873.
The PGA Championship, the final major tournament of the year, is typically held four weeks after the British Open. The tournament was first played in 1916 at Siwanoy Country Club in Bronxville, NY, just months after Rodman Wanamaker and a collection of golf professionals had formed the PGA of America.
The 91 PGA Championships that have been played—three were canceled because of war—have been hosted by 71 different courses. While the tournament rotates, it looks for only the most renowned sites across the United States, meaning it is much more picky about choosing a location than the U.S. Open is. Still, the PGA Championship is almost like the little brother to the other major tournaments. It boasts an impressive field of competitors and a challenging course to match them each year. However it simply does not have the prestige nor the mystique of the other majors.
Record score to par
The Masters: Tiger Woods (18-under, 1997)
U.S. Open: Tiger Woods (12-under at Pebble Beach in Pebble Beach, California, 2000)
British Open: Tiger Woods (19-under at St. Andrews in Fife, Scotland, 2000)*
*Record for all majors
PGA Championship: Tiger Woods and Bob May (18-under at Valhalla in Louisville, Kentucky, 2000)
Most recent winner and prize money awarded
The Masters: Charl Schwartzel – $1,440,000
U.S. Open: Graeme McDowell – $1,350,000
British Open: Louis Oosthuizen – $1,305,593
PGA Championship: Martin Kaymer – $1,350,000
Record number of tournaments won by one player:
The Masters: Jack Nicklaus (6)
U.S. Open: Willie Anderson, Bobby Jones, Ben Hogan and Jack Nicklaus (4)
British Open: Harry Vardon (6)
PGA Championship: Walter Hagen and Jack Nicklaus (5)