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Beginner's guide to The Open: Everything you need to know about the golf at Royal Portrush

Royal Portrush hosts the Open Championship for the second time (Liam McBurney/PA)
Royal Portrush hosts the Open Championship for the second time (Liam McBurney/PA)
Gareth Hanna

By Gareth Hanna

The Open Championship is set to roll into Portrush in just a few days' time and it's set to take Northern Ireland by storm. But what's all the fuss about?

Do you feel like you're just not quite up to speed on what's going on and why there's so much hype?

Worry not, dear friend. We've got you.

Here's your whistlestop guide to the Open Championship.

All you need to know about the Open Championship at Royal Portrush

What is The Open Championship?

There's a good place to start. It's the oldest tournament in golf, having been first held 159 years ago in 1860. It was designed, after the death of Scotland's undisputed golfing champion Allan Robertson, to decide who would be known as 'The Champion Golfer of the Year'. The first prize was a belt, donated by the Earl of Eglinton, and competed for by eight professionals from Blackheath (England), Perth, Bruntsfield (Edinburgh), Musselburgh and St Andrews golf clubs. A year later it became 'open' to amateurs, earning its name.

So it all started in Scotland?

Sure did. It was played at Prestwick until its 1873 trip to St Andrews. It first left Scotland in 1894, when it was played at St George's. The modern game of golf traces its roots back to Scotland as well, the first written record of the sport being James II, King of Scotland, banning it in 1457 because it was an unwelcome distraction from archery. Safe to say golf has won that battle in the intervening half millennium.

What's golf again?

Alright, hold up. Quick breakdown of the rules. You have to get the ball into the hole in as few shots as possible and there are 18 holes per round.

The Open course at Royal Portrush is a par 71, so you're expected to take 71 shots. That means if the players go round in 70 shots, they will be one under par (-1). Shoot 72 and they'll be one over (+1). They play the course four times from Thursday to Sunday and the lowest combined score is the winner. Simples.

What if there's a tie for first place after the four rounds?

Then there will be a three-hole play-off. The lowest score wins. If it's still a tie then it goes to sudden death.

What's a birdie?

Let's take the first hole at Portrush for example. It's a par four, so the standard score would be a four.

If you get a three, you've got a birdie, and you're one under. If you get a bogey, that's a five, and you're one over. An eagle at a par four would be a two and a double bogey would be a six. There are also par threes and par fives over the course.

The aim of the game is to get as many birdies / eagles as possible and as few bogeys as possible.

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Crowds pack Royal Portrush's first tee during the Irish Open in 2012

Ok, got it. So back to the Open...

It's grown a bit since 1860...from eight competitors to 156 players in 2019.

How do they decide which 156 players get to play?

It is still 'open' to professionals and amateurs, providing they have a handicap of zero or better, but there are players who are exempt from having to go through qualifying. Those include previous Champion Golfers who are aged 60 or under or won The Open in the last 10 years, last year's top 10, the 2018 Ryder Cup players and the top 30 in last year's European and US money lists. There are others as well but if you fall outside all the categories, you have to try and qualify.

How can they qualify for The Open?

They can earn spots at certain events, such as last week's Irish Open. The top three unqualified players secured a spot at The Open. That's the same way Graeme McDowell got his place with a good finish at last month's Canadian Open.

There's also a route in for players who don't play in those top tour events. They can come through regional qualifying and then final qualifying to earn one of 12 places. That's how the likes of Holywood amateur Tom McKibbin attempted to earn a place this year.

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Graeme McDowell's dream of competing in the Open Championship at his home course was unlocked in Canada.

So The Open is more important than the Irish Open?

You may remember the Irish Open coming to Royal Portrush in 2012 and Portstewart in 2017. That was a big deal but, yes, this is bigger.

Why? Because The Open is one of golf's four 'majors'. Just like in tennis, there are four Grand Slams; Wimbledon, the US Open, Australian Open and French Open. Golf has The Open, the US Open, the Masters and the PGA Championship.

The Open is golf's version of Wimbledon, basically.

The Irish Open, in comparison, is a European Tour event, but not a major.

Has it been to Northern Ireland before?

It has, but just the once. That was back in 1951, when it was also played at Royal Portrush. Englishman Max Faulkner won.

So this is only the second time The Open has been played outside Scotland or England. It's a pretty special occasion.

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Colourful champion: Max Faulkner with the Claret Jug

And there have been Irish winners in the past?

Yep, four of them; three from Northern Ireland. First was Fred Daly in 1947. Interestingly, when he won it, he was working as a club professional at Balmoral GC - a far cry from today's superstars.

It took 60 years for another Irish winner and then Padraig Harrington did it twice in a row.

That opened the floodgates for Darren Clarke to lift the trophy in 2011 and Rory McIlroy to follow in 2014.

Can Clarke, Harrington, McIlroy or hometown favourite Graeme McDowell do it in Portrush?

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McIlroy with the Claret Jug after winning the 2014 Open (David Davies/PA)

So there are going to be lots of people there?

Yes, it's expected that 190,000 spectators will be there over The Open week.

And hopefully now you know why.

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