Best senior golfers will play together

The British Open is truly the world’s international major championship. The Senior British Open occupies the same place for golfers 50 and over.

This latter championship is finally getting the attention it deserves from the best seniors. This year Jack Nicklaus, Gary Player and Arnold Palmer will all play the event. It takes place at the Royal County Down Golf Club in Newcastle, Northern Ireland, July 26 to 29th.

I played in the pro-am there last year and was disappointed that neither Nicklaus nor Palmer was there. Player, who has always played around the world from his home base in Johannesburg-he’s the original golfing frequent flier-said then that the best players should support the Senior British Open.

But rather than do that, most of the top American players were teeing it up in a Senior PGA Tour event for more money in the United States. Hale Irwin, Bruce Fleisher and others-they stayed home.

Independent golfers
Irwin and Fleisher certainly didn’t need the money that was on offer in the U.S. event. But the great thing about golf is that tour players can go where they want to go, when they want to go there. The golfers are indepennt contractors. Nobody tells them to be anywhere on a specific day. All the tournaments want the best players, naturally. But few get all the top players.

Still, there’s an argument to be made that the best players should indeed go over to the Senior British Open. For one thing, it has the ring of a legitimate major championship for the 50 and over set. Palmer knows this, I’m sure, and no doubt that’s one reason he’s going.

Palmer has said the only legitimate majors for seniors in the U.S. are the U.S. Senior Open and the PGA Senior Championship. There are two others that are designated majors and I’d bet you couldn’t name them. There, you see?

Links courses
But the Senior British Open-now there’s a tournament with the ring of a major championship. It’s always held at a links course, and it would be hard to find a stronger, more compelling course than Royal County Down.
The course roams over rugged seaside ground with the brooding Mountains of Mourne in the background. The par-three fourth hole from the top of a ledge seems to overlook the world.

Recently I was fortunate to come into Royal County Down by way of helicopter. We flew low through mountain passes, and then were over Dundrum Bay with the links set right beside the water.

Golfing virtues
Newcastle is the name Royal County Down goes by to those familiar with the links. The esteemed course architect, Donald Steel, wrote about the course in his fine book Classic Golf Links:

“You could go to Newcastle for the setting alone but aesthetic delights are merely an accompaniment to a challenge that has few, if any, peers. The (British) Open championship has been staged on courses that are not as good. Newcastle is a meeting-ground for giants who must have command of all the golfing virtues-power, control, patience, and the competitive coolness to plot the correct strategy and the ability to think clearly under pressure.”

This course will demand the best that Palmer, Nicklaus and Player have. Their presence will make the championship, which in my mind is already a special one, that much more enticing.

Televised in Canada
I can’t imagine a finer setting for the Senior British Open to show itself to the world. The championship will be televised in Canada and I hope that it draws a huge audience.

The audience should get a heck of a show:

  • Palmer, Player and Nicklaus have won a total of 34 regular majors.
  • Player has supported the Senior British Open since it started in 1987, and won it in 1988, 1990, and 1997.
  • Palmer hasn’t played since 1995.
  • Nicklaus has never played the Senior British Open.

So my suggestion is to mark the dates down now: July 26-29th.

Best news
Having been to the championship at Royal County Down just last year, I can feel the excitement from here already. The course was looking mighty fine when I played there a few weeks ago.

I knew then Player would be returning, but wasn’t aware Nicklaus and Palmer would also be playing. The news couldn’t be better. The Senior British Open at Royal County Down in mid-summer, with golf’s top senior golfers. Those are sweet words, and they’re making me anticipate this championship already.