Watching the Open on the box is an immersive viewing experience. But, for some things, you just need to be on the ground. Let Steve Carroll be your guide
Some things are best seen live. Yes, you can enjoy all those lovely drone pictures and you’ll gawk at about 10,000 more shots than I’m likely to witness over the next four days.
But while television is definitely the most immersive way to watch The Open, there are some things you can only appreciate by getting down in the dirt at Royal St George’s.
More than 30,000 each day are going to try and socially distance themselves at Sandwich but for those of you not making the trip to Kent, I’ve been round the course to try and show you some of the things – whether it’s part of a hole or a notable feature – that you might not be able to pick out fully by watching the box alone. So let’s get to it…
- Visit our dedicated Open website for more insight from Royal St George’s
These players today can do anything – except, it seems, adequately handle the Royal St George’s rough. I watched Viktor Hovland hit his drive into the deep stuff right of the 1st fairway and then slash a short iron that can’t have travelled much more than about 100 yards.
Bryson DeChambeau spent plenty of time tramping around the left of the 14th hitting shots out of a variety of lies and seeing how they came out. It was not very pretty.
The man who disarmed everything the US Open could throw at him at Winged Foot spent his press conference on Tuesday admitting even he might just have to pitch it out depending on how the ball lies.
So what’s the issue? Take a look at the picture above which shows the area to the right of the opening hole. The weather has been warm and wet recently and, as an old greenkeeper once told me, that means it’s a grass factory.
You might expect Open rough to be brown, gristly, and burned off to a point but a lot of this is pretty green and that means it’s also very thick. As unbelievable as it seems, I’m told it hasn’t had a mower through it in two years.
If the wind starts hurting across the course, there are going to be some big scores for players who get stuck in this.
You’ll have seen the pictures of fairways that look like moon craters and the humps and hollows that send your ball in all sorts of directions are famous. But what has really surprised me is the overall contouring and elevation.
This is not a flat golf course. Fairways rise, fall and slide off severely to sides. There are whole sections of greens that seem to soar up towards the waiting grandstands and there is the potential to look a bit silly given some of the slopes on these putting surfaces.
There are going to be some unfair bounces. These gradients will create all kinds of uneven lies and will seriously test shot shape and distance control.
You’ve probably heard of the Maiden – the massive dune that rises out from the left of the short par-3 6th.
It’s actually quite an awkward climb as your feet slip ascending the sandy soli. But those who dedicate themselves to reaching the summit are rewarded with the best views of the entire course.
There is golf wherever you look from up here. You can twist your head to the 5th green and fairway, gaze across to the 7th tee, peer behind you to the putting surface at the 4th, and get the binoculars out to see the 3rd and 8th.
And look, there’s the channel in front of you looking across to Prince’s and those glorious cliffs. It is absolutely tremendous.
The views bring me on to the way the course is laid out. Royal St George’s is definitely not a traditional out and in links course. I want to say it’s loosely a figure of eight but the best way to describe it is to show you the routing as it’s presented in the players’ yardage books.
What does it all mean? Excitement for spectators because someone is playing pretty much wherever you turn. I’ve been lucky enough to see plenty of courses on the Open rota now and this is by far the most fan friendly for watching the action. From the 9th tee, you can look left and there’s the 3rd.
From the 16th tee, you can see parts of 10, 12, 15 and 17. From the 8th green, you can scan the putting surface at the 2nd. I’ve never been at a venue where I could see so much live golf quite so easily.
The Suez Canal
Plenty of attention will focus on the out of bounds that hugs the right edge of the fairway at the par 5 14th. It brought, after all, the end of Dustin Johnson’s challenge ten years ago. If you want to see just how tight the fairway gets to those markers, check out this little video from Underpin Sports, who are managing a host of players here including Marcus Armitage.
But I actually want to focus on the little strip of water that’s known as the Suez Canal. The wind has been helping over the first couple of days and, at 330 yards to the penalty area and 346 to find the other side, that’s been bringing it alarmingly into play for some of the competitors.
Of course, one player has found the other side throughout practice. You know who. But even DeChambeau admits he won’t be taking it on if the wind turns into his face.
The starter’s hut
Nothing to do with play but this is the coolest little space in golf. Quite a number of the buildings around Royal St George’s are thatched, but not all of them display the old-style handicap table. A little bit of tradition on what is a classy golf course.
What are you most looking forward to seeing at Royal St George’s? And what delights have I missed out? Let me know in the comments, or tweet me.
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