Rick Elliott reports that there are four major championships during the golf season but the most prestigious is the British Open or the Open. Every golf playing country has its national championship but the oldest and most sought after is the British version. It has been called the Olympics of golf. The winner is announced as the champion golfer of the year and the field is the most international of the season. The top players from all the global tours qualify and it’s the unofficial world championship of golf.
The US Masters is a unique major because the tournament is always played at Augusta National. The US Open is usually played on a course with a par of 70. The fairways are generally narrow and the rough is penal. The US Open is the most physically and mentally demanding of the four majors and level par over 72 holes is often a competitive score. The US PGA Championship is generally staged at a traditional US course and comes down to target golf and a putting contest.
Each major has its own identity and that is created by the nature of the course. The Open Championship is always played on a links course and that should never change. Courses on the coast are called links because the 18 holes link the sea and the inland. The elements create the layout of the courses and wind is often a factor. Golf was never meant to be fair and undulating and fast fairways create bounces that can make a good shot result in a poor lie but it’s the same for everyone.
The Open is the only major played outside America and the host courses are on a rota. A course might get an Open every eight years and there are many suitable tracks. However, the location must have the infrastructure to deal with everything that comes with an Open and the transport links and accommodation to cope with the influx of golf fans. There are many challenging links courses in England and Scotland that don’t have the space to stage an Open.
Links courses are subject to the elements more than any other type of course. If it’s hot and dry in the weeks leading up to the championship the course can play fast. Even in good weather an Open course provides a serious test of a range of skills. Even in the absence of any serious wind links courses are a tough test when the ball runs on the dry ground. Finding greens in the correct number of shots is a key skill as the ball will tend not to stop on the greens. Patience is a massive quality for contenders.
Tom Watson has won five Opens and very nearly won a sixth in 2009. He didn’t take to links golf art first but grew to love its challenge. All the very best players in the history of golf won the Open at least once. They realised the all-round range of skills required for success and adapted their game for the demands of links golf. In 2018 the Open is played at Carnoustie and fast fairways and the rough should provide the ultimate test for the best golfers in the world.