It's finally here. Twelve months later than planned, and in a world still coming to terms with Covid, The Open comes back into our lives at the iconic Royal St George’s. Steve Carroll sets the scene

It will not be the same. Crowds will be a little sparser and likely socially distanced. Some who’ve made the journey across the very best linkslands of Great Britain and Ireland an annual pilgrimage won’t be there at all.  

Yet, despite that sadness, there is still much to celebrate as we look forward to the competition for the Claret Jug.

Chief among those virtues is the venue. For many, golf in England is Royal St George’s.

Understated and traditional, at its very soul this corner of Kent is about what happens on its immaculate fairways and pristine greens.

It was to here, when the game was exploding in the late 19th century, that the Open Championship first left the confines of Scotland and JH Taylor won the first of five titles.

And here, while the world outside can accelerate at digital speed, time slows. It is a place perched in perpetuity.

Yes, there are older clubs in England but few can hold a candle to this one’s unique character and difficulty.

William Laidlaw Purves saw the undulating terrain and huge sand dunes and knew what he created would endure. Today, we still look upon Sandwich with the same sense of wonder that transfixed the good doctor from the bell tower at St Clement’s Church more than 130 years ago.

It is both exciting and demanding, a creator of unforgettable memories but a destroyer of dreams.

Who can forget Darren Clarke a decade ago, the famous trophy drowned in Guinness?

unexpected major win

Or Greg Norman’s sensational final-round 64 in 1993? Sandy Lyle’s triumph eight years earlier signalled a new dawn for British golf.

Royal St George’s is a place that cements legends. It favours long driving but requires accuracy. Brute force must be set aside for finesse on difficult green sites.

Ask Thomas Bjorn about that. The two bunker shots that returned to his feet from the greenside trap at 16 in 2003 must haunt him still.

There is challenge everywhere – from the famed Himalaya bunker at the fourth, the confounding putting surface at the 10th, to the ever-present danger that hugs the right of 14 and one of the hardest finishes on the rota. It is championship golf stamped with an exclamation point.

So while it would be easy to focus on what we can’t have, and what might be different about this 149th rendition, let’s instead enjoy what we’ve got – the very best at the very best. Bring it on.

Where it will be won and lost at Royal St George’s

4th – Par 4, 496 yards

Royal St George's

The hardest hole on the course a decade ago, the Himalaya bunker – more than 40 feet deep – looms large off the tee.

Finding the Elysian Fields – has a landing area ever had a cooler name? – isn’t the end of the challenge. Any firm mid-iron approach to this small green is going to flirt with the out of bounds markers which sit only barely a couple of paces behind the putting surface.

6th – Par 3, 176 yards

Royal St George's

There’s no hiding the danger here – a quartet of deep bunkers which protect a green that is set at a sharp angle to the teeing area.

Known as The Maiden, for the enormous dune that sits high above this short hole, Tom Watson managed a hole in one here 10 years ago. But dropped shots also abounded and will this time too.

14th – Par 5, 545 yards

Royal St George's

Dustin Johnson’s hopes were sunk here in 2011 when he thumped his second past the out of bounds markers that run all the way down the right side of the hole – and perilously close to the green.

Steering left brings its own problems, the rough will be pretty think down there, while Suez Canal splits the fairway down the middle and could prove a problem for some of the longer hitters.  

How would you like to be part of Open history?

The R&A has announced details of how you can get tickets for the historic 150th Open Championship at St Andrews in 2022. Click here to find out more.

Subscribe to NCG

NCG Top 100s Call to Action

Play great top 100s Courses with the NCG top 100s tour

NCG Top 100s tour