Post U.S. Open rest and relaxation time is over.
After spending a few weeks with my brother, Tom, and his wife, June, I’m rested, refreshed, and ready to go. It’s time for the third major of the year, The Open Championship. I’ve often been asked which golf event I would cover if I could only do one. The answer is always the same . . . the Open Championship. It is often referred to in the U.S. as the British Open but the proper title is indeed The Open Championship.
We had to utilize a variety of modes of transportation in order to arrive at Carnoustie in Scotland. The journey started with a car ride to the Amagansett train station from East Hampton, then a train to JFK, a seven-hour plane trip with a five-hour time change to Edinburgh, and finally, a rental car to cover the remaining 80 miles to Carnoustie. It’s a grind, but worth every mile.
Now, I must say, flying first class is always an amazing experience. The new style seats convert into very comfortable beds complete with lovely blankets and pillows, the food looks so tasty, and the flight attendants are quite amazing. I know all those things because my seat in coach in the row immediately behind first class provided a stunning view.
Carnoustie is a gem of a test. The first Open Championship played in Carnoustie was in 1931. However, that was 71 years after the very first Open, which was played in 1860. These days, all four major golf championships are big business.
Last month’s U.S. Open made millions of dollars from sales just in the merchandise tent. Things were vastly different in 1860. Only eight players made up the field, and they played at Prestwick in Ayrshire on the west coast of Scotland, about 30 miles southwest of Glasgow. In those early days, the Prestwick course was made up of just 12 holes. The eight competitors played those 12 holes three times all in one day.
The winner was Willie Park Sr. and first prize was a red leather belt. If a winner was victorious three years in a row, he got to keep the belt. By contrast, this week’s winner will take home the first-place check somewhere in the neighborhood of $2 million.
Mention the name Carnoustie and many immediately think of Jean Van De Veld (I wrote his story last week). Remember, the Frenchman had a five-stroke lead going into Sunday only to lose to Paul Lawry.
A few other tales about Carnoustie involve a particular signpost as you enter Carnoustie, a story about Gary Player, and one about Mr. “Dig it out of the Dirt,” Ben Hogan himself.
As you approach this incredible golf course you pass a sign that gets right to the point. It simply states, “Carnoustie — Famous Golf Town.”
As for the Gary Player story . . . A lot of times back in Gary Player’s day, the prize money was small, certainly by today’s standards, it seemed like a lot of players played just for pride. Folklore has it that Gary Player, who won here in 1968, slept on the beach for his practice days to conserve his limited funds.
Fifteen years earlier, Ben Hogan, who had been victorious in the first two majors of 1953 also prevailed at Carnoustie. It was the only time he played in the Open Championship. Hogan had a very special fan for the final round of that 1953 Open Championship, as Frank Sinatra was on hand to witness his winning effort.
Because Hogan had won the first three majors, he was in a great position to win the Grand Slam (winning all four majors in the same year) however, with travel being by ship, Hogan could not get back to the U.S. in time to compete in that fourth major, the PGA Championship.
For this 2018 version of the Open Championship at Carnoustie, there has been little to no rain in the area for several weeks. Carnoustie has earned the nickname “The Beast” and this week, with rock hard fairways, scoring will not be easy.