Thursday, July 14, 2011

At Sandwich, A Big Event In A Small Place

   If you're wondering precisely where this Open Championship is being played, it's where one extremely narrow road feeds into another extremely narrow road on the edge of Sandwich, just a wind-blown tee shot from the tiny town of Deal.

   The course -- Royal St. George's -- sits alongside the English Channel but you can't see the water from the course because they were forced to build a seawall that blocks the view but, fortunately, keeps the highest tides from overrunning the place. The course is the middle of three lined up along the Channel with Royal Cinque Ports to the south and Princes to the north, each of them close enough to the other that Walter Hagen once played all three -- walking -- in the same day.

    Cinque Ports, I can say from experience, is a tremendous links that, with a couple hundred yards added to the front nine, could host an Open championship. It's that good.

   The Royal & Ancient, which determines where Open Championships are played, is reluctant to add to its nine-course rotation but there's a movement afoot to add Royal Portrush or Royal County Down in Northern Ireland. They are, by all accounts, two of the great tracks in the world but the R&A is concerned about access, pointing to a lack of roads around Portrush as a problem.

   They obviously haven't driven the cart paths, I mean roads, around St. George's where two-way traffic is impossible for anything but bicycles. It's charming, weaving among the homes and shops that sit so close to the road that you could swipe a scone as you pass, but if they can hold an Open at St. George's, taking one to the edge of Belfast shouldn't be a problem.

   Among the things St. George's has that other sites don't is an abandoned power plant, currently being decsonstructed, with three enormous cooling towers looming in the distance like that hill in 'Close Encounters Of The Third Kind.' There's also a Pfizer pharmaceutical factory where they are thought to make popular blue pills just a mile from the course.

   It's where the old world and the new one meet.