What Is a Championship Course in Golf?

the seventh green during the first round of the AT&T Pebble Beach National Pro-Am at Pebble Beach Golf Links on February 9, 2012
No doubt Pebble Beach is a championship course: It's hosted many championships, including national ones and PGA Tour ones. Ezra Shaw/Getty Images

The term "championship course" is applied to some golf courses and can have several meanings:

  1. It can mean that the golf course in question has been the site of a significant and important golf tournament;
  2. It can mean that the golf course in question is one of two or more courses within the same club or facility, and is the more challenging of those courses;
  3. Or, in a usage that arose later than the first two examples, "championship course" can simply be marketing language designed to drum up business for a golf facility.

The Literal Championship Course

In the early days of professional golf and tournament golf, there was only one championship: The Open Championship. What is often referred to today as the British Open. Founded in 1860, for decades it was the only national championship played by professional golfers.

In the 1890s and early 1900s, other national opens plus other significant professional golf tournaments started appearing.

And "championship course," as a recognizable term with the golfer's lexicon, dates from these early periods of pro golf. Any golf course that was used as the site of the Open Championship or other big-time pro tournaments was, literally, a "championship course."

Championship Courses and Multi-Course Facilities

Eventually, the meaning of the term expanded. Picture private golf clubs and public golf facilities that include more than one golf course: Maybe two or more 18-holers; or an 18-holer and 9-holer; or a full-size 18-holer and a short-course 18-holer.

In the early days of the 20th century, such clubs began appearing sporadically. And if such a club staged a golf tournament, it would naturally put that tournament on the better of its courses, on the more-challenging of its courses.

Hence, that 18 holes came to be termed the "championship course" because it was the one used to host championships.

'Championship Course' as a Marketing Ploy

Another expansion of the meaning of "championship course" arrived much later, when golf courses started being built as the centerpieces of housing developments and other real estate deals.

You can say that in its modern usage, the term "championship course" has been quite devalued. Today, golfers most often encounter the term in advertising. Any new golf course might choose to advertise itself as a "championship course" to try to convince golfers of its quality.

So today, in many (but not all) cases, the phrase has essentially become nothing more than a marketing term.

Want to See the Literal Championship Golf Courses?

Thinking about meaning No. 1 above (the literal championship courses, the ones that have hosted major championships), would you like to see a list of such courses? The list of U.S. Open golf courses includes many of the best layouts in the United States.

Likewise, the list of British Open golf courses showcases the links courses that make up the Open rota. And the list of PGA Championship golf courses provides all the locations of the major championship that is staged by the PGA of America.