Hurry along chaps for Royal Birkdale awaits the cream of golfing talent from around the globe – but what makes The Open so special that they come from near and far, year on year to compete?
‘The money’, cynics would say. Yet in years gone by the esteem of winning has far outweighed the prize fund. It’s an event dating back to 1860, the oldest major in golf.
Call it traditionalism, favouritism, optimism, but in my eyes, this is golfing purity, unspoiled and how it was intended. All great majors have history but none quite compare to the far reaching depths of Open championship folklore.
First contested at Prestwick Golf Club in Scotland, Willie Park Sr. beat Tom Morris by two strokes having played the course’s 12-hole layout three times that day.
Old Tom Morris, went on to win four championships in eight years while his son, Young Tom Morris, won the championship four times in a row before his tragic death at the age of just 24. In those days the winner received a championship belt ala Muhammad Ali or Hulk Hogan.
When Tom Young won for a third straight time in 1870, however, he kept the prize for good. A Silver Medal was offered to the winner in 1872 as the coveted Claret Jug neared completion. A rare thing in this modern world that both have survived the test of time.
Fast forward from 1860 to the tournament’s 100-year anniversary and ‘The King’, Arnold Palmer visits the home of golf, St. Andrews, to join in the celebrations.
The previous year there had been no American professionals competing and Palmer seemed determined to know why. He finished second to Australian Ken Nagle that year but his love for the tournament was reciprocated by the British fans who came to quickly adore him. He returned to Birkdale and won the year after.
As pictures filtered back to The States of the swarming galleries and distinctive links features, the championship soon became unmissable no matter where you lay your head.
A relationship with The King forged for all eternity in the process.
In an age where everything is either filtered or enhanced for our supposed benefit, there’s something refreshing to be found in the longevity of the British Open course rota.
Links golf remains the superior form of the game, be it Carnoustie, St. Andrews or Troon, we have an embarrassment of riches at our disposal.
They may come across as grey and dull to the untrained eye but craterous bunkers, sandy dunes and treacherous wispy hay make for telling hazards and unbelievably entertaining golf.
There are few holes the same on such layouts and it’s the full examination of your golf game that parkland courses simply can’t offer.
If you don’t believe me, take Tiger Woods’ word for it. His eight-stroke demolition of the Open field in 2000 was living proof that Woods had truly mastered the game on British soil.
He wrote in his blog about how he thrived under the unpredictable conditions and embraced the unrivalled shot-making challenges an Open course presents: “I love the creativity of being able to hit shots and utilize the ground as an asset. That’s something that we don’t have in the states; we don’t really play that game here.”
“You can have so many different weather conditions. You just don’t know. That’s one of the unique things about the British Open and why it’s my favourite major championship. It’s the only tournament besides the sand-belt courses in Australia that we can actually use the ground as a friend and bounce the ball into the greens. Modern golf is all up in the air.”
It might be hard for the average club member to remain positive when sideways wind and rain is pelting them in the face of a weekend competition, but people genuinely travel to our shores for these experiences.
Sure The Masters is pretty with its colourful azaleas, but a green jacket will never be fashionable no matter how hard they try. The US Open is undeniably brutal but where’s the imagination in designing an 8,000 yard monster and growing out the grass? And the US PGA Championship… well enough said.
We often make the mistake of seeking our thrills and adventure abroad when regularly overlooking the beauty on our own doorstep. We need to remind ourselves that we live in a golfing paradise with courses rich in history.
Past champions don’t come much greater than Seve, Nicklaus and Watson.
Each track has its own identity shaped by the footsteps of these greats and as long as our landscapes remain intact, void of human interference, we will continue to provide the most unique golfing spectacle of them all.
The Open starts this Thursday. You won’t want to miss it.