The Open Championship is perhaps golf’s most coveted championship. The oldest tournament in the sport’s history, it attracts the world’s best golfers for one week every year. During this week, the golfing fraternity collectively holds its breath as players wind their way through undulating links courses, battling wind, rain and inconveniently placed bunkers in the pursuit of victory. This year, the 146th Open Championship will take place from 16 to 23 July.
Great triumphs at the Open Championship
Many of history’s greatest players have won the Open, contributing to the esteem in which it is held in golfing circles. Ben Hogan ran away from the field in the final round at Carnoustie in 1953—despite battling the flu—to win by four shots. A year later, Peter Thomson won his first Open Championship, starting an unprecedented run of three in succession, four in five years and five victories in total.
Arnold Palmer, Jack Nicklaus and Gary Player all saluted at least once in the 1960s, while Tom Watson started a stunning sequence of five Open Championship wins in nine years in 1975. More recently, Tiger Woods has picked up three victories, Ernie Els two and Phil Mickelson and Rory McIlroy one apiece. Not a bad list of golfers.
Separating the Open Championship from the three other majors on the PGA TOUR, aside from being played in the United Kingdom, is that it is played on links courses. This means it demands an array of different skills, particularly around the green. This year, the 146th Open Championship will be played at Royal Birkdale in northwest England for the tenth time in history.
Of the nine previous Championships played here, many of golf’s greatest names have ended up victorious, though interestingly none of these victors have ever hailed from outside Australia or the United States. Peter Thomson started and ended his era of five Open victories here, while Palmer, Watson and Lee Trevino have also taken home the cup from the Open Championship at Royal Birkdale. Six of the nine tournaments here have been decided by two strokes or less, while one ended in a playoff. Clearly, it breeds some exciting golf.
The 146th Open Championship: Royal Birkdale course features
The course itself is situated amongst large sand dunes, mere metres from the Irish Sea. Typically, links courses are characterised by undulating fairways; not so at Birkdale. The flat valleys between these dunes are home to Birkdale’s meticulously manicured fairways, ensuring straight driving is always rewarded. The greens are perhaps less dramatic than many comparable links courses, however there are more than enough swales, tiers and potential misreads to keep the players occupied. The course is abundant with highlights, punctuated by the 498-yard par 4 13th.
Guarded by hazards on both sides of the hole, it demands both length and accuracy. The four par 3s are also particularly memorable, with deep bunkers, heavily tiered greens and prevailing cross-winds features of all of them. The 17th is a downwind par 5, offering up the rare possibility for birdie or even eagle late in the round for those who may need it. And of course there is the 1st, one of the most demanding opening holes in the Open Championship. This 448-yard par 4 sweeps around to the left, while Out of Bounds patiently waits for errant drives on the right.
A different kind of links course
Particularly due to the simplicity of the fairways, Royal Birkdale can offer up some low scores when the wind is not blowing. When it is up, however, it is a whole different ball game—Padraig Harrington’s 2008 four-shot victory at +3 is testament to this. With almost every new hole running in a different direction to the last, high winds can be extremely difficult to read and react to. The flat fairways mean accurate drivers are rewarded, while inaccuracy is often severely punished.
Though the greens certainly present plenty of difficulties, they are less challenging than those in the other majors on tour, meaning players who are less adept with the putter can potentially minimise their disadvantage here. The winner will need to play four rounds of intelligent golf, avoiding the potential for disaster—which is rife at Royal Birkdale—and capitalizing on opportunities wherever possible. Perhaps this is true for every tournament, but at Birkdale, this truth is magnified.
See also: Masters 2017: Sergio Garcia’s Triumph