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THE BRITISH OPEN

Turnberry has a mystique all its own

A 19th-century lighthouse and Robert the Bruce's castle are only two of the things that make the site of this week's British Open special.

July 14, 2009|Chuck Culpepper

TURNBERRY, SCOTLAND — Hugging spiteful coastline along with 14th-century castle ruins and a 19th-century lighthouse, within view of an island that's a volcanic-rock bird sanctuary with 36,000 gannets, and mysterious enough that even Tiger Woods had never seen it, here is Turnberry, the British Open rotation's estranged beauty.

The last time it held an Open, Bill Clinton was in his first term, John Major served as prime minister of the United Kingdom, Woods was set to enroll at Stanford, Anthony Kim was 9 and Japanese sensation Ryo Ishikawa was 2.

Nick Price won that 1994 Open, affirming both his gracious reign over the game at the time and Turnberry's noble choosiness when doling out Claret Jugs.

"The only criticism I hear about Turnberry is the road getting there," Greg Norman said a month ago in reference to its remoteness, but certainly not to its Open champions.

For while the road getting there does get narrow and does lead through villages that end in signs reading, "Haste Ye Back," the road to the title has gone unfailingly through the summit of golf.

Jack Nicklaus shot 68-70-65-66 at Turnberry in the 1977 British Open, finishing so far ahead of Hubert Green -- 10 strokes -- that Green branded himself the winner of the first flight.

Of course, Nicklaus somehow did not win that year, because Tom Watson shot 68-70-65-65, and just this month said, "I think it was the tournament where I was playing the best."

The same went for Norman in 1986, the year he held the 54-hole lead at all four major championships but held on at Turnberry, where he came to No. 17 on Friday dreaming of 59 and wound up with your everyday 63.

That was seven years before Price came to No. 17 and made a 50-foot eagle that helped foil the front-running Jesper Parnevik.

If Turnberry approaches its fourth Open with a knack for rewarding the best player in the world at the time, that would seem to favor . . . oh, guess.

"I've only seen it on TV," Woods said two weeks ago while winning his AT&T National near Washington, and before his practice round of Sunday.

"There's only so much you can see on videotape."

Said Graeme McDowell, the Northern Irishman who played -- and lost some pounds in -- some recent rounds with fellow Northern Irishman and 20-year-old prodigy Rory McIlroy: "Fabulous. Unbelievably impressed. The greenness and the lushness of the golf course is beautiful, and it really is a spectacular venue."

In fact, Colin Montgomerie, the Scot who grew up on Royal Troon up the coast but who decided to turn professional when shooting 29 on the back nine at Turnberry, reckons everyone will wonder, "Why so long?"

In an interview with Scotland's Sunday Herald, Montgomerie said, "That stretch of eight, nine and 10 is fabulous. When it's a nice day, that's our Pebble Beach. In fact, it beats, Pebble Beach. Of course, I'm biased."

In fact, Nos. 9, 10 and 11 -- two par fours, then a par three -- run smack along the gnarly beach, with tee boxes doubling as cliff's edges and featuring occasional views of Robert the Bruce's castle from his days as king from 1306 to 1329, plus the white-and-Dijon-mustard-color lighthouse near the No. 10 tee.

All the while, about 10 miles out from the shore looms the bird-ruled Ailsa Craig, the extinct volcano rumored to have bubbled 500 million years ago, with granite once used to make stones for curling.

And even at the course's inland turns, there are 28 new bunkers all around, a perilous burn (creek) near the No. 16 green and enough of the belligerent vegetation commonly known as gorse, which in some spots it seems a family of four could camp unseen, not to mention all those field mice, shrews and voles.

Ernie Els, the 2002 champion at Muirfield, pronounced the rough "very lush" and "very high" after a recent practice round and said, "That could be quite a beast if the wind comes up."

With five titles in 31 previous Opens, plus a Senior Open title at Turnberry, Watson observes, "It plays with a lot of crosswinds, and you have to deal with that," both in the air and on the ground because, he said, "When it hits, it's going somewhat sideways and you have to factor that into how much room you give it. . . .

"And that's the element that the younger players may have somewhat of a hard time with."

Especially given some were minors, kindergartners or even toddlers when last the Open alighted here.

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chuck.culpepper@yahoo.com

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(BEGIN TEXT OF INFOBOX)

British Open

Thursday-Sunday, Turnberry, Scotland (Ailsa Course), TNT, Channel 7.

BRITISH OPEN CHAMPIONS

Tiger Woods can jump into another elite group if he wins his fourth British Open championship this weekend. Golfers with the most British Open titles:

Six: Harry Vardon

Five: Tom Watson, Peter Thomson, John Henry Taylor, James Braid.

Four: Bobby Locke, Walter Hagen, Tom Morris Jr., Tom Morris Sr., Willie Park Sr.

Three: Tiger Woods, Nick Faldo, Seve Ballesteros, Jack Nicklaus, Gary Player, Henry Cotton, Bobby Jones, Bob Ferguson, Jamie Anderson.

-- Source: Los Angeles Times

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British Open

Yardage, par on the Ailsa Course at Turnberry for the 138th Open to be played Thursday through Sunday:

*--* Hole Par Yards 1 4 354 2 4 428 3 4 489 4 3 166 5 4 474 6 3 231 7 5 538 8 4 454 9 4 449 Out 35 3,583 10 4 456 11 3 175 12 4 451 13 4 410 14 4 448 *--*

*--* 15 3 206 16 4 455 17 5 559 18 4 461 In 35 3,621 Total 70 7,204 *--*

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