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Captivating Carnoustie gives Portrush a class act to follow

 

By Brian Keogh

Samuel Beckett and James Joyce are two giants of Irish letters whose influence reaches far beyond our borders.

But while Beckett was a six-handicapper who would sometimes play nine holes at Carrickmines in his head to help him sleep, Joyce's influence on the game might best be seen in Bernard Darwin's sobriquet for Carnoustie's treacherous 18th.

The Times' man dubbed the cruel finishing hole and its slithering hazard, the Barry Burn, 'Circumpendicus' and its a name worthy of anything dreamt up by Joyce, whose name is now jokingly used in golfing circles to describe a putt that's 'an impossible read'.

Of course, Joyce had better things to do with his time than play golf, such as writing Ulysses and immortal line: "I fear those big words, Stephen said, which make us so unhappy."

And at 'The Open' - use of 'The British Open' is now beyond the pale following the rebranding of the event by brand communications agency Designwerk in 2014 - it's all about those 'big' words - tradition, honour, history and equality.

And at a time when the USGA is still reeling after getting many things so wrong during last month's US Open, the R&A is puffing its chest out at its uncanny ability get so many things right in its mission to promote the great game.

Far from being obsessed with par as the winning score, they are content to allow the vagaries of the weather and the links terrain to dictate the scoring, much to the delight of the players.

The R&A may stand accused of shutting the stable door when the horse has bolted when it comes to its battle to keep technology in check.

But when the game's top two players (and two of its longest hitters), Dustin Johnson and Justin Thomas, miss the cut despite their incredible power, the R&A feels its biggest battle lies in widening the appeal of the game for everyone.

As an organisation it lies dormie in its matchplay encounter with gender equality and therefore sees improving the lot of women in the amateur game as key to its future.

As Reuters reported earlier this week: "Total prize money at this week's British Open is $10.5m but the purse for the women's equivalent next month is only $3.25m."

The new Women in Golf Charter is a central plank of R&A chief Martin Slumbers' mission to prepare golf for the year 2068, and to that end, The Open is an important part of showcasing all that's good about the game.

"If I just look at the UK, the most frightening statistic I've seen is that between 2016 and 2017 the average age of (club) membership went from 54 to 58 years of age," said Slumbers, who is the R&A's chief executive.

LEGACY

Rory McIlroy, Jordan Spieth and Tiger Woods are as important now to the to the game's legacy as Bobby Jones, Ben Hogan, Arnold Palmer, Jack Nicklaus and Tom Watson were in their heyday.

So getting them to buy into the R&A vision is all part of golf's great challenge - remaining relevant in a world where nothing can be taken for granted any more.

Making golf look fun, cool and exciting without losing its unpredictable essence is a challenge one could argue that the R&A meets successfully and The Open still retains its unmistakable charm.

There are no shouts of mashed potatoes or get in the hole; no borderline course set up gimmicks; no drunks being ejected by the security.

Little wonder Slumbers looked a happy man as he sauntered out of the Carnoustie Golf Hotel on Saturday - dressed in official R&A issue Hugo Boss branded Open gear from head to toe - to drink in the goodwill.

Had he made it to the 15th green, he'd have seen the pin sitting slap bang in the middle of the green, not teetering on the edge of a knob on a souped-up putting surface.

The summer heatwave helps revive images of yesteryear - fans licking 99s, sun-hatted and happy as they kick up clouds of dust following their heroes in the shimmering heat.

"That is one of the neat things about playing an Open Championship as they don't really care what par is," Woods said before arriving in Carnoustie.

"They just let it … Whatever 'Mother Nature' has in store that is what type of Open it is. If it's dry, it's dry. They don't try and manufacture an Open."

Whatever about the course, which is still manicured to the nth degree by teams of greenkeepers, maintaining tradition and the integrity of the event is no easy feat, and yet The Open endures thanks to golf's unerring ability to create drama in a seaside setting.

The prices might eye-watering - £90 (€100) for a Sunday ticket. But if the hot-cakes pace of ticket sales for The Open's return to Royal Portrush next year is any indication, we really do like to be beside the seaside.

Belfast Telegraph

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