Old Course to stage 2010 Open
THE Royal and Ancient's championship committee will put on their "thinking caps" to consider how best to add to the sense of occasion when the 150th anniversary of the Open is celebrated by a return to St Andrews in 2010 for golf's most venerable championship.
Although conscious that you can have too much of a good thing and wary of gimmicks, the R&A did enhance the Millennium Open in the Auld Toun by staging the "Champions Challenge," a memorable one-off feature which saw Jack Nicklaus, Sam Snead, Peter Thomson, Gary Player and a host of other past champions take part in a curtain-raiser for the main event.
And, in 1960, when the 100th anniversary was celebrated at the Old Course, the centenary was notable both for the tributes paid to the game's history and the impact of Arnold Palmer who, although he finished a stroke behind winner Kel Nagle, ushered in a new era of global interest in the Open.
By 2010, of course, Tiger Woods will be striving to become the first golfer to win three consecutive Opens at St Andrews. Whether or not that momentous turn of event should come to pass remains to be seen. But it's unlikely the R&A will allow the championship's 150th birthday party to pass without tossing a few metaphorical hats and streamers in the air.
After confirming yesterday how the championship will return to St Andrews in four years' time, Peter Dawson, the chief executive of the R&A, acknowledged it would be fitting to enhance the trappings which surround the championship year-in, year-out.
"We've got plenty of time to evaluate what we might do in 2010, but it's certainly something to have a look at," he said. "We had a bit of a celebration for the Millennium Open and the 150th championship will also be a very special occasion. It's one for us to put on our thinking caps."
Since the Open is already bound for Carnoustie next summer and Turnberry in 2009, the selection of the Old Course for the championship's 150th means the tournament will staged in Scotland three times in the four years between 2007 and 2010.
Given that a recent economic study assessed the worth to Scotland of last year's Open in St Andrews at 72 million, it's reasonable to speculate, allowing for inflation, that the next three will inject up to 250 million into the Scottish economy.
All of this is a very long way from the chill morning in Prestwick on Wednesday, 17 October, 1860, when eight players met in the Red Lion Hotel across the road from the links to be told the rules and compete over three rounds of 12 holes for the first Open. Old Tom Morris hit the first shot and Musselburgh's Willie Park the winning stroke.
Having begun at noon, the competition was over before darkness fell.
Now, a field of 156 players competes for the Claret Jug and the prize money is more than 4 million. At the first Open, Park was presented with a red leather belt which had an ornate silver buckle. An Edinburgh jeweller was paid 25 to make the trophy. A golfer, however, had to win three consecutive Opens before he got to keep it for good.
Prestwick hosted the Open a further 23 times, the last occasion in 1925. It's a total only exceeded by St Andrews, which is now the most regularly used venue. In 2010 the Old Course will play host for the 28th time since the championship was first held there in 1873.
Dawson pointed out, however, that it would be wrong to assume St Andrews will continue to stage the Open every five years. Since Nick Faldo won in 1990, a pattern has emerged which has seen the tournament held on the Old Course at the beginning and the midpoint of each decade.
"I wouldn't like to say we're locked into a five-year cycle at St Andrews," added the chief executive. "In fact, we'd quite like to ring the changes now and again. That doesn't mean we'll go from having it there once every five years to once every ten. But it might be once in four years or once in six. What we can say - subject to the agreement of the Links Trust - is it will continue to be in St Andrews more frequently than the others."
International qualifying now takes place on five continents and local final qualifying represents the last chance for non-exempt players to gain a place in the field.
In 2010, the LFQ courses will be Kingsbarns, Ladybank, Scotscraig and the Torrance course at St Andrews Bay. It will be the first time the courses at both Kingsbarns and St Andrews Bay have been invited to participate.
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