Turnberry: Friend or Foe?
BY Bruce Young | European PGA Tour | 2009 British Open | Preview | 14 Jul 2009
The Ayrshire Coast of Scotland and more especially the area around Turnberry and Girvan will be abuzz this week when, for the fourth occasion, Turnberry’s Ailsa Course hosts an Open Championship.
Originally established prior to the First World War, the layout was upgraded in the 1930’s but during World War II the land on which the three courses at Turnberry are now situated was used as an airfield in the defence of Great Britain. The adjacent hotel doubled as a military headquarters and, at times, a hospital.
Soon after WWII, British Railways, who owned the facility as a getaway Resort, commissioned the British architect, Phillip McKenzie Ross, to both restore and upgrade the courses to a much higher standard. The land closer to the ocean, which had been largely untouched by the wartime activities, was utilised to a greater extent and the current layout, save a few recent changes, was established.
The course for this year’s Championship will measure 7201 yards which, dependant on the conditions of the week, could potentially be a monster. The course plays to a par of 70 with just two par fives.
The beautiful surrounds include the magnificent almost iconic lighthouse alongside the 9th tee, the Ailsa Craig Rock in the immediate background and the Isle of Arran further out to sea. The area around the lighthouse contains the remains of Turnberry Castle which is generally considered the birthplace of King Robert the Bruce 735 years ago and which Bruce himself took back from the English at the age 33. The lighthouse was built in 1873.
While Turnberry has an important place in British golf and indeed British history, it is still the youngest of the Open Championship venues. It took until 1977 for the first Open Championship to be staged there. The logistics of an Open Championship place great strain on a venue and it would not be until 1977 that the R&A would feel comfortable enough with the facilities for Turnberry to be granted the right to stage the event.
Its debut was dramatic. Tom Watson and Jack Nicklaus fought out a most magnificent duel almost to themselves. Watson won by a single shot after his magnificent approach to the final hole set up the birdie, which would take him of clear of Nicklaus who moments earlier had holed from 30 feet for birdie to ensure Watson would have to hole his 2 foot putt for victory.
Such was their domination of the event that year that Watson finished at 12 under, Nicklaus at 11 under and yet only one other player would break par, which was the American Hubert Green who finished ten shots adrift at 1 under. And so in the near perfect conditions of 1977 only three players broke par at the completion of 72 holes.
Moving forward nine years and in 1986 it would be Greg Norman, who at even par, won by five over England’s Gordon Brand and by six over Bernhard Langer and Ian Woosnam. Norman’s brilliant round of 63 on Friday was the catalyst for what would be his first major championship. He led by one heading into the final round over Japan’s Tommy Nakajima but as Nakajima’s challenge faded early, and others failed to take up the gauntlet, Norman was left to savour the moment with his five shot victory.
The weather in 1986 was considerably worse than it had been in 1977 and more in keeping with what this area of Scotland can throw up at any time.
Eight years later and it would be Zimbabwean golfer Nick Price, who in 1994 won by one shot over Jesper Parnevik. Many felt it was a case of Parnevik losing the tournament rather than Price winning but perhaps both arguments have merit. Price and Parnevik were one behind the lead of Brad Faxon and Fuzzy Zoeller heading into the final day but Parnevik took the ascendency when he picked up early birdies on the back nine and when he stood on the 72nd tee he was two ahead.
Playing in the group behind, Price reached the very back edge of the green at the par five 17th. He needed something special if he was to catch Parnevik who had found the fairway on the 72nd hole. Price holed an eagle putt of 50 feet to draw level and not fully aware of his situation, Parnevik attacked the hole at the last which was cut in the front left of the green.
Parnevik said later he was not aware of where he stood and felt he needed a birdie to win and many blamed him for that. The truth of the matter is that even if he had known his situation it might not necessarily have changed his approach. Parnevik missed the green left and failed to get up and down and when Price produced a rock solid par just a few minutes later the title was his.
An amazing 37 players broke par in the excellent conditions that prevailed in 1994, providing further evidence that in good weather, good scoring on British links golf layouts is very achievable. On the other side of that argument is that when the weather turns sour, as it can at Turnberry, even par could well be a winning score in 2009.
With showery weather predicted for much of this week and strong winds forecast for the weekend, it is likely that even par could well be a target for many.
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