Experiencing the 150th Open Championship in historic St Andrews is simply too romantic to manufacture
ST. ANDREWS, Scotland – Time generates life’s deepest emotions. We look back and feel nostalgic. We look forward to being hopeful. Layers of experiences on top of each other until traveling along this spectrum becomes overwhelming because of how much life has been lived and how much is yet to come.
Without time, our experience of the world would be superficial and ephemeral. Because of time, it is deep and rooted. Time fertilizes our experiences until they are less a moment that happened and more a part of who we are as human beings.
Time is as mysterious as it is extraordinary.
At least in terms of his game this year, 2017 Champion Golfer of the Year Jordan Spieth said Tuesday he doesn’t care how many Open Championships have been played throughout history.
“It’s very exciting,” Spieth said of the 150th Open Championship in St. Andrews. “If it’s the 100th [or] 143. … nothing changes for me on the golf course.”
While it shouldn’t matter to a player if an Open is the 26th, 78th or 123rd edition, it does matter when it comes to context because context shapes our lives. The Open is important for a thousand reasons, but one of the most important is that it is the oldest of the major golf tournaments in the world. Its first edition was played in 1860, and its first trip to St Andrews was in 1873.
“Obviously it’s the ‘Home of Golf’. It’s the spiritual home,” Rory McIlroy. “It just feels different. You stand on the first tee next to the R&A clubhouse and you can’t help but think of the people who played there 150 or 200 years ago. It’s something special. It is different.”
People teeed off at the same place on the same North Sea when the United States was only 37 states and it was only eight years since the American Civil War. Before World War I they teeed off there for 11 different tournaments.
“It’s hard to believe we’ve played this tournament for 150 years,” said Tiger Woods. “And it’s incredible, the story behind it, the champions that have won here. Like I said, it’s hard to believe it’s more historical [this year], but it really is. It feels like. It feels like the biggest Open Championship we’ve ever had.”
One hundred and fifty is an arbitrary number, just like any other anniversary. It’s round and graphic designers can easily shape it into a fancy logo that their marketing teams can sell. In this sport, however, it is also a reminder of what makes golf so special: its roots go deeper than any other sport. And that in a year in which sport never needed this reminder again.
“The story of the game is certainly something I took to heart,” Woods said. “I think it’s a very important part of understanding the evolution of our game, where we’re coming from, especially for me as a person who’s sometimes had to fight to get into clubhouses or golf courses.
“So I also understand it from another historical side. But you have to appreciate everything about this game, how it evolved and the people who paved the way for us to be a part of these events, who created the energy behind it.
“There are so many great champions. Like yesterday for example [at the Celebration of Champions] who were out there, I hope some of those kids who were watching at home had a chance to appreciate seeing them playing out there. I saw Bob Charles out there batting on the 18th. I think he won in ’63 or something. Just being able to see that in person, live, god, that was just so special. I just hope the kids appreciate that.”
Ancient artifacts are amazing, all the more so when they stand the test of time. And what better representation of that in golf than the Old Course at St Andrews? Yes, the R&A had to expand this route to other courses in St Andrews to compete against the modern game. And yes, the scoring could get silly this week. But what other course would have made it this far?
“It’s probably the most strategic golf course in the world, and yet it’s been crushed by the sheep,” said Nick Faldo, a six-time Major winner and 1990 Champion Golfer of the Year at St Andrews.
The Old Course also has a unique connection with golf fans. Regular fans like us can’t practice batting at Fenway Park, or run distances at Lambeau Field, or play five-on-five at Allen Fieldhouse. It’s just never going to happen. Even in golf, especially American golf, it’s rare. Most fans will never get a chance to play the courses they see on TV.
But the old course? You can play it. You can try to avoid the bunkers like Tiger and you can try to make the putt on #18 like Seve Ballesteros or the putt from the green like Constantina Rocca.
St Andrews is just as magical as you imagine it. People carry their golf clubs around town 24/7. Bars and restaurants seem to be glorified storerooms for all kinds of clubs. You might see Keegan Bradley crossing the street, or Spieth at a gym, or a bunch of golf brokers, all of which you’ve seen on TV.
It is the smallest big city in sports. It is also the place where everyone gathers to remember and project.
This week on the Old Course has been spent equal parts romantically reminiscing about everything this place has seen and wildly wondering what LIV Golf will do for the future of the sport. A manifestation of the passage of time.
“On Sunday night, I will be honored to announce the Champion Golfer of the Year at the 150th edition of this wonderful championship,” said R&A CEO Martin Slumbers while looking forward to the highlights of the week. “This player is going to have their name engraved in the story on the Claret Jug, and what could be special?
“I would urge you all to keep this in mind and enjoy The Open as much as we will. It will surely be an opportunity to tell your children and grandchildren about it for many years to come.”
These events are just a hint. Almost 8,000 weeks have passed since St Andrews hosted its first Open Championship. Opens on this course have only been played 0.37% of the weeks since then. Another will not be played at St Andrews for at least five more years. Rory McIlroy is almost 40 years old. Phil Mickelson is heading towards 60. Time will have accumulated more layers.
The more time passes, the more we appreciate what is around us. This applies both internally and externally. As we get older, we become more grateful for the people in our lives and the places we go and the things we get to see. In the same way, external entities become more wondrous as they age. People may marvel at the incredulity of modern skyscrapers, but the 12th-century castles that dot Scotland are a dream come true.
What happens on the Old Course at St Andrews this week cannot be engineered or manufactured. You can’t throw enough money at another event to try and compete with what’s happening at this Open. You can’t buy time. It’s a refreshing reality in a golfing world where everything and everyone seems to have a price.
150 is just a number, but it is also much more. As darkness falls on Sunday night, 155 golfers will have to wait at least five more years to play at the Old as one kisses a pitcher almost as old as the tournament itself.
And there’s no doubt, when the 2022 Champion Golfer of the Year takes one look at the names and dates that adorn the sport’s finest trophies, something inside him will crack and spill over.
Time creates life’s deepest emotions, and this Open is nothing more than a reminder of the times.