Is It the British Open or The Open Championship?

The major championship of men's professional golf that is played every year in Great Britain (and a couple times in Northern Ireland) is called ... what, exactly? Is it the British Open or The Open Championship? Which is correct? The answer, we say, is this: One name is correct, but both names are good.

The Tournament's Official Name is 'The Open Championship' (or Is It?)

The official name of the tournament is, and always has been, "The Open Championship." It is run today by the Royal & Ancient Golf Club of St. Andrews, one of the two governing bodies (along with the USGA) of golf.

Logo of the Open Championship, also called the British Open
But the tournament dates to 1860, long before professional golf tournaments existed anywhere in the world outside of Scotland (and before the R&A even ran the event).

At that time, there was no need for any distinguishing geographical name in the tournament's title. There was no U.S. Open at the time, no Australian Open or Japan Open or any other Open. There was only the open — The Open Championship.

And so it has been officially named ever since. However, beginning around 2017, the R&A started referring to the tournament as simply "The Open." The "championship" part of the name is often dropped today by the R&A. And, in fact, as you can see (above), the tournament's official logo now just says "The Open."

That contraction caused three-time Open Championship winner turned broadcaster Nick Faldo to make this joke:

“'The Open Championship' is incorrect. It’s now 'The Open,' you see? It’s gone from The British Open to The Open Championship. Now, it’s The Open. In another five years it will be just called ‘The.’”

Beginning around 2005, the R&A asked its American broadcast partners (at that time ESPN and NBC) to stop saying "British Open" on the air and stick with only "The Open Championship," or "The Open," or with the iteration of the event, as in, "The 140th Open Championship" or "The 145th Open." Today, that request is written into the R&A's contracts with its American TV partners.

And if the organization that runs the tournament wants you call it that, then, well, that's what you should call it — when you are in their territory, at least.

To Americans, It Has Always Been 'British Open' — and That's OK

So why do (mostly) American golfers persist in calling it the "British Open"? Because that's what Americans have always called it.

In 1895, the USGA, governing body of golf in the United States and a few other parts of the world not covered by the R&A, launched its own open. Its official name is "United States Open Championship" but everyone knows it better as the U.S. Open.

Suddenly, The Open Championship in Britain wasn't the only famous, major open in the world of professional men's golf anymore.

When golfers, golf fans, golf broadcasters in the United States talk about an open or the open, they are probably talking about their own, the U.S. Open. This is true today, but it was even truer for most of the 20th century. Until the 1960s, there were rarely many Americans playing the British Open, and, many years, much more scant news coverage of it in America compared to today.

So Americans have always called the U.S. Open the "U.S. Open," and, to distinguish it from the American tournament, called The Open Championship the "British Open."

Many, probably most, Brits will say that's wrong. But it makes perfect sense when your own national open is the more famous of the two tournaments in your own country.

Over time, other national opens sprang up around the world. Soon there was a Japan Open and an Australian Open and many, many other national opens. The Open Championship wasn't the only open anymore, not by a long shot.

"British Open" originated as an Americanism, and remains most commonly used in the United States. But since American pop culture dominates world pop culture, and since the PGA Tour is the world's pre-eminent golf tour, and since American golfers (generally speaking) are often the world's most famous golfers, "British Open" has spread in use over the years outside of America's shores.

Today, you might even catch a British winner of The Open Championship saying "British Open." You're just very unlikely to catch anyone at the R&A saying it.

Conclusion: British Open vs. The Open Championship

So, how to wrap up this question? The official name of the tournament is "The Open Championship," but "The Open" is frequently used today by the R&A. If you are in the U.K., you should probably stick with the R&A's preferred names as a simple matter of courtesy. Here on, we use both terms, although we use "British Open" more. If we were in conversation with a Brit, however, we would use "Open Championship."

And we feel that anyone outside the U.K. who prefers to call it "British Open" — whether because your country has its own national open or as a simple preference for the way that title sounds — should go right ahead and do that. Our view (one, to be fair, the R&A strenuously disagrees with) is that "British Open" isn't wrong, it's just not officially right.

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