July 15th, 2011
12:28 PM ET

Ugly and unforgiving: Why Britain offers golf's toughest test ...

The Claret Jug is the prize for the golfer who conquers the often treacherous British Open with least shots.
The Claret Jug is the prize for the golfer who conquers the often treacherous British Open with least shots.

Watching the world’s best golfers grapple with Royal St. George’s this week underlines the romantic notion that only historic links provide a true test of a top player’s skills. You can keep the manicured perfection of a modern championship course like Augusta - the rugged brutality of the British Open is golf’s most pure, and often punishing, experience.

The U.S. Open is loved the planet over, while The Masters will try the patience of even the most talented of competitors (just ask Rory McIlroy) but neither Pebble Beach nor Augusta National can match the wild vagaries thrown up by the courses on the British Open rota – Muirfield, Carnoustie, St. Andrews, and the rest.

Each is different but what they have in common sums up the tournament’s appeal and, also, its frustrations.

Only on the dune-covered ground at a British Open can so many perfectly-struck shots be, accidentally, deflected off fairways or greens; can a player contend with wind, rain, hail and sunshine all in the same round; can competitors face numerous blind tee shots and approaches; can irons be bounced into the greens from a hundred yards out; can a 7-iron be needed one day, and a 3-wood the next, simply because the wind has changed direction.

Is it a fair test? Not always. But any of us who have studied and played golf know the sport is often used as a metaphor for life itself: the rough must be taken with the smooth; fairness is the goal in the face of the vagaries of justice; hard work and practise will get rewards if matched with patience.

These are all qualities that professional golfers must learn if they are to be successful, and the British Open gives them a crash course.

This is not a nostalgic hankering for a bygone age. It's not a call to return to hickory clubs and “feathery” balls, but there is something deeply satisfying about watching more than 150 skilful players suffer the trials and tribulations thrown up by a 124-year-old links.

At times Royal St. George’s looks like an expanse of unkempt, unused coastline where a golf course has accidentally broken out. Some of the television coverage hasn’t helped, with camera lines catching the shanty-like broadcast compound in the background.

It can’t compete with the prettiest course on the men’s golfing calendar – Augusta National. Masters organizers are said to dye Rae’s Creek blue and use green sand in the divots to avoid any blemish to their multi-colored, azalea-ringed wonderland. Nick Faldo was, famously, inspired to take up the game after watching Jack Nicklaus show off his skills around Augusta’s immaculate setting.

However, no matter how tough a round a golfer has had at Augusta National, none of them have threatened to never come back – as some pros did after particularly harsh weather at Carnoustie in 1999 and Royal Birkdale three years ago.

The sport’s stars may not always like it, but the natural, ancient and stiff test provided by Britain’s Open is golf’s most compelling spectacle.

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Filed under:  Golf
soundoff (5 Responses)
  1. alehandro

    Couldn't agree more. Give me a raw British links over a sterile American country club any day.The British Open is the one true test among the golfing majors because there is nothing stage-managed about it. Golf is a man-made phenomenon but the Open is the purest form of it because it pits man against nature with minimal intrusion. An Open links can turn a world number-one into a Sunday morning hacker with a single gust of wind, and its unforgving, unpredictable qualities create more empathy between player and fan than any manicured resort course can dream of. So, let the Masters, the US Open and PGA Championship keep their sanitized chic. It's the windswept wilds of Great Britain that truly separate the men from the boys.

    July 15, 2011 at 8:35 pm | Reply
  2. Brian

    Picture the scene. You're playing a great round of golf; suddenly the wind catches your ball and tosses it into the deep rough. One hack is followed by another and all of a sudden, steam is coming from your ears, your mind is wandering and your concentration shot to pieces.

    Game Over.

    This, in fact, is life. It's about adversity and how you react to it. And an Open course tests every single player's skill and technical ability as well their mental fortitude. This is why any Open course is fascinating to watch. It's not about a manicured course, the beautiful clubhouse or the greens where a hard sneeze is enough to send you ball rolling away from the hole at 50 miles an hour. An Open is about the player and their ability to moderate their game as conditions change.

    Just like Life

    July 17, 2011 at 9:24 pm | Reply
  3. David Lambert

    It seems to me unbelievable that you continually refer to this tournament as the "British Open". Just looking at the pictures accompanying your article should give you a clue, it is called the " Open" and has been for 140 yrs. Please journalists get it right.

    July 18, 2011 at 7:32 am | Reply
  4. JL

    The biggest appeal about links golf is that if you have to play the same course over and over again, which is what most of us do, the unpredictable bounces, blind shots, and the wind provide the variety that would otherwise be lacking.

    July 18, 2011 at 7:40 am | Reply
  5. joelle esther benyayer

    a birdy birdy or albatros all the initiés know what is some are capable some not the level get hight every year remenber me a pragtice in miami joelle esther benyayer some good pratices in soujth of france pitty the green get dry joelle esther benyayer

    August 8, 2011 at 8:17 pm | Reply

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