When many people refer to the four major tournaments in golf, they are talking about the four most prestigious annual events in men's golf. Also called "majors," they are the Masters, the United States Open Championship, the Open Championship — or British Open — and the PGA Championship. There also are four majors in women's golf and five in senior men's golf. From time to time, the tournaments that are considered to be majors for each group might change as different events become more or less prestigious.
The tournaments that are considered majors are determined by popular opinion rather than any official governing body. Each major has its own requirements for qualification, and for many golfers, simply qualifying for a major is a significant achievement. The money that can be won by the professional golfers in each of the four majors also is more than in most other tournaments. Each major consists of four rounds of 18 holes and has specific rules for a playoff if there is a tie for the lead after the fourth round.
The only men's major that is held on the same golf course each year is the Masters, which is played in early April at Augusta National Golf Club in Augusta, Georgia. Established in 1934, the Masters is known for its picturesque setting and for the green jacket that is presented to the winner. The Masters also includes the fewest golfers of any major; invitations usually are sent to less than 100 golfers based on certain qualifications, such as recent winners of certain tournaments and golfers who were ranked among the top 50 in the world for the previous year. All previous Masters winners receive lifetime invitations, although most eventually stop participating after they are no longer able to compete at a certain level.
The United States Open Championship, or U.S. Open, was established in 1895 and is conducted by the United States Golf Association (USGA) each June. The field of 156 golfers consists of both those who receive exemptions to play based on certain criteria, similar to the Masters qualifications, as well as those who earn their spots by competing in special local and sectional qualifying tournaments. Any amateur or professional golfer who meets the USGA's requirements can attempt to qualify for the U.S. Open by competing in the qualifying tournaments. The U.S. Open is not held on the same golf course each year and has been held on various courses around the United States. This tournament typically is considered the most difficult of the majors, if not of all golf tournaments, because the courses are set up by the USGA to be extremely difficult.
Established in 1860, the Open Championship is the oldest of golf's major tournaments and is especially known for its great tradition. It is conducted by The R&A, which derived its name from The Royal and Ancient Golf Club of St. Andrews, Scotland, and is considered to be one of the governing bodies of golf. Held in July, this tournament usually takes place on one of nine courses in Scotland and England. Like the U.S. Open, the British Open field of 156 golfers includes both those who receive exemptions based on certain criteria as well as those who have earned spots through special qualifying tournaments. British Open courses are "links" courses, which means that they tend to be near the coast and have few trees, but they frequently are quite challenging because of things such as strong winds, deep sand bunkers and very tall, thick grass except in the main playing areas.
The PGA Championship is conducted by the Professional Golfers' Association of America, which is the organization for golf instructors and other golf officials in the U.S. This tournament is held in August at a course in the U.S. The field of 156 golfers includes 20 who are professional instructors — or "club pros" — and 136 other qualifiers based on various criteria. It is the only tournament that does not reserve a certain number of playing spots for amateur golfers; an amateur likely would have to win one of the other majors to qualify.
The Masters, U.S. Open, British Open and PGA Championship have been considered to be the four majors since about 1960. Before the Masters was established in 1934, the British Amateur and U.S. Amateur were considered to be majors, along with the U.S. Open and British Open. By the late 1950s, the Masters and PGA Championship had replaced the two amateur events as majors.
The term "grand slam" in golf is used to refer to the feat of one golfer winning all four majors in the same year. The only golfer to have won a grand slam is American Bobby Jones, who won the U.S. Open, British Open, U.S. Amateur and British Amateur in 1930. The feat has never been accomplished under the current composition of majors. American Tiger Woods did win four consecutive majors from 2000 to 2001; after placing fifth in the 2000 Masters, he won the 2000 U.S. Open, 2000 British Open, 2000 PGA Championship and 2001 Masters. Some people have referred to this accomplishment as the "Tiger Slam."
Most tournaments in women's professional golf consist of three rounds of 18 holes each, but women's majors are four rounds each. The four women's tournaments that are considered majors are the Kraft Nabisco Championship, Ladies Professional Golf Association (LPGA) Championship, U.S. Women's Open and Women's British Open. In 2001, Women's British Open replaced the du Maurier Classic as a major. Other tournaments that were once considered women's majors include the Women's Western Open and Titleholders Classic.
Senior Men's Majors
Male golfers age 50 or older are eligible to play in senior men's tournaments. Most senior men's tournaments consist of three rounds of 18 holes, but as the majors are all four rounds. There are five senior men's majors: the Senior PGA Championship; The Tradition; the Senior Players Championship; the U.S. Senior Open; and the Senior Open Championship, or Senior British Open.