OPEN CHAMPIONSHIP 2011- MONDAY
It’s a little ironic, I guess. I am looking out my window at the New York City skyline on Delta Flight #1 from JFK to London’s Heathrow. My seat is 1B and I am on my way to experiencing the number one week of my golf year. This is Open Championship week- the British Open for all you Yanks.
Often I get asked, what is my favorite major golf championship? Ever had four kids and try to pick a favorite? Tough to do. There is no place like Augusta National and everyday on those sacred grounds is pure golf heaven. The U.S. Open was America’s championship until those Irish guys McDowell and McIlroy stole it the last couple of years. The PGA Championship is my event and someday I will present the winner the Wanamaker Trophy.
But, the Open Championship is the history of golf. This tournament started in mid 19th Century at Prestwick and the first few Opens consisted of three rounds on a 12-hole golf course. This is the grandfather of golf’s majors. The Open Championship is about weather, raw course conditions, quirkiness and timeless tradition.
There are currently nine courses in the “Open rota.” This year’s event returns to Royal St. George’s, which is located a couple of hours southeast of London in a town called Sandwich. This will be the 14th Open played at the course that most would say is the least favorite on the rota menu.
Royal St. George’s has the reputation of being fluky, tricky and unpredictable. It features blind shots, unruly bounces and not a level spot on the course. It has been an extremely dry spring in Sandwich and shots will bounce away from the greens and fairways. There have been plenty of calamities over the years at RSG. Bobby Jones once shot 86. Jack Nicklaus carded an 83. Paul Casey shot 85.
In 1993, Greg Norman won at RSG with a score of 267- the lowest score ever in an Open Championship. In 1894, J.H. Taylor won at RSG with a score of 326- the highest ever in an Open Championship. This course has proven more fickle than the best woman in your life. Walter Hagen and Harry Vardon won twice at Royal St. George’s.
In 1938, in what has been described as the worst weather in the history of the Open Championship, the exhibition tent was flattened and its contents blown to sea. During the final round only seven players broke 80. Henry Cotton drove the 370 yard, 2nd hole and made an eagle two. The feat was surpassed by Alf Padgham who made an eagle on the 384 yard, 11th hole after driving the green.
“Open venues get worse the farther south you travel,” said Jack Nicklaus. Royal St. George’s is so far south that on a clear day you can see the white cliffs of France.
RSG was founded in 1887 and was intended to be the St. Andrews South. It was designed by William Laidlaw Purves and named for England’s patron saint, St. George- a Roman soldier who was beheaded in 303 for his Christian views. In 1894 it hosted the first Open Championship outside of Scotland. King Edward VII, an avid golfer and former R&A Captain, gave it royal status in 1902.
The course, which is open to men only, has 18 holes that sprawl over a 400 hundred acre tract of land on a five mile stretch between the Stour Estuary and the English Channel. In 1928, Walter Hagen, the first American to win the Open said, “The first nine holes is tremendous fun and not very good golf. The second nine holes is tremendous golf and no fun at all.”
Michael Bamberger, senior writer for Sports Illustrated, has this take on the 2011 Open site.
“I caddied in the ’85 Open at Royal St. George’s and I covered Ben Curtis’s win in ’03 and I’ve played it several times and I have to say that it’s WAY underrated. It’s interesting, twisting, demanding, and it’s in a beautiful, civilized setting,” said Bamberger.
“I like her neighbor- remember when people would attach the word “her” or “she” to golf courses- better, Royal Cinque Ports, for my dufferish play. But for Steve Stricker and Co.? RSG is superb,” concluded Bamberger.
Royal Cinque Ports hosted the 1909 and 1920 Open Championships. The course was decimated by bombings in World War II and later suffered from severe flooding from the English Channel. I play there Tuesday.
But, this week is about you being with me at the 2011 Open Championship at Royal St. George’s. I will report daily through Saturday and I look forward to bringing you some golf, English culture and a little history from the southeast coast of the United Kingdom.
I love quirky and different, so this week should be right up my alley!