The long professional golf season stretches across (and beyond) the continent and oceans, but its peaks are represented by four weeks on the calendar – the majors.

Golf’s four biggest events attract attention and headlines much greater than the rest of the annual schedule. Although it’s possible to win more money outside the Big Four, no victory means nearly as much as one in a major.

The tradition that has been built over the years through the framework of the majors – the Masters, The Open, The U.S. Open, and the PGA Championship – is a thread that runs through the entire season, with feverish speculation and predictions leading into each event and widespread post-tournament analysis of the winner (and losers).

That makes the landscape of the majors critical to the unfolding year and helps to explain why golf’s most important tournaments land at such storied venues as Shinnecock Hills, Pebble Beach, Pinehurst, and the Old Course at St. Andrews.

The processes for selecting major tournament sites is typically a bit more guarded than, say, the conversations tied to the selection for Super Bowl sites. The National Football League has moved from a model that emphasized warm-weather sites to a more open process, in part because new domed stadiums generally make weather conditions a smaller factor. The number of available hotels and restaurants for players, staff, fans, sponsors, and news media always plays a major role, as does the promise of dedicated involvement to the event by the city government and its business community.

The NCAA, in picking sites for its basketball showcase, the Final Four, looks for arenas that generally have bigger seating capacities than standard college facilities. Cities such as Atlanta, Indianapolis, New Orleans, Houston and Phoenix are frequent selections. (This year, because of the COVID-19 pandemic, is dramatically different. Arenas in and around Indianapolis will host the entire NCAA tournament).

The scheduling of golf’s biggest events is different because four organizations are involved. The Masters, of course, is played at Augusta National in Georgia every year. The Open is run by the Royal and Ancient Golf Club, the PGA Championship site is picked by the PGA of America and the United States Golf Association selects the course for the U.S. Open.

As with all majors, the course itself – its quality, its history – is the most significant factor as officials make choices.

“It all starts with the golf course,” said John Bodenhamer, the USGA senior managing director for championships. “We really want to go to the places where the players want to win their U.S. Open. We have a lot of great venues in our country, but we like to think of ours as the most iconic and revered for the players. The course is always the foundational piece.”

A challenging, respected golf course isn’t the only element, however. A laundry list of factors must be considered before signing on the bottom line for a major tournament. In years in which attendance isn’t limited by a pandemic, majors attract tens of thousands of people, automatically bringing such items as traffic, parking, accommodations, and similar issues into play.

“We look at staging areas, parking, the shuttle drops,” Bodenhamer said. “There are certain things you need to have to have a major sporting event with tens of thousands of people. So we take a look at every factor that goes into conducting a U.S. Open, including new things like technology. What are we going to be able to do on the site? And there’s also how the course works as far as weather patterns go.”

In September, the USGA announced a unique partnership to extend its long-term relationship with the Pinehurst Resort. The organization named Pinehurst as an “anchor” location and said the Open will be held there in 2024, 2029, 2035, 2041 and 2047. A USGA museum and other facilities also will be built at the famous North Carolina golf capital.

The R&A has selected its Open sites through 2024. This year’s tournament is scheduled at Royal St. George’s. In the following years, the event will be played at the Old Course at St. Andrews (2022), Royal Liverpool (2023) and Royal Troon (2024).

Royal St. George’s, The Open’s southernmost course, last hosted the tournament in 2011.

Tradition-bound, the organizing Royal and Ancient Club have used only 14 courses to host The Open. Ten are in the current rotation.

“We consider a wide range of factors when deciding where to stage The Open each year,” said R&A official Stuart Moffatt. “We are fortunate to have 10 world-class courses to choose from.  

Our aim is to stage a global sporting event that provides a world-class experience for players, fans, and TV viewers.

“In selecting a venue for The Open, we have to consider the infrastructure and logistics that will be needed to make that happen, as well as working closely with the venue, local agencies, and our partners to discuss our requirements for staging the championship at a particular course.”

An R&A committee makes the decision on The Open scheduling.

The PGA Championship is scheduled this year (May 20-23) at the Ocean Course on Kiawah Island, S.C. The Dye course is relatively young but already has a strong standing, having hosted the PGA in 2012 (won by Rory McIlroy) and the 1991 Ryder Cup, a dynamic tournament that saw the American team win on the final hole.

The PGA of America’s routine for selecting Championship courses was shaken this week by the Sunday night announcement that the 2022 tournament, scheduled at President Donald Trump’s  Bedminster course in New Jersey, will be moved to another location. That decision was sparked by the controversy surrounding the president relating to the Wednesday assault on the U.S. Capitol building.

After the PGA of America’s announcement, the R&A said it has no plans to host The Open at the Trump Turnberry course in Scotland. Trump had hoped to keep Turnberry in The Open rotation. Turnberry last hosted the tournament in 2009, five years before Trump purchased the course.

The process for evaluating a course for one of the majors typically takes months, sometimes most of a year.

Bodenhamer said the USGA accepts invitations from clubs and, if there is interest is scheduling an Open or another USGA event there, begins the process with a meeting of its Future Open Sites working group. That group collects information about the course and how it might fit into USGA plans. If approved, the course moves along to the USGA championship committee, which could choose to forward it to the executive committee for final consideration.

“Certain courses don’t work for a U.S. Open,” Bodenhamer said. “We need the ability to provide a rigorous examination for the players. In a nutshell, we really want them to hit every club in their bag.”

Mike Hembree

Mike Hembree is a veteran journalist who has covered a variety of sports for numerous publications and websites, including USA Today, Fox Sports, TV Guide and The Greenville (S.C.) News. He has written 14 books and has won numerous writing awards at the national, regional and state levels. He is a seven-time winner of the National Motorsports Press Association Writer of the Year Award.