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Flattery will get you nowhere on 'monstrous' Royal St. George's greens

Straight ahead is the British Open, a championship wreathed in colorful history, played for the most part on courses that look like moonscapes, often whipped by wind and rain and scented with Scotch whiskey taken to ward off the chill.

They're playing this year at Royal St. George's, in Sandwich, England, hard by the English Channel. The course has lain there for nearly 125 years. It is named for England's patron saint, St. George, a Roman soldier who was beheaded in 303 for his Christian views.

Royal status was conferred on it in 1901 by, as he is described by Golf Digest's John Barton, "...Queen Victoria's son and heir, bon viveur, rapacious philanderer, erstwhile habitue of the finest Paris brothels, golfer and former Royal & Ancient captain, King Edward VII."

Flatterer.

Barton might have been in something of an ill mood when he wrote this. He had played the course to get a feel for it before he wrote. By his own account, he used 47 putts to get around in 93 on greens he describes as "monstrous, billowing affairs."

The last time the Open was played at Royal St. George's, in 2003, Tiger Woods hit his opening drive into deep fescue, couldn't find it and wound up with a 7. Not as bad as what Jerry Kelly did. He opened his round with an 11.

Ben Curtis won that year. He had never played in a major championship, never played a links course, never been to England.

The Open enjoys not only the golf as played by the world's best but also the fascination of historic links, many in small towns like St. Andrews and Carnoustie. Lovely little towns where you might hear a street bagpiper's song floating on the breeze; where churches have rooms for the flock to change from Sunday finery to golf togs after the service before going to the tournament; where there are legal bookmakers' shops with odds posted on the wall; where fish and chips taste like haute cuisine in small cafes where locals crowd the bar quaffing ale and talking golf; where sea gulls whirl overhead and clouds hover above the endless horizon and buildings older than everyone in them stand like gray monuments to the past.

Where the galleries are so knowledgable, you can judge the merit of a shot by the sounds they make.

Where spirits of those who have played these ancient fairways seem to hover over it all.

Where for a few days, you live inside the Open, feeling its heartbeat.

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