The players are all raving about Royal Birkdale this week. There's nothing tricked-up about it and it's definitely proving a test when the wind's up. But 'fair' is the word being used to describe it time and time again (somewhat to the irritation of the hardcore golf course architecture community).
But where does Birkdale rank alongside the other courses on the Open rota? Well, to answer that I've turned to my 'Ultimate Top 100' list - a 'poll of polls' of the top ranking sites - and come up with the Open hit list. Here is what that tells us:
10 Royal Liverpool (90th in the World)
I really loved Royal Liverpool (known as Hoylake). It was a regular host of The Open until 1967 and returned in style in 2006 when Tiger Woods went around a very dusty links only hitting his driver once. McIlroy finally found an Open course to his liking in 2014 when the Open was next there.
I have this course as an '18' on my scoring system and prefer it to both Lytham and Carnoustie which the experts have ranked higher. It is a very playable course, you don't need to hit the ball 280 yards and straight to score well and while it doesn't have the dramatic setting of some of those above it, the golf is a real treat.
One other thing I should say is the clubhouse is a real treasure-chest of golfing memorabilia and the welcome a very warm one. What more can you ask for!?
9 Royal Lytham (67th in the World)
So, colours to the mast, this is my least favourite Open course. I've only played it once, it was a fairly miserable day and my level of play was poor, so that didn't help! But the course doesn't have that much going for it really. There are no views, apart from of the nearby houses, the rough was incredibly punishing and it was over-bunkered.
It has hosted some memorable Opens for sure. Seve won here twice and Ernie enjoyed a great week here in 2012.
One day I'll be back I'm sure, and maybe that will cause me to re-assess, but for now it's at the bottom of my list.
8 Royal Troon (65th in the World)
Every decade since the 1950s, Royal Troon has hosted an Open Championship. I was there in 1989 when Mark Calcavecchia pipped Wayne Grady and Greg Norman - it was a fantastic week to attend in the blistering west coast sun.
While few will remember the details of Todd Hamilton's win in 2004 the Stenson/Mickelson battle of last year will live in the memory of those who saw it forever. The star on that occasion though was definitely the quality of play rather than the course and it would be fair to say the course has never been called an architectural masterpiece. The postage stamp is one of the most famous par 3s on these isles but, beyond that, there isn't much that will stick in the casual observer's mind.
This is the one course I've not been able to play yet but all that is changing in a few weeks! I will let you know then how it ranks for me.
7 Royal Birkdale (38th in the World)
Birkdale is probably the first course on this countdown which can be described as one of the greats. I loved Birkdale and gave it a 19. The course is sculpted by magnificent dunes but the fairways are pretty flat and you won't get many bad bounces around here. If you get the chance to play here then jump at it. It really is that good.
The list of winners on this course is an impressive one, including Watson, Trevino and Palmer. The pros love playing here and it is a course that is really able to identify the best ball strikers and scorers out there.
6 Royal St Georges (26th in the World)
St Georges is the highest ranked English course on this list, and indeed in the world. On reflection, I think that is probably justified and it deserves just to pip Birkdale to the claim.
This is a more quirky course than Birkdale. There are some blind shots (although not too many), some tilting fairways and some devilish bunkers. But it is simply great fun. The course will keep you entertained all the way round and won't beat you up. As soon as you come off the 18th you will want to walk straight over to the 1st and do it all again.
This is a great part of the world to visit. Royal Cinque Ports next door is a sensational links and it would be criminal to come here and not play a round there too. The bordering Princes course has a great reputation too.
5 Carnoustie (22nd in the World)
You've probably heard all kind of stuff about 'Carnasty' and how this golf course has the most brutal finish in golf. You may have wondered whether that is all true. Believe me when I say it is even worse! This course is incredibly tough. It is unrelenting in its challenge and I would say for the average golfer, like me, it's just too hard.
The enjoyment you get from playing here is more from the satisfaction of having survived rather than anything else. There isn't much in the way of natural beauty to take in along the way and you don't get to see the sea.
22nd in the world feels like a very inflated position. I have it ranked below some courses not even threatening the top 100 like Gullane No 1. We'll get a good opportunity to compare next year when the Scottish Open at Gullane is followed by the Open at Carnoustie. I suspect the players will feel more beaten up on the latter!
4 Turnberry (20th in the World)
I don't have a review up on the site at the moment for Turnberry. I haven't played the course since the redesign last year which has apparently elevated the course into one of the very best in the world. Indeed, the latest Golf Monthly ranking has put Turnberry on the top of the pile in the UK. The reviews have been uniformly great and I expect this will be increasing over the next few years as more people get to experience it first hand
Previously, some in the golf course architecture world had been a little condescending to Turnberry. They felt it had a little bit of 'fur coat and nae knickers'. Personally, I found that complete tosh. The setting is tremendous and the holes were magnificently framed. I simply can't wait to get over there again to see it.
For some, there may be an issue with the course ownership. The presence of Donald Trump as owner may put off The Open from returning while he is running the Western world (and my wife isn't very happy at the thought of me going to see it either...).
3 Royal Portrush (15th in the World)
Portrush has only hosted the Open once before but it is back on the rota and will be hosting again in 2019. There is no question that this course will be one of the very best the players will play on the Open rota. Previously, the criticism had been that the 17th and 18th were weak holes but they will be used for corporate hospitality while two new holes have been created for the 7th and 8th and look great additions.
There is much chat about which is better, Royal County Down or Portrush. While the rankings would say County Down, I would champion Portrush. It's far more playable, more fun and has a better setting. It will be a great venue in 2019.
2 Muirfield (13th in the World)
For many, Muirfield is the best course in Britain. The players are almost universally full of praise when the Open comes here and it is seen as a course which demands a mix of strategy, skill and patience. The course has one big circle for the front nine with another circle inside for the back. As as a result, no two holes play with the wind in the same direction so you need to keep thinking all the way around, and, if you are playing into the wind, it won't last for too long.
I live just a drive and a thinned 9 iron away from the first tee so have managed to play on the course a few times. Forget what you may have heard - the welcome has always been a warm one and the staff nothing but pleasant. The course has grown on me the more I have played it. It is without a doubt a tough track and the rough and bunkers are amongst the hardest you will ever find. However, this is a course you can get around. Visitors can play on Tuesdays and Thursdays and make sure you stay for the lunch and a foursome game in the afternoon
1 St Andrews (4th in the World)
It will be no surprise to hear that the Old Course at St Andrews is ranked the best of all the courses to host the Open. It is a course unlike any other. Straight out and back, starting and finishing in the heart of the ancient town, this is a course which you will find accessible from the off.
You will have seen the Old Course many times on the TV, the Open visits here every 5 years now and the Dunhill Links every October. There are still some things that will surprise you though. Firstly, how playable it is - if you favour the left hand side you will stay out of trouble. Secondly, the vastness of the greens - you will have never hit longer putts than on these huge double greens.
And finally, when you make the turn, you will find you just can't help but be mesmerised on your way in at the growing skyline of the Auld Grey Toon. Playing up 17 and 18 is an almost spiritual experience - you will feel the history all around you. What other game allows you to walk in the steps of legends? And what better place to do it than St Andrews?