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Is the British Open the Most Interesting of Golf's Four Major Championships?

The British Open is certainly the most unique of the four majors — the only one played on a links course on foreign soil and in mostly unpredictable weather. But does that make it the most interesting?
Hawk and Purk Podcast

Longtime golf journalists John Hawkins and Mike Purkey, who co-host the Hawk & Purk podcast, also discuss and debate the game’s hottest issues in this weekly commentary.

Is the British Open the most interesting of all the major championships?

Hawk's take: It can be the most interesting, but it can also get a bit silly at venues such as Royal St. George’s, where the slanted and humped fairways reject good shots in certain weather conditions. I’m all for a little adventure, but a golf course is only as good as it is fair, and RSG, which returns as host next week, has turned its last two British Opens into lotteries.

Just four players broke par there in 2011 (when Darren Clarke won). Ben Curtis was the only guy to do it in 2003. Compare that to the six most recent British Opens — the average winning score checks in at 14.5 under. Weather and architectural features play a larger role in the outcome than they should, which is fine, but it makes the tournament different more than it does interesting.

For my money, the Masters is the obvious pick here. Augusta National is a brilliantly designed, strategically oriented casino absolutely loaded with risk and reward scenarios throughout. It tests the world’s best players without becoming unduly penal, provides opportunity for recovery after lousy shots and creates a contest in which power is only as valuable as precision allows. It is as close to perfect as a major-championship stage can get, and because the Masters is played there every year, the familiarity factor (for viewers and participants) only ramps up the interest and intrigue.

Maybe Royal St. George’s will behave itself this year, but don’t count on it. Mother Nature runs the British Open. Not the R&A.

Purk’s take: Before we start a deep dive into analyzing and criticizing individual golf courses that host the British Open, let’s remember that the question says “interesting,” which means “arousing curiosity” or “holding attention.” That’s a perfect description for links courses, which the R&A strictly uses for the Open and many in the U.K. believe is the only truly “proper” golf.

So, let’s make this simple: Using our definition, links courses are hugely more interesting to Americans because we only see them on television once a year, unless you’re one of the lucky ones who have traveled there and played links golf. Which, by extension, would make the British Open much more likely to keep you watching for longer periods of time.

From the Old Course at St. Andrews to Muirfield and Royal St. George’s, all the links courses in the British Open rota have their quirks and special features and yes, even to the point of being unfair. Ask Jack Nicklaus about Hell bunker or anyone who’s been in the Road Hole bunker at the Old Course. Will you ever see anything like it at any other major championship venue? Absolutely not.

And for the argument that the weather is the chief defender of low scores on a links course, guilty as charged. But doesn’t the sight of guys wrapped up in rain gear with the wind blowing a hoolie arouse your curiosity and hold your attention? Like everything else at a British Open, vive la difference.