Can we please stop playing the Open at St Andrews all the time?

The Scoop

We should restrict the best venue, the Old Course, to one Open per decade. Dan Murphy argues why

To the surprise of exactly nobody, the 150th Open Championship will be held at St Andrews in 2021. We can all agree that it could and should be played nowhere else.

What I’m wondering is whether we should last have been in the Auld Grey Toun as recently as 2015.

Even the best things in life are more enjoyable with greater anticipation.

For example, I have a theory that it’s actually as enjoyable to plan a golf trip, right from the initial sense-checking of the logistics – is it really possibly to play Burnham & Berrow and Royal North Devon in the same day? – than actually go on it.

The same is true of Opens.

This will be the 30th Open to be held over the Old Course. The first visit was made back in 1873.

Old Tom Morris

That’s a strike rate of one every five years, give or take. By contrast, you may be surprised to learn, there have only been 10 Opens at Royal Birkdale, 11 at Royal Lytham & St Annes and 12 at Royal Liverpool.

In other words, the total number of Opens held in England’s feted North-West only just eclipses that of St Andrews.

Ever since 1990, St Andrews has hosted Opens in years that are a multiple of five. It was cemented by the millennium. Like the 150th instalment in three years’ time, the 2000 edition could have been held nowhere else.

But the continuing adherence to five-yearly visits is surely unnecessary.

Broadly speaking, St Andrews hosts two Opens for every one that the other venues get to hold.

There have been times in the tournament’s history where there has been, if not a shortage, then certainly not a surfeit of suitable venues. That’s especially become the case as the event has got bigger and bigger requiring infrastructure demands far greater than whether the closing stretch is sufficiently testing.

To this day, elements of the Muirfield hierarchy manage to exude a take-it-or-leave-it attitude towards hosting the Open, although the speed with which they changed their membership policy after being threatened with a removal of Open-hosting privileges was probably more revealing.

In fact, there is actually a dignified queue right now – I would argue that we have never been so well stocked with great venues, nearly all of which are tried and tested in the modern era.

Moving clockwise from St Andrews, we have Muirfield, St George’s, Hoylake, Birkdale, Lytham, Portrush, Turnberry, Troon and Carnoustie.

That’s 10 venues and, you would have thought, a nice, neat rota, if I can call it that, for the R&A to adhere to.

A decade is just right for me. It’s enough time so that there is a sense of eras changing from one visit to the next. Yet it ensures that each year’s venue feels like an odd but richly satisfying combination of familiar but fresh.

It’s like reacquainting yourself with an old friend.

As a golf fan, you are rewarded with historical knowledge of a venue when you can remember past exploits at a certain hole, but it’s all far enough in the past so that you can enjoy that ‘new toy’ thrill.

It’s what makes, for me, the Open and US Open my favourite two majors, heresy though it may well be to relegate the Masters to No. 3.

It doesn’t matter how great Augusta National is, there is an absence of intrigue each year because the holes are so familiar.

Augusta hole-by-hole 12th

Give me an Oakmont or a Shinnecock or a Merion for the US Open and I will drink in the history, wallowing in the refreshed memories of its most recent champions, the details of which I may have temporarily forgotten.

Going back to a venue 10 years on gives it a certain vitality.

Take this a stage further and forever seek out new venues, like the PGA does, and two things happen: one, you will inevitably compromise on quality from time to time; and two, you lose the sense of identity.

We all know what type of course ‘feels’ like a US Open or Open venue – and of course Augusta is just Augusta – but that’s not the case for the PGA.

My favourite Open venues are the slightly less feted Scottish ones. You sense it means a little more for them, plus you get the highest quality of fans.

As such, I can’t wait for Carnoustie in July. It’s exciting to think about going back for the Open for the first time in 11 years.

Don’t get me wrong, the 2021 instalment at St Andrews will be amazing too. Just not quite as special as if it was going to be the first Open there since Louis Oosthuizen won in 2010.

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