Assigning Personalities to the Open Championship Venues

Examining the courses of the Open Championship, let’s view them not from best to worst but rather as unique examples of different personalities

In a recent interview, rock icon Nick Cave revealed an unexpected interest in the Enneagram, a system of inter-connected personality types linked to the early-20th century mystic Gurdjieff.

This interest in psychological theory seemed at odds with Cave’s enigmatic public persona, though as we learned about the personality type indicated for him, it started to make a bit more sense. Cave was, of course, a “Type Four: Individualist,” and the descriptions—sensitive, temperamental, and, in particular, dramatic—could barely find a better match than this wonderful, gifted, troubled artist.

Muirfield 12th hole
Muirfield 13th hole (photo by Kevin Murray)

As the interview drew to a close, I found myself drifting back to Royal Birkdale, whose car park I had pulled out of barely two hours before, and whose beguiling charms were only just starting to settle. I have the same vague mistrust of course rankings that I have for personality profiling, but inspired by Cave, I started to wonder if there might be a way of comparing, or perhaps classifying, these grand Open venues without disappearing down the rabbit-hole of shot values or architectural rigidity. A way to get at the feel of these places, and how their stories manifest through the greatest of golf’s tournaments, every July, rain or shine. So let’s try attaching the nine Open stalwarts to the Enneagram’s personality types and attendant attributes, and see if that gives us more insight into what makes each one great.

Type One: Reformer

ATTRIBUTES: Rational, Perfectionist, Reformist

The attributes of Type One are well matched with Muirfield. The routing is rational. The balance of the front and back circle, and the glorious conditioning perfectionistic. I think also of Nick Faldo’s perfect round—an extraordinary 18 straight pars—to win in ’87, and of the Honourable Company of Edinburgh Golfers’ place in the annals of the game, a key player in the creation and reform of both the modern Open and the Rules of Golf.

Type Two: Helper

ATTRIBUTES: Generous, Calming, Helping

Consider how generously spread Royal Lytham’s bunkers are, all 174 of them. But even in such terrifying volume, these hazards are not always devastating. A plaque left of the 17th fairway marks the sandy scrub area from which Bobby Jones’s mashie-niblick found the green for the first of his three Opens; I see this escape as proof of Lytham’s caring side, along with the trampled car park in which we can imagine a grinning Seve, forever imprinted in Open folklore.

Type Three: Achiever

ATTRIBUTES: Image-Conscious, Productive, Achieving

The simple beauty of Royal Birkdale’s gorgeous dunes and spectacular playing corridors makes identification easy. From the image-conscious art-deco style of the clubhouse, the links run out to the horizon. As 2026’s Open will be the 11th in Southport in just 72 years, it has certainly been productive, with only one decade-long gap between tournaments. It has also rewarded some high achievers, with Arnold Palmer winning there between Peter Thomson’s first and last Opens, followed by Lee Trevino and Johnny Miller, among others.

open venues
Royal Birkdale 12th hole (photo by Kevin Murray)

Type Four: Individualist

ATTRIBUTES: Dramatic, Melancholic, Sensitive, Temperamental

The dramatic landscape of Royal St. George’s has long been celebrated by golf’s finest servers. When Laidlaw Purves’s original routing was softened in places, Bernard Darwin was among those melancholic at the loss of some of the more thrilling elements—among them the shifting of the tee at the par-three 6th, “The Maiden,” revealing the flag which had been so gloriously hidden by a sandy mountain—saying that “the present Maiden is but a shadow of its old self, and the splendor of it has in great measure departed.”

But Sandwich remains a magnificent and thrilling course, and the many stories and great Champions who have passed through here certainly fit the other descriptors of this type, though I will leave you to decide which—sensitive or temperamental—better suits Walter Hagen, Sandy Lyle, Greg Norman, and Darren Clarke, to name only a few.

Type Five: Investigator

ATTRIBUTES: Intense, Cerebral, Isolated

If ever a golfer earned the epithets intense, cerebral, and isolated, it was surely Ben Hogan. In 1953, after running away with both the Masters and U.S. Open, Hogan arrived in Carnoustie as the PGA began in Michigan, thereby denying him an odds-on Grand Slam. It would be Hogan’s sole appearance in the Open, and he would win by four strokes, his rounds improving each day.

Carnoustie is regarded as the toughest Open venue, and the demanding finish requires not only breathtaking skill but nerves of steel. In a way, it seemed fitting that Padraig Harrington, an intense and steely competitor who later said, “I don’t fear losing. It doesn’t scare me at all,” would seize on the opportunity offered by Sergio Garcia’s unfortunate miss from 10 feet in 2007 for his first major triumph.

And will there ever be an image that so perfectly captures the drama of the Open, or the cerebral demands of elite golf, or for that matter isolation, as the one that depicts Jean van de Velde grinning from within the Barry Burn as the tide slowly covered his ball and crept up his bare ankles? An intense watch, even at this distance.

Carnoustie 2nd Hole
Carnoustie 2nd hole (photo by Kevin Murray)

Type Six: Loyalist

ATTRIBUTES: Suspicious, Engaging

It has been said that getting to know the Old Course is a life’s work, and many a first-time visitor is suspicious, if not downright dismissive. By the time Bobby Jones won the 1927 Open, he adored St. Andrews and the locals would come to adore him, too, awarding him Freedom of the City in 1958. But in 1921, he took four swipes at his ball in “Hill Bunker” on the 11th before picking it up from the green, saying to himself, “What’s the use?”

With its many iconic danger spots, double greens, and the sense of walking in the footsteps of masters modern and ancient, St. Andrews belongs in a class of its own. It is the archetypal links, engaging from the first tee to the final green.

Type Seven: Enthusiast

ATTRIBUTES: Spontaneous, Scattered, Enthusiastic

Although not quite St. Andrews’s equal in terms of its history, Royal Liverpool holds a unique place in terms of the game’s development. Hosting many great championships as English golf prospered in the 19th century, both Harold Hilton and John Ball were Hoylake regulars, who between them won 12 Amateurs and three Opens, among many other honors, golfing and otherwise.

The pioneers who formed Hoylake were certainly enthusiasts. Somehow the beguiling course—a blend of brilliant holes on the flat ground of the original racetracks, with a spell in the dunes beside the Dee Estuary punctuating the middle section—is both scattered and superb. And when the Open returned in 2006, Tiger Woods would hit only one driver in 72 holes, playing iron after iron from the tee in a display that surely had the ghosts of Hilton and Ball purring. Of course, that single drive was scattered, finding the wrong fairway, but Tiger made birdie anyway. It was that sort of week. As for spontaneity, what could be more so than the 2019 Walker Cup, where on the final day the visitors roared back from a two-point deficit to a five-point margin of victory.

Type Eight: Challenger

ATTRIBUTES: Confrontational, Aggressive, Challenging

Thinking back to the 1989 Open at Royal Troon, an unexpected challenger made his way to the top of the leaderboard, when Greg Norman opened with six straight birdies and reached a tie with Wayne Grady and the eventual play-off winner, Mark Calcavecchia, whose final round was transformed by a comedic slam-dunk from heavy rough left of the 12th.

A generation later, Norman’s spiritual heir in the realm of confrontational and aggressive golf—Phil Mickelson—would be the challenger in 2016, going head to head with Henrik Stenson. Stenson’s final round 63 included, incredibly, two three-putts, but after a titanic battle that left the rest of the field trailing in their wake, the Swede birdied four of the last five holes for a 20-under total, breaking various records in the process.

open venues
Royal Troon 7th hole (photo by Kevin Murray)

Type Nine: Peacemaker

ATTRIBUTES: Receptive, Reassuring, Agreeable

The final type is receptive and reassuring, valuing harmony and peace. That the Open returned to Northern Ireland in 2019 after a gap of 68 years was a measure of how much had changed in the region, and though the weather was challenging, the typically receptive Irish welcome was in evidence throughout the week at Royal Portrush.

There could scarcely have been a more popular winner than Irishman Shane Lowry, who slept on a four-stroke lead and finished six ahead of Tommy Fleetwood, joining Max Faulkner as Open Champions off the mainland. Faulkner had himself been six clear before his final round, signing autographs with the legend “1951 Open Champion” before hanging on to win by just two. He would later say of his victory that “it was all I ever wanted. The Open meant everything to me,” a sentiment that would be reassuring if not so depressingly rare in the modern game.

At the end of the interview, Cave was asked of the nine personality types, “Which is the good one?” to which he responded, “They’re all good.” Tasked with rating the Open rota courses, I end up realizing that’s how I feel about them, too.

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