As golf’s attention turns to Augusta National, then to golf’s supposed fifth major, The Players Championship, it’s time to consider: what if we actually created a fifth major championship?
First of all, let’s establish that there’s nothing sacred about the current four majors, or even the idea that there need to be only four of them. Until the 1950s, two of the current majors were not considered all that prestigious—the British Open had fallen out of favor because few American stars traveled to play in it, while the PGA Championship was still a match-play event.
In fact, in Bobby Jones’ day, the majors were the U.S. Amateur, the U.S. Open, the British Amateur and the British Open. Now, 75 years later, two of those are not considered majors at all. So there’s room for majors to evolve.
But what makes a proper major championship? To me, there are three qualities.
- It needs to have history. The Masters is probably the most beloved major because it’s played at the same course every year, a course that seems untouched by time. By contrast, TPC Sawgrass (venue for the Players Championship) is a mere 30 years old, a course built specifically to be famous and to be on TV. Also, it closes with a ridiculously goofy hole, the island green at 17.
- It needs to be played on a course that has the respect of the players. There’s a reason the U.S. Open returns to Winged Foot and Shinnecock Hills every so many years, and it’s not because of the delicious hot dogs in the clubhouse. Those courses aren’t gimmicky or contrived. They’re classic layouts that have stood the test of time—the closest thing we have to anything royal or ancient.
- It needs to present a unique challenge. The U.S. Open has slick greens and (often) thick rough, placing a priority on shotmaking and accuracy. The British Open is played on windswept links courses that are different than anything in America. Augusta National’s greens are some of the most slippery in the world, placing a premium on putting. The PGA Championship has the anchor position. So our new major needs to have a unique aspect that gets players out of their comfort zones.
If those are the things that existing majors have in common, what are the qualities that we want to infuse into a new major? To me the biggest thing would be that this major has to be played outside the United States. Over the last 10 years, exactly half of the major champions have been international players—yet we play a scant one major outside the U.S. This needs to change.
So we need a major with instant history, played on a revered course with unique challenges—and it needs to be outside of America. The only choice is The Old Course at St. Andrews. Congratulations, St Andrews! You’re the new host of the Old Course Championship, golf’s fifth major.
With the Old Course elevated to its proper place as an annual major venue, it could easily be replaced in the British Open lineup.
Life would go on, but we’d have a whole new major to obsess over.