As most golf fans know, the Open Championship rotates through a group of historic golf links courses in England and Scotland (and soon a long-awaited return to Northern Ireland). This year the championship will be held at Royal Birkdale for the 10th time. It's a relatively new venue, if you considered 60-plus years new for the oldest major championship in golf.
Here are five facts to get you grounded on this year's Open venue.
Waiting for an Open
As with all of the courses in the The Open rota, the history of Birkdale is a long one. The club was founded in 1889. It might not be as old as say, St. Andrews, but the club hosted several big events including the Ladies’ British Open Match Play, The Curtis Cup, and the Walker Cup to name a few. One thing that was missing was an Open Championship.
The Open was first scheduled to be held at Birkdale in 1940 but was canceled because of World War II. Fourteen years later, in 1954, the Open was staged at Birkdale for the first time. Peter Thomson took home the Claret Jug and Birkdale has held a steady spot in the Open rota ever since.
More than just an Open venue
Maybe one the most memorable Birkdale moments occurred during the Ryder Cup, not the Open Championship.
From 1959 until the 1969 matches, the United States had dominated the Ryder Cup. This streak included a 23.5 to 8.5 blowout in 1967. But at the 1969 matches, Great Britain had its best chance to take back the trophy.
The final match between Jack Nicklaus and Tony Jacklin came down to the final hole. Before Jacklin could strike a match-halving putt, Nicklaus picked up his competitor’s marker and said “I don’t think you would have missed it, but I wasn’t going to give you the chance, either.”
“The Concession” as it would later be known, halved the Ryder Cup. Since the United States won the previous Cup, they retained the trophy and wouldn’t lose it until 1985.
A venue that delivers big name champions.
The list of Open winners at Birkdale is a who’s who of hall of famers and multiple major winners. Take a look:
1954: Peter Thomson (World Golf Hall of Fame, five-time Open Championship winner)
1961: Arnold Palmer (World Golf Hall of Fame, seven-time major champion)
1965: Peter Thomson again
1971: Lee Trevino (World Golf Hall of Fame, six-time major champion)
1976: Johnny Miller (World Golf Hall of Fame, two-time major champion)
1983: Tom Watson (World Golf Hall of Fame, eight-time major champion)
1991: Ian Baker-Finch (then one of the top two or three players in the world)
1998: Mark O’Meara (World Golf Hall of Fame, two-time major champion)
2008: Padraig Harrington (three-time major champion, soon-to-be HOFer)
The Open has had its fair share of out-of-nowhere winners — those random guys that come from deep down the world rankings, win a major, and then aren't really heard from much again. But not Birkdale, it's a HOF proving ground.
Ladies have always been welcome.
Shortly after the club was founded, the members voted to allow ladies to play the course three days a week. Compare that to Muirfield, another famous Open venue, where they decided to allow women members just THIS year. In fact, the first big championship event that Birkdale hosted was not a men’s event, it was the 1909 Ladies' British Open Match-Play Championship, won by Dorothy Iona Campbell. The Open rota is sometimes viewed as a group of courses resistant to change, but Birkdale is a refreshing contrast.
The past three Opens have seen record, or near record, scoring. Henrik Stenson, Zach Johnson, and Rory McIlroy finished at 20, 15, and 17 under respectively. Things might be a little different at Birkdale, however.
In the past two Opens contested at Birkdale, no one broke par. In 1998, O’Meara won the championship in a playoff at even par. Ten years later in 2008, Harrington took home the Claret Jug at three over in brutal conditions. Second-place that year was a ridiculous 7-over! So when it blows, this place, however short, can beat up the best in the world.
And guess what? It's expected to blow for much of this Open Championship, meaning it's unlikely we get the kind of birdiefest duel we got last year. Look for some higher scoring this week compared to the last three years.
The best thing about The Open is that it does not really care. If the winning score on a certain venue gets to 20-under one year, fine. If it's at 3-over, as it was at Birkdale last time we were here, that's OK, too! This approach has always made it one of the more enjoyable majors to watch and Birkdale should deliver that yet again this year.