SOUTHPORT, England – The Open championship is for enjoying major competition in a setting where the history overpowers you, never redundant, even if you have spent years coming across the Atlantic to observe golfers playing a different game from what you are familiar with on the PGA Tour.
The setting, the landscape and the atmosphere are visually sensitive and alluring and make one appreciate the traditions and mores that took root before the beginning of the American Civil War. The bump and run style of play in itself makes the golfing experience unique, but becoming immersed in the British culture, even for a few days, is as emotionally fulfilling as an expertly executed shot from a pot bunker.
This weekend at Royal Birkdale, the lone Bulldog in this field fell to 12 shots off the lead Saturday, as Bubba Watson shot a 71. Jordan Spieth is pulling away, shooting a 65 for a three shot lead at 11-under.
The Open Championship is played at nine venues: five in Scotland and four in England although Turnberry, a storied venue, will not remain in the rotation with Donald Trump’s ownership of the course and his caustic political remarks turning the wrong heads.
The Scottish courses going forward are St. Andrews, Muirfield, Troon and Carnoustie, which will host the 147th championship next summer. The English venues, in addition to Birkdale: Lytham and St. Anne’s, Hoylake (Royal Liverpool) and Sandwich (Royal St. Georges).
In 2019, the tournament moves to Ireland for the second time with Portrush again hosting the championship. In 1951, six years following the end of World War II, the Open was moved out of the United Kingdom for the first time. Only 98 contestants were in the field at Portrush with Max Faulkner winning with a 285 total and picking up first prize money of 300 pounds which probably would not be enough to cover the cost of coffee breaks for the week for today’s champion. Only one American competed in ’41—Frank Stranahan, who won the silver medal as Amateur.
With the Open being played near small towns and villages, the rates always escalate during the week of the championship. With the able assist of a friend, Marianne Stackhouse of Century Travel, Atlanta, a lovely spot in the country at the edge of a town called Wigan, I can enjoy a cooked breakfast in the morning in the Conservatory, watch the sunset over grain fields in the evening and eavesdrop on the conversations of travelers who take a liking to Kilhey Court which was built in 1884 by a brewer, as a wedding present to his wife. In 1984, it was opened as a hotel.
When you are not occupied at the media center at Birkdale, a very nice and pleasant respite in the summer, you can gain an exposure to another way of life: In addition to birdies and bogeys on a golf course which the players give high marks, you enjoy the exposure of scenes that reflect how the British go about their daily lives.
Riding the train to Birkdale each day is a highlight. You stop at places named Appley Bridge, Parbold, Burscough Bridge, Meols Cop, Hoscal and Gathurst. There is something about the everyday travel in the UK that is a reminder that one thing America needs is compatibility with rail. You see kids, even middle aged folk, rolling their bicycles aboard the train to their destination. Off again and then pedal away. A middle aged man got on at one stop with a fly rod. When he disembarked I, almost followed him, imagining that he would soon be casting into a romantic stream just a few paces away from a grain field, which is host to hungry seagulls, cranes, pigeon and dove.
At the golf course, there are players with whom you are vaguely familiar, if at all. Shiv Kapur, Fabrizio Zanotti, Alexander Livey, Conner Syme and Luca Cianchetti among others. Likely, you have never heard of them, but don’t be surprised if they wind up reaching for a green jacket or the claret jug someday. Golf has never been more international with more kids across the globe taking up the game.
Credit Billy Payne and the Augusta National Golf Club for helping bring this about. There are young kids around the world who aspire to be an international champion. It is the kind of activity that would make Bobby Jones proud.
Meanwhile at Birkdale, the golf course bent but didn’t buckle—allowing birdies in spurts but neutralized by enough bogeys and pars to set up an interesting scoreboard for the final round. God Save the Queen.