The Open and the Test of Time

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There is nothing like The Open. It is truly the greatest Major of all golf: the courses that it’s played on throughout the United Kingdom have stood the test of time. Since I’m in Canada, in Calgary, Alberta, the coverage for me begins Wednesday, just before midnight. I doubt if I’ll get very much sleep.

I’m nearly 82-years old, now, and although I was always interested in golf, I have to admit that when I was first playing, I was pretty naive about the scope of championship golf for professionals. April, June, July and August are the annual calendar dates for the four Major Championships of golf. Those are:

  • April  – The Masters Tournament (weekend ending 2nd Sunday in April) – hosted as an invitational by and played at Augusta National Golf Club in the U.S. state of Georgia.
  • June – The U.S. Open (weekend ending with the 3rd Sunday in June, or Father’s Day.) – hosted by the United States Golf Association (USGA) and played at various locations in the United States.
  • July – The Open Championship (week containing the 3rd Friday in July) – hosted by The R&A, an offshoot of The Royal and Ancient Golf Club of St. Andrews, and always played on a links course at one of ten locations in the United Kingdom.
  • August – The PGA Championship (3rd weekend prior to Labor Day weekend) – hosted by the Professional Golfers’ Association of America and played at various locations in the United States.

Shell’s Wonderful Wold of Golf” series in the 1960’s carried some of the first professional golf I ever saw on TV. With soft-spoken commentators and well-behaved crowds, the series often showed matches between two players. I can’t remember when the first tournaments were televised but it wasn’t until 1995 when The Golf Channel began operations that I had the opportunity to watch golf on TV on a regular basis. I believe CBS was one of the first networks to carry live golf broadcasts although NBC, Fox and The Golf Channel now bring us live golf these days.

The best TV coverage for The Open is from the BBC.  They make a point of covering almost all, if not all the players, in the competition. That’s a stark contrast to some of the coverage we see, where the focus is quite limited to the top handful of scorers on a particular weekend, or the top ten in the World Golf Rankings.

Until there was golf on TV there were many magazines that covered golf.  Of course I bought golf magazines to learn about all the players and also the latest in golf equipment — and clothes!  We even had access to women’s golf for a few years with Golf for Women being printed for a while, an offering from Golf Digest. Both Golf and Golf Digest have been mainstays in the market. One of my favourites is a UK magazine called Golf Today, which would feature each and every one of the major tournaments, with every hole of the course in full-page colour to give us an idea of the course so we could follow along at home.

Of course, I had heard and read about St. Andrews in Scotland, the home of golf. It was big news when my sister Georgie and her husband Bill came back from a trip to Europe. Both of them were avid golfers, and Bill was a big history buff and they came back home, feeling truly honoured that they were able to play golf at the Old Course at St. Andrews. I remember them telling about what a great experience it was for them, playing a round where most of the greatest golfers had played, at least once in the lives. (Golfing there, I have to admit,  is still on my bucket list).

This week, The Open is being played for the 145th time at the Royal Troon Golf Club in Scotland. It’s on the west side of Scotland and the wind and rain are most likely to serve up conditions that will be, at best, horrendous! The course is a true test of how well you know your golf shot and how to perform under trying conditions. Sometimes the rain is coming down horizontally as the wind there can be so strong.

The Postage Stamp Par 3 is one tough hole. If you can imagine, the players need to use anything from a pitching wedge to a four iron to try to get it on the green, depending on how the wind is blowing! That’s C-R-A-Z-Y fun to watch!

Just think of the history of these Open courses. Royal Troon is a course that has seen little changes over the years other than a bit of lengthening. Most of the courses in the Royal and Ancient rotation look the same now as how they looked and played way back when Bobby Jones won in 1927 at St. Andrews or when Greg Norman won in 1986 at Turnberry — or even back to the very first playing! And who can forget wanting 59-year-old Tom Watson to finish off the playoff as a victor, only to see him beaten by Stewart Cink at the end? That was seven years ago, but I remember it like yesterday.

Arnold Palmer was one of the first Americans in the “modern era” to play in The Open and it was he who encouraged all American players to cross the Atlantic and play golf the way it is meant to be played. It was a much different story for the Aussies, New Zealanders and South Africans – they have been coming to The Open forever, as they’ve been long-time members of the European Tour.

We are in for some great entertainment at this year’s Open. I believe only a fifth of the players entered have played Royal Troon Golf Club before, and this will be a true test of all aspects of their games.

I can’t wait to see how it will play out.

 

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