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Renslow: The Open gets golf back to its roots

Sheep could be considered caretakers of the original golf courses. Just think, if you had an adequate supply of the animals, they might keep the grass at a fairly uniform height.

They also took part in course design, because sand bunkers were created by sheep. The sheep would burrow out a depression in the ground to protect themselves from the rain and wind. After some time, the depression would become a hole, and of course, the hole would get larger. Wind brought sand to the holes, and voila, we have our first bunkers. Truly a hazard for golfers, there were no rakes and no guarantee of escape.

I say all of this because each year the game returns to its roots (both athletically and historically) as the first official course layouts were on Great Britain’s coastland.



Similar to the United States Open Championship played in Pennsylvania a few weeks ago, the “British” Open Championship is available to virtually all comers.

For European golfers, it is simply known as “The Open.” Elsewhere, this might be confused with the aforementioned, US Open, but for our friends across the pond, there is no ambiguity.




We give them a pass on this exclusive moniker because theirs is the world’s oldest major golf tournament — the first Open Championship being played Oct. 17, 1860.

For 2013, the venue is Muirfield. Apparently, for golfers in the UK, the name Muirfield is like Elvis or Madonna. One name is says it all.

Muirfield is a privately owned club, home of the Honorable Company of Edinburgh Golfers and located in East Lothian, Scotland, overlooking (you’re gonna love this) the Firth of Forth.

Part of a British Open rotation, the last time Muirfield hosted the Open Championship was 2002, and the winner was Ernie Els. But that wasn’t Ernie’s last win. He is the defending Open champion, earning the Claret Jug (trophy) just a year ago in Lancashire, England.

Nearly every major tournament takes on a personality of its own, and this year’s event should be very intriguing.

Weather in the U.K. has been favorable and should not be a factor. Chances are familiarity with the territory will win the day and win the week. So, let’s take a quick look at a few Europeans to watch.

Lee Westwood — Has finished in the top 10 in several recent majors and hungry for his first win.

Graeme McDowell — He loves the Open, finished fifth last year and already has a win at the U.S. Open under his belt.

Ian Poulter — First, he’s got the most colorful apparel. Then he’s got 12 European tour wins and finished in the top 20 at last month’s U.S. Open.

It is still the majestic, historic Open, but it has changed with the times. I’m sure the caretaking barnyard animals have been exchanged for high-tech equipment, and the boys will be playing under only the best possible conditions.

Nonetheless, I am confident that this week’s Open Championship will separate the sheep from the goats. Watch it this morning on ESPN.

John Renslow is general manager and director of golf at Alta Sierra Country Club. Please contact John with your questions or comments at jrenslow@pga.com.


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