Untamed Scottish course awaits British Open contestants
All the world's finest golfers are gathered in Ayrshire, Scotland, for the 111th playing of the original Open Golf Championship, this year being contested at the Royal Troon course.
The longest British Open course at 7,067 yards, par 72, Troon boasts the shortest and most famous short hole - the 126-yards ''Postage Stamp'' 8th hole. Gene Sarazen making a sentimental journey home to the course where he made his first Open challenge in 1923 holed in one here in 1973. But one challenger, who shall now be nameless, once took 11 shots to get the ball into the hole.
Arnold Palmer won at Troon in 1962, six shots ahead of the rest of the field, finishing with a record 276. This year may see, some think, the great man's last Open appearance.
In '62 Troon was rated almost impossible by most contenders. It had been a dry, dry summer. The narrow fairways were baked hard, the bounces erratic and incalculable and the rough like a hay field with acres of gorse added.
It won't be like that this year. But the rough will be really rough, the fairways really narrow.
And if the west wind blows as it so often does along the rugged Ayrshire coast this wild Scottish seaside links will test the best of them. This is real Scottish golf with no quarter given; no soft green turf, no dogwood and azalea, no tall pines, no blue-green water; just seas and and hillocks, twisting fairways, long carries over rough described by Palmer as ''heather, whins, gorse , furze - thick and matted in nature.''
Even Jack Nicklaus, immensely powerful as he is, once drove into the rough and took 10 to hole out.
One would expect the winner to be long, accurate, consistent, patient and sympathetic. Sympathetic, that is, to this very British type of golf.
There could very well be a British winner this year for the first time since 1969 when Tony Jacklin won the Open. It could even be Jacklin himself again. He has just won the British PGA title. But one suspects he doesn't truly like the course.
Two other Englishmen are possible winners, Mark James and Nick Faldo. James won the Italian Open earlier this year and was fourth in the French. Faldo was second to Scotland's Bernard Gallacher in the Martini International.
Gallacher himself must be rated highly, but is probably not long enough for this course.
A young Scot who will possibly surprise everybody is Gordon Brand Jr., who just won the Coral Classic at windy Porthcawl in Wales and is the first rookie to win a major British tournament in his first year as a pro.
If not a British golfer, how about a European - former Open Champion Seve Ballesteros? He must be given a good chance. But Seve sometimes has patches of wildness off the tee when searching for length and if he succumbs to this here Troon will not easily forgive him.
Among Americans the current British Open Champion Bill Rogers has expert support. His qualities fit the bill admirably. Tom Watson, Jack Nicklaus, Lee Trevino, and Ben Crenshaw will certainly be among the top contenders along with Craig Stadler, with Watson and Nicklaus having the best chances.
We will have to wait and see. But we will almost certainly see a truly great player win this 111th Open on a great, traditional type of links in the land where the game began.