Being a true "sports nut," I love the month of July.
Baseball is in full swing and pennant races are heating up. Football's training camps are set to open. What I admit to enjoying the most is waking up early, flipping on the television and watching tennis at Wimbledon and then a week or so later, doing the same to tune in golf.
As I write this from the comfort of my recliner, The Open Championship is being played. Just as I did a couple weeks back, I will wake early this weekend, sit down with my tea and crumpets and enjoy golf competition being played on a venue unlike any I've played here in the states.
Okay, I don't really care for hot tea and I confess to never having had a "crumpet," but I think coffee and an English muffin will do.
The oldest major in golf happens to also be the only one not played on this side of the "pond." That's Brit-speak for the Atlantic Ocean. I'm trying to get in character and feel the mood. I even have my umbrella next to my recliner. With the weather we've been having it feels like Scotland here, but warmer.
The Open treats us to a totally different game from what we are used to playing or watching. Golf here is played mainly through the air. We have lots of water hazards, not too much wind and soft, over-watered fairways and greens. Open courses are golf courses in the truest sense. Bunkers are actually penal. In stark contrast to here, pros want no part of any bunker in this week's event.
There are several reasons why I love The Open. It is not just that it is the oldest of the majors. I think it's because it is played on courses that are as courses were meant to be.
Golf originated with the bored and solitary shepherds of the Dark Ages. It was a quiet way for them to pass the time without going crazy from boredom while endlessly herding their flocks around the meadow.
Sheep are gentle, lovable creatures, but hardly stimulating company. So, shepherds would pick up a lump of wood and a fairly round stone and whack it about while one sheep followed another around the fields from sun-up to sunset. They didn't keep score or argue over who had the better stick or rock. It was simply something to pass the time.
The terrain over which shepherds watched their flocks was a rolling, natural meadow. The closer to the sea, the more rolling it became and the more entrenched with long grass, heather and sharp, thorny gorse. It was there that the game became more fun and skill-driven. Who wants to knock a rock around on an empty, flat piece of yard anyway?
On those meadows, golf evolved. Of course, there are organic things that just seemed to happen. Mother Nature was the only course architect back then. She allowed the wind and rain to shape the land. The animals hid from the frigid air and spray from the sea in small pits. Shepherds rightfully feared hitting their rock into one of these pits. I'm guessing the sheep were not very fond of those moments either.
Over time, some shepherds became quite good at this game and in 1860 the very first Open Championship was played. By then, golf had reached the point where it was a proper game, with proper rules and the best player usually won. A tradition was born and it has grown more glorious with each passing year. With the exception of bombs dropping during world wars, nothing has stopped this event from taking place each summer.
The Open is a romantic celebration of the way our game is meant to be played. It encourages risk and rewards those fortunate enough with a wee bit of luck. Even those who play safe may suffer from an unfortunate bounce here and there. It closely emulates real life with all the crazy bounces, good and bad luck, and the occasional reward for skill and bravado.
Best of all, the winner's trophy, the Claret Jug, is lent to the champion for the next year. His name is inscribed on its base and he gets to trot around the globe showing it off. It's the trophy of the "Champion of the Year," winner of The Open, golf's oldest, and perhaps, greatest event.
Now if you'll excuse me, I'm actually craving a crumpet.
James Stammer has been an avid golfer and golf enthusiast for nearly 40 years. He hosts the Thursday Night Golf Show on WSTU 1450-AM. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.