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Royal Troon Golf Club: A Century of Championship History

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Royal Troon Golf Club will host its 10th Open Championship in 2024, cementing its status as one of the premier links courses in Scotland. Founded in 1878, the course quickly gained acclaim for its scenic seaside holes and challenging layout. Its illustrious history with golf’s oldest major began in 1923 when Arthur Havers won the first Open held at Troon in dramatic fashion. Since then, it has produced several more memorable championships won by Bobby Locke, Arnold Palmer, and Tom Watson.

When the world’s best return to the Ayrshire coast in 2024, they will face a traditional links test. The front nine meanders gently along the Firth of Clyde, allowing players to ease into their rounds. But they must build a cushion before reaching the difficult stretch from 11 to 16, where danger lurks at every turn. The 123-yard “Postage Stamp” 8th hole also promises to create plenty of drama as one of golf’s most iconic short holes. With its storied past and demanding holes, Royal Troon will provide a fitting venue for the 152nd edition of golf’s oldest major championship.

In this post, we will look at Royal Troon’s origins and history, as well as its notable events and past Opens. We’ll revisit Arnold Palmer’s historic win in 1962 and walk through the course to see what makes it special. As always, we will link you to some suggested further reading and videos to relive the memories for yourself. Images in this post are simulated to provide context and set the stage.

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Troon History

Royal Troon Golf Club was founded in 1878 by golf enthusiasts who met at the local pub in Troon, Scotland. They started with just five holes designed by George Strath, the club’s first professional. The course was soon expanded to 18 holes and redesigned in the early 20th century by renowned architect James Braid, a 5-time Open Champion. Located along the Firth of Clyde in western Scotland, Royal Troon enjoys a scenic seaside setting with views across the Isle of Arran. The routing is in the traditional out-and-back style, with a gentle opening through coastal dunes before turning back towards town for a tough inward nine. Two of Troon’s most iconic holes come late in the round – the tiny “Postage Stamp” 8th and the long, railway-lined 11th.

In its history, Royal Troon has hosted 9 Open Championships, with its first coming in 1923. Many great players have won the Claret Jug at Troon, including Bobby Locke, Arnold PalmerTom Watson, Justin Leonard, and Henrik Stenson. The club has been granted several royal charters, first in 1978 on the centenary of its founding. Along with the historic Old Course, Royal Troon today has 45 holes, including the Portland Course and a 9-hole loop. It remains one of the premier links courses in Scotland and a favorite for fans and competitors at The Open.

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Major Championships at Royal Troon

Royal Troon has hosted 9 Open Championships, second only to the Old Course at St Andrews. Other major events held at Royal Troon include 5 Amateur Championships, 4 Women’s British Amateur Championships, the 2008 Senior Open won by Bruce Vaughan, and the 2020 Women’s British Open, where Sophia Popov pulled off a stunning upset as the 304th-ranked player in the world.

In 1923, the Open Championship was held at Troon Golf Club for the first time. A relatively unknown English professional named Arthur Havers emerged victorious in dramatic fashion over Walter Hagen. The Open returned to Troon in 1950, where South African Bobby Locke became the first golfer since 1929 to successfully defend his title. Locke would win two more Open titles in a dominant stretch through the 1950s.

Every Open Champion at Troon

Arnold Palmer’s 1962 Victory

Arnold Palmer’s victory at the 1962 Open Championship at Royal Troon was a defining moment in golf history. Palmer’s performance was dominant, with rounds of 71, 69, 67, and 69, leading to a six-stroke win over Kel Nagle, the 1960 Champion Golfer. His total score of 276 was a record at the time, beating the old record by two shots, and it stood until 1977. This win also marked Palmer’s second consecutive Open Championship victory and his sixth Major overall.

Cheered on by large Scottish crowds, Palmer’s aggressive playing style was well-suited to the sun-baked and fast-running fairways of Troon. Notably, at the par-5 11th hole, “The Railway,” Palmer showcased his skill by making two birdies and an eagle over the four days. His performance at this hole was particularly impressive given that Jack Nicklaus, making his debut, made a ten there in the opening round.

Palmer Wins at Troon 1962

Legacy and Impact

The 1962 Open Championship was significant not only for Palmer’s victory but also for its impact on the tournament’s popularity, especially among American golfers. It returned the Claret Jug back into the American golfing consciousness. Following in the footsteps of Hogan and Snead, Palmer’s presence and encouragement led to more of his countrymen participating in the event. In “Duel in the Sun,” Michael Corcoran credits Palmer for the resurgence of the Open among Americans, returning the tournament to its past glory by ensuring a field full of the world’s best players.

American dominance at Troon started with Palmer, continued with Watson, and lasted until 2016 when Sweden’s Henrik Stenson edged Phil Mickelson. Palmer’s win at Troon, coupled with his Masters victory earlier that year, made him only the second player after Ben Hogan to win both in the same year. His legacy in the sport is marked by his contributions both on and off the course, as he changed the perception of golf and helped to make it the global game it is today.

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Troon’s Champions

In 2024, Troon will host its 10th Open Championship. With its storied history of dramatic finishes, Royal Troon has secured its place as one of the premier major venues in the sport. Here are some short summaries of the last 6 Opens held at Troon, along with their Official Open Films:

Weiskopf’s Sole Major Title (1973)

In 1973, elegant ball-striker Tom Weiskopf captured his first and only major title at Troon. Weiskopf took control of the tournament from the start, opening with rounds of 68-67. He maintained his advantage throughout, closing with a steady 70 on Sunday to finish three clear of Johnny Miller and Neil Coles. Earlier in the week, the legendary Gene Sarazen, host of Shell’s Wonderful World of Golf, at age 71, thrilled the crowds by making a hole-in-one at the famous “Postage Stamp” 8th hole.

Weiskopf Wins at Troon 1973

Watson Edges Oosterhuis and Price (1982)

Tom Watson won his fourth of five Open Championships in 1982, defeating Peter Oosterhuis and Nick Price by one stroke. Young American Bobby Clampett led after 54 holes before fading with a final round 77. Watson took advantage, posting a closing 70 to secure the win. It marked his second consecutive major title after winning the U.S. Open a month prior.

Watson Wins at Troon 1982

Playoff Victory for Calcavecchia (1989)

The 1989 Open required a three-man playoff between Mark Calcavecchia, Greg Norman, and Wayne Grady. Grady led after three rounds but shot 71 on Sunday. Norman forced extras with a final round 64. Calcavecchia birdied the 18th hole twice to get into the playoff and then won with a par at the first extra hole. It marked the first Open playoff at Troon.

Calcavecchia Wins at Troon 1989

Justin Leonard’s Sole Major Win (1997)

Justin Leonard overcame a 5-shot deficit entering the final round to capture the Open title. He fired a closing 69, making 6 birdies and an eagle to post 272. Leonard edged runners-up Darren Clarke and Jesper Parnevik by 3 shots. His victory marked the 6th straight American champion at Troon. While Leonard would come close in the PGA Championship in 1997 and 2004 and lost a 3 way playoff in the crazy 1999 Open at Carnoustie, this would be his only Major title. Leonard was my favorite to root for during this period, as we share the same name and age. Like most American golf fans, I lost it when he made that putt on 17 at the Ryde Cup in 1999.

Leonard Wins at Troon 1997

Hamilton defeats Els in Playoff (2004)

American Todd Hamilton, ranked No. 229 in the world, defeated Ernie Els in a 4-hole playoff. He took the lead after 54 holes and held on with a final round 69. In the playoff, Hamilton made clutch par saves while Els struggled on the greens, missing a potential winning putt on 18. It marked a massive upset victory for the journeyman Hamilton, one of the most unlikely Open winners ever.

Hamilton Wins at Troon 2004

Stenson edges Mickelson (2016)

Henrik Stenson dueled Phil Mickelson in an epic final round, shooting 63 to Mickelson’s 65. The pair traded haymakers all afternoon, with neither leading by more than one stroke for the first 14 holes. Stenson made clutch birdie putts on 14, 15 and 16 to take a 2 shot advantage to the 17th tee. Mickelson continued his stellar play but could not match Stenson’s late brilliance. His 63 tied the all-time major record and also set the new aggregate Open scoring mark at 264 (-20), 3 shots clear of Mickelson’s runner-up total of 267. It marked Stenson’s first major title after years of close calls and heartbreak on Sundays. The Swede also became the first non-American Open winner at Troon since 1950.

Stenson wins at Troon – 2016

The Course

Royal Troon has two 18-hole courses – the famous Old Course that hosts The Open Championship and the shorter Portland Course. The Old Course is a classic out-and-back links layout along the Firth of Clyde, while the Portland winds inland through more undulating dunes and gorse terrain. The Old Course plays to a par of 71 at over 7,200 yards from the Championship Tees.

Outward Nine

The first nine at Troon starts easily along the coastline but gets progressively more challenging. After straightforward opening holes at “Seal” and “Black Rock,” the 3rd “Gyaws” requires a well-planned tee shot to avoid the burn that bisects the fairway. The 4th “Dunure” is the first par 5, doglegging around a deep bunker at the corner that must be avoided. The par-3 5th “Greenan” plays slightly uphill over a valley to an elevated green guarded by pot bunkers. Often playing into the wind, it is a stern short hole.

The 6th turns back towards the sea, while the 7th “Tel-El-Kebir” is a strong two-shotter with out-of-bounds looming right. The 8th hole, “Postage Stamp,” is the famous 123-yard par-3 surrounded by deep bunkers, which plays as the shortest hole in the Open rota. Previously called “Ailsa,” Willie Park Jrcoined the phrase “Postage Stamp.” In 1909, he wrote in Golf Illustrated that the size of the green is similar to “a pitching surface skimmed down to the size of a postage stamp.” The 9th “Monk” turns slightly inland but still requires an accurate approach to trouble. The outward half serves as a prelude to the brutally tough inward nine.

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Inward Nine

Royal Troon’s back nine is a challenging stretch that is conducive to a traditional links-style of play along the ground. It begins with the 10th hole, “Sandhills.” This 451-yard par 4 is a natural dogleg right, bordered by large sand dunes, and is one of the easier holes on the course, providing a brief respite before the more demanding holes ahead. The 11th hole, known as “The Railway,” is a notoriously difficult 482-yard par-4 that appropriately runs alongside the railway line.

The 12th hole, a 431-yard par 4, is the shortest par-4 on the inward nine. Known as “The Fox,” it is a wonderful dogleg with trouble on both sides, and it often ranks harder than the 10th and 11th holes. The 15th hole, after a makeover where the first part of the fairway was rerouted, is now the longest par four on the course at 499 yards with a slightly blind tee shot.

The 16th, known as “Well,” is a 542-yard par-5 that plays as the longest hole on the inward nine, featuring a flat fairway with few hazards, making it one of the more forgiving at Royal Troon. The home hole, “Craigend,” is a 457-yard par-4 plays back toward the clubhouse, usually into the wind. With its fairway full of humps and hollows, it provides a challenging end to the round.

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Royal Troon Today

Royal Troon remains one of the premier links courses in the world and a favorite Open Championship venue. Its iconic layout and scenic seaside setting continue challenging and captivating the game’s best players. The Old Course routing still follows the traditional out-and-back links design from the 19th century. Some modern additions, like new back tees, have added length, but the character remains unchanged.

In recent years, Royal Troon has focused on improving spectator amenities to enhance the experience for fans attending The Open. This includes new grandstands around signature holes like the Postage Stamp 8th and railway-lined 11th hole. While many clubs have turned commercial, Royal Troon retains its exclusivity with a capped membership and hosts top amateur events like the Helen Holm Scottish Women’s Open. With its rich history and classic tests of links golf, Royal Troon will remain a special place in the game.

Visit Royal Troon online at https://www.royaltroon.co.uk.

troon green

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Further Reading

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Classic Golf Links
by Donald Steel

Summary: Classic Golf Links of England, Scotland, Wales and Ireland by Donald Steele is a guidebook featuring 75 spectacular links golf courses in the British Isles, covering their history, design, and challenges. The book includes scorecards, hole maps, photos, and playing tips for each course, providing key information for golf travelers while celebrating these revered seaside tests.  With writing by Donald Steel and photos by Brian Morgan, Classic Golf Links is considered an essential reference for experiencing the best of links golf.

This book is a must for anyone with an affinity for links golf. I bought this book years ago and still return to it often. The pictures are amazing and they alone will make you fall in love with these courses.

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Sand and Golf
by George Waters

Summary: “Sand and Golf” explores how sandy terrain uniquely suits golf, studying similarities and differences between courses worldwide with sandy features. It examines all aspects of the relationship between sand and golf, from the sport’s origins in Scottish coastal dunes to its global spread onto sandy sites. Written by golf architect George Waters with a preface by renowned designer Tom Doak, it details through examples and illustrations why firm, rugged, windy sandy terrain makes creative shot-making integral to the game. The book appeals to knowledgeable golfers interested in course design and architecture, analyzing the art and science behind why golf belongs on sand.

the open book

The 150th Open
by Iain Carter

Summary: The 150th Open is the official book celebrating the sesquicentennial (seriously, that’s a thing) of golf’s oldest major championship, produced in partnership with The R&A and capturing the history and stories that make The Open unique.  From its 1860 origins in Prestwick to today’s iconic venues, the book chronicles The Open through archival images and interviews with past champions, reflecting on characters, courses, and moments that have defined this revered event over 150 years. The comprehensive narrative and visual history in The 150th Open commemorates The Open Championship’s illustrious past and enduring prestige as golf’s most beloved tournament.

Tom Watson Golf

Duel in the Sun
by Michael Corcoran 

Summary: The 1977 British Open at Turnberry was an epic showdown between golf legends Jack Nicklaus and Tom Watson, with Watson prevailing by one stroke after they battled over the final 36 holes; Michael Corcoran brings this dramatic moment in golf history to life through interviews with participants and evocative details about the Open’s rich tradition and origins; Duel in the Sun recounts Watson rising to defeat Nicklaus and claim his spot at the pinnacle of golf.

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True Links
by  Malcolm Campbell & George Peper

Summary: True Links by Malcolm Campbell and George Peper profiles over 240 of the world’s top links golf courses across the British Isles and beyond, examining their history, design features, and status as an authentic “true links.” Organized geographically, the book offers photos, maps, scorecards and playing tips for renowned seaside tests like Royal County Down, Ballybunion, Cabot Links, Barnbougle Dunes and others that meet the authors’ criteria.  For links golf aficionados, True Links serves as an illustrated guidebook for experiencing the unique joys and challenges of the game’s most revered coastal courses.

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