Monday, July 11, 2011

Open Championship 2011- Day 2

Royal St. George’s is located in Sandwich, England about two hours southeast of London. I am staying in the famous village of Canterbury, which is about 15 miles from Sandwich. The Cliffs of Dover, located on the English Channel, are about 20 minutes from where I am. This was a significant area in the annals of World War II.
As the crow flies, the 2011 Open Championship at RSG is literally a few miles from Normandy and Omaha Beach, the site of the D-Day invasion. To get to Normandy, you simply ferry across the English Channel to France and then take the 30 mile drive to Calais. Much of the area that I am staying in was destroyed by German war planes in the 1940’s. On a sunny day, you can clearly see France from the golf course.
A series of German bombings decimated this area in April of 1942. Those air raids were known as the Baedeker Blitz and they targeted many of these picturesque, English coastal towns, such as Sandwich and Canterbury. These attacks by the Germans were in response to earlier bombings by the English on Lubeck, Germany. 
The cities in this area were reputedly selected from the German Baedeker Tourist Guide to Britain. Landmarks meeting certain criteria of having been awarded three stars for historical significance were chosen and the Germans attempted to bomb every English coastal city in this area with any historical implication. The Baedeker raids on five cities in this vicinity killed 1,637 civilians, injured 1,760 more and destroyed over 50,000 houses.
Sandwich and Canterbury are both located in the ceremonial county of Kent. Sandwich is of Saxon origin and means “Sand wake.” Ironically, the 4th Hole at Royal St. George’s has a 40-foot bunker and it has been described by some as the tallest bunkers in the UK. The course guide to RSG advises that the approach shot to the 496 yard, par 4 is “quite frankly, nearly impossible.”      
Canterbury earned its name meaning “Kent’s people’s stronghold” after early religious conflicts in 597 over Christianity. Thomas Beckett’s murder in 1170 at Canterbury Cathedral, located a few yards from my hotel, led to this becoming a place for Christians worldwide and one of the most notable towns in Europe. This pilgrimage inspired Geoffrey Chaucer’s 14th – century literary classic The Canterbury Tales. On Sunday evening, I enjoyed fish and chips from Thomas Beckett’s Tavern.
Julius Caeser landed in nearby Deal in 55 B.C. and the Romans rebuilt Canterbury after early Celtic wars, probably without their golf clubs as the Scots had not invented the game yet. Many historical features remain around Canterbury, including a wall founded in Roman times and rebuilt in the 14th Century.
The Romans eventually left the area and Canterbury suffered great losses of life during the Danish raids in the 9th century. After Beckett’s death in 1170, tragedy would continue to beset the area. The Black Death hit Canterbury in 1348. At 10,000 Canterbury had the 10th largest population in England; by the early 16th century, the population had fallen to 3,000.
And if you are still looking for more history from the area, in 1620 Robert Cushman negotiated the lease of the Mayflower at
59 Palace Street
in Canterbury for the purpose of transporting Pilgrims to America. 
Locals will tell you that the slow, grating sound of the sea and stone on these coastal towns of Kent carry “the eternal note of sadness” in the area. Golfers will speak of that same type of sadness when describing Royal St. George’s.
When asked to rank RSG among the nine British Open venues, Steve Elkington responded, “I’d say it ranks 10th.”
Ian Poulter was asked which of the 18 holes at RSG would be best to watch the action from. His reaction was, “None of them. It’s an average course at best.”
But like anything, others will testify that Royal St. George’s is a classic links course and that it provides a magnificent venue.
This will be my third Open Championship. The beauty of this event is in the diversity of the venues. Turnberry provided high drama and coastal beauty as Tom Watson nearly pulled off the unthinkable in 2009. Last year’s Open was played at St. Andrews and the Old Course, which is the birthplace of golf. The town was fabulous and it is the resting place for Old Tom Morris, the patron saint of golf. 
And this year, I sit several hundred miles away from these Scottish destinations. The history of Sandwich, Canterbury and the county of Kent almost make golf feel insignificant in the big scheme of things. So many things have happened in this area that dwarf the importance of a game played with a ball and a stick.
But, on Thursday morning that will all change when the first ball is struck and the 2011 Open Championship begins. Golf still remains as the primary passion for those here in the United Kingdom. 

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