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By Dennis George, Golf Columnist
Here are some random thoughts as we prepare for my favorite major of the year and dedicating this column to my late friend Gene Spragens who had a great love of links golf.
It’s the Open Championship to be contested at the all-male Muirfield, home of the Honorable Company of Edinburgh Golfers, located in Gullane, Scotland. Here are some remembrances.
I remember watching the British Open when ABC received its feed from the BBC? The camera work wasn’t the best and it was a struggle to follow the flight of the ball. American golfers would see the brown fairways, the high and gnarly rough and the monsoon type rain and howling winds and wonder how it could be fun. Ah, but it is fun.
I’ve been fortunate to have made two trips to Scotland and immediately fell in love with the style of golf and the ways of the people. Our group played several courses in the Open rota, including St. Andrews, Turnberry, Muirfield, Carnoustie, Royal Birkdale, Royal Lytham and St. Annes and Royal Liverpool (Hoylake). I’ve played in hard rain, strong winds, snow and hail. And loved it.
Most courses in this country are built by moving thousands of tons of dirt to come up with the end result. Scottish courses may have had a course architect, but they took the land given to them by God and left it intact and routed the holes.
Deep pot bunkers were built by the sheep as they dug out areas to escape the wind and rain from the sea. It may not be true, but it’s a good story passed on from the locals.
Slow play is not a concern in Scotland. Golfers are expected to complete their rounds in three and one half hours. Walking.
Gentlemen, remove your caps. Don’t go into the grill of the club with your cap on. There will be a tap on the shoulder by the captain and you’ll be asked to remove it.
The hardened faces and nicotine burnt fingers of the caddies who get to the course in early morning and leave late at night are quite apparent. After toting your bag they are more than happy to share a pint of Guinness with you in the clubhouse.
Carnoustie was the toughest of the courses. On our second trip, the caddies traced the route of Jean van de Velde’s treacherous triple-bogey seven when a six would have earned him the title in 1999.
The locals traverse the streets of St. Andrews and watch golfers play the 18th hole. My shot of the week was a low four iron into the wind that rolled to within six feet of the cup amid applause from those watching. (I missed the putt).
I love listening to the BBC radio broadcast on SiriusXM. It’s so refreshing to hear announcers who don’t butcher the language and who take breaks for their morning tea.
Turnberry — It was the site of the Duel in the Sun in 1977 when Tom Watson’s final-round 65 bested Jack Nicklaus’ 66 to claim the Claret Jug. The volcanic Ailsa Craig Island sits 10 miles out from the course. The best line from a caddy was, “If you can’t see the Ailsa Craig, it’s raining. If you can see it, it’s getting ready to rain.”
I enjoyed the native single malt scotch of Glenlivet, Glenmorangie and Glenfiddich.
I did not sample the native haggis. Google that word and let me know if you would have.
The Redan — The par-3 15th hole at North Berwick is the most copied short hole in golf. It’s a hole in which the green is wider than it is deep, and angles away from the tee, protected by deep bunkers in the front. When my tee shot stopped within inches of the hole on May 18, 1995, Gene Spragens was perhaps the happiest guy in the world. “Dennis, you have just made birdie on the one of the greatest holes in the world.”
We complain when we get an unlucky bounce. In Scotland, there’s no way to control the bounces and you’re at the mercy of the land. You adapt, and take what happens and move on.
Most courses in the U.S. play nine holes that return to the clubhouse before playing the back nine. Most Scottish courses play nine holes away from the clubhouse and then play the back nine back to the clubhouse. In that regard, Muirfield is more like an American course.
The Texas wedge — It’s a fun shot to learn to putt the ball or hit a hybrid from the fairway instead of using a wedge. The tightness of the sandy fairways makes it difficult to hit the wedge shots that we have grown accustomed to playing.
Muirfield has hosted 15 Opens. Some of the most recent highlights include:
2002: Tiger Woods had won the Masters and the U.S. Open and talk of a Tiger Slam was the news. However, after beautiful weather in the morning, a sudden storm (see Turnberry above) and extremely biting temperatures and a driving rain caused scores to soar in the afternoon. Woods shot his worst score in his career by ballooning to an 81 and falling out of contention. Ernie Els shot 72 in the bad weather and won the tournament in a four way play-off.
1987: Nick Faldo made 18 pars in the final round to overtake Paul Azinger. That’s an incredible feat to par each hole.
Honesty is the best policy
Can you imagine a basketball player going up to an official and admitting that he fouled an opposing player and asking to be penalized?
Or a baseball infielder telling an umpire that he did not have his foot on the bag?
Heavens no. But golfers are different. They will call penalties on themselves for infractions that may not be seen by anyone else. That’s what Bardstown’s Stephen Ewing did last week in the Kentucky Open qualifier at Maywood.
“My ball was in the bunker on No. 3 and I was on my knees getting ready to hit the ball onto the green. I didn’t think my club touched the sand. There wasn’t a mark in the sand that indicated I had. But I looked at my club and noticed some sand there. I must have grounded my club and I called the penalty on myself.”
That’s why golf is a gentleman’s sport.
Gumm Qualifies for Kentucky Open
Former Taylor County High and Campbellsville University golfer Jeffrey Gumm birdied three of his last four holes to post a one-over-par 73 and finish in a tie for third in a Kentucky Open qualifier at Maywood last week.
Gumm, who is an assistant pro at Hurstbourne Country Club in Louisville, will compete at The Club at Olde Stone in August.