SOUTHPORT, England — The British Open is not only golf’s longest running major championship, it’s also the most quirky. Simply put, it’s like nothing you’ll see any other week in the largely cookie cutter world of tournament golf.
Not to worry, for those tuning in and wondering what they’re seeing. Here’s a guide to things you’ll need to know this week:
It’s the Open: Never mind that there are hundreds of tournaments that use the word “Open.” This is the British version — and the oldest of all the Opens — but it seems a bit presumptuous that the Royal & Ancient refuses to call it anything but The Open. Former champion Nick Faldo joked recently that the name will soon be shortened to just “The” to really dramatize the importance of the event.
Sod bunkers: At most tournament courses you see week after week, bunkers are little more than a minor irritant to players, as evidenced by the sand shot Jordan Spieth holed to win a playoff a few weeks ago at the Travelers Championship. Here, the bunkers have sod walls that look a lot like what settlers on the Great Plains once used to build makeshift houses. Expect a few players to spend enough time in them that they could build their own homes.
Silversmith: Only at The Open is there a silversmith on site, ready to engrave the new champion’s name on the trophy . You will see him move into action late in Sunday’s final around, inserting yet another name on the claret jug that may be golf’s smallest — and most unusual — trophy. Don’t be surprised if he is secretly rooting for Jon Rahm instead of Phachara Khongwatmai.
Is that really supposed to be a ship? At first glance the Royal Birkdale clubhouse looks like something that would better belong in a tawdry seaside amusement park like Blackpool just north of here. It’s actually an art deco design from 1935 that is supposed to look something like a ship going out to sea. For better or worse, it towers over the 18th green and figures to get a lot of TV time.
Crowd friendly: There are 14,000 seats in grandstands spread across the course, including the huge ones framing the 18th green. Unlike many tournaments that pander to the corporate elite, the British Open actually encourages fans to watch the golf up close and personal. The stands will be filled, with 220,000 people expected to attend the four days of play.
Talking weather: The Scots like to say “Nae wind, nae rain, nae golf,” and the coast of northwest England is close enough to Scotland for that saying to apply here. The course was closed late Wednesday afternoon in expectation of a big storm, and there will surely be enough rain and wind the rest of the week to make things interesting.
Yellow board: The manually operated yellow leaderboards that tower over the grandstands on the 18th green are a throwback, much like the scoreboards at Wrigley Field or Fenway Park. On Sunday, they will feature the traditional “Well done” tribute to the winner, along with “See You at Carnoustie in 2018.”
Campers and kids: As stuffy as Open officials tend to be, they do have a soft spot for kids. There will be a lot of them among the 220,000 in attendance this week, partly because anyone under 25 is admitted for free. This is also the only tournament with its own campground, where some 1,000 people will live this week while they meander the golf course watching their favorite players.
Phil’s love: It’s become an annual rite at the British Open. Phil Mickelson arrives, declares his love for all things links golf and sets off on yet another adventure. This time he’ll be doing it without his caddie of 25 years, Jim “Bones” Mackay.
No whining: Golfers are quick to complain, whether it’s because their courtesy car isn’t a Mercedes (though here they are) or the golf course seems unfair to them. Not at The Open, where bad bounces are part of the experience, rain often comes down sideways and whining is as frowned upon as showing up for dinner without a jacket and tie.