British OpenJuly 12, 2015

Why a St. Andrews British Open is the best kind of British Open

Writing "The British Open is a special tournament" is grounds for termination as a golf journalist. Might as well transcribe, "Hitting a 1-iron is tough " or "David Feherty seems like a different cat."

Yet, there's undoubtedly a sense of added mystique when the Open is held at St. Andrews. What fuels this aura? Glad you asked:

The History

For starters, St. Andrews is known as "the Home of Golf." Not exactly a title bestowed arbitrarily.

Then there's the sentiment that the game has been played on the premises since the 1400s. Or that it's hosted a record 28 Opens. Did we mention Old Tom Morris used to be the greenkeeper and helped reconfigure some of the holes? Oh, and it was the site of Bobby Jones' epiphany (the younger Jones was a fiery sort, and Jones' credited his embarrassment at the 1921 Open for turning his golfing life around).

Almost every inch of the property has a tale behind it, including…

The Origin Story of Bunkers

Believe it or not, sand traps were not invented to be the bane of your existence.

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The first documented golf bunkers were at St. Andrews, the byproduct of huddled sheep. When high, cold winds would grace the land, the herds would gather behind walls or mounds for protection. These grazing areas became eroded over time, and, as Scottish courses maintain a natural integrity to their layout, these areas became part of the St Andrews landscape.

So the next time you're complaining about your shot finding its way to the beach, look at the bright side: at least you're not hitting from sheep ****.

The Road Hole

The 17th at the Old Course has a myriad of epithets: the hardest hole in the world, the most memorable par-4, the most exciting, etc. But one label stands above the rest: the Road Hole.

For the uninitiated, the 17th is just a small, 450-yard par-4 that requires a tee shot over a railroad shed/hotel to a blind, dogleg-right fairway surrounded by heather, with an approach to a narrow green guarded by a bunker that's harder to escape than most prisons and a stone wall lining the back of the hole that garners overrun balls. So yeah, not a walk in the park.

Tournaments aren't necessarily won here, but, as David Duval can attest, they can definitely be lost, making this hole a must-watch affair.

Players light up the scoreboard like the 4th of July

Outside of Royal Liverpool, no Open course is as scoring friendly as St. Andrews. The past five winners have posted 16-under, 14-under, 19-under, six-under and 18-under rounds.

And good for that, I say. I'm not a curmudgeon who enjoys the "integrity of par." You'd hate to watch a basketball game where guys are tossing bricks, so why do some enjoy professional golfers making bogey?  I see plenty of high numbers in my own rounds, thank you very much.

Swilcan Bridge

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Calling it the most famous bridge in golf doesn't give the edifice justice. Built in the 1300s to help shepherds guide their flock over the burn, Swilcan Bridge is perhaps the most photographed structure in the sport, so much so that many of St. Andrews' caddies have become skilled paparazzo.

Most notably, it's become a platform for the game's royalty to take a curtain call, while simultaneously paying respect to the course, and in a larger sense, to the game.

Double greens

Seven, to be exact. For you non-math scholars, that means 14 holes share the dance floor with another pin.

Some find this characteristic quirky. I'm all for the chaos. Anything that facilitates 100-footers is okay in my book.

The Dunvegan Hotel Bar

St. Andrews' version of Wrigleyville, only with a more knowledgeable and passionate patron base. In case you haven't soaked up enough golf history on the course, this stop will quench that thirst, literally and figuratively.

The Jigger Inn also fits into this conversation, but Dunvegan's location - which sits just off the 18th green - gives it the nod for the best post-round libation congregation.

It should be noted that that my boss Sam doesn't get the infatuation with this place. He also hates birthday cake and routinely kicks puppies, so temper his response accordingly.

Chariots of Fire was filmed at St. Andrews

You know, the one movie that made running seem somewhat interesting? The famous montage was shot on West Sands at St. Andrews, and the 1st and 18th holes can be seen. Talk about sacred ground!

It rewards the game's best

A large contingent of the golf community dislikes the notion of an unknown entity as a major winner. That includes the tournaments themselves; there's a reason the Masters' playing pool is small.

Though the British Open has been guilty of this alleged faux pas (cough cough Ben Curtis cough cough), the Royal and Ancient should have no fears about this year's victor. Seven of the last eight winners had a major under their belt before raising the Claret Jug at St. Andrews (with Louis Oosthuizen the exception), and it's list of past champions (Jack Nicklaus, Tiger Woods, Jones, Sam Snead, Nick Faldo, Seve Ballesteros) doubles as a catalog of the game's greats.

The creative names

Aside from the Road Hole and Swilcan Bridge , you have the swale in front of the 18th green affectionately known as the "Valley of Sin." Bunkers with the names "Hell," "Principal's Nose," "Spectacles" and "Strath." A putting green called "the Himalayas." Only Augusta National can rival St. Andrews in presenting a cosmos with specific vernacular and naming conventions.

The 18th hole amphitheater

Rather than grandstands creating a de facto stadium cadence, the town of St. Andrews helps sculpt a natural coliseum. The panoramic backdrop of Hamilton Hall, the Royal and Ancient club and Martyrs' Monument, coupled with the gallery and onlookers from porch over-hangs, is more breathtaking than any picture a Hollywood green screen can paint.

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