New book celebrates our Open love affair

Louis Oosthuizen after winning the 2010 Open Championship at the Old Course at St. Andrews.

Louis Oosthuizen after winning the 2010 Open Championship at the Old Course at St. Andrews.

The British – er, the Open Championship – is golf’s oldest championship, but Donald Steel reminds us that for much of its first century, it hung by a financial thread. He recalls that “the now unthinkable suggestion (was) floated in 1947 that ‘The Open Championship be advertised and sold to the highest bidder,’ ” and the tournament’s finance committee proposed holding the Open only near large population centers. Fortunately, both proposals failed.

The Open: Golf’s Oldest Major

Text by Donald Steel

Rizzoli New York; 2010

304 pages; hard cover

$60

It wasn’t until 1953, when Ben Hogan came to Carnoustie and 27,069 fans paid to attend, that the Open began to find sound financial footing. The rest, as they say, is history, which is detailed in Steel’s brief words and a rich collection of historical photos from every links to have hosted an Open.

Those old photos are complemented by the sublime course photography of David Cannon, who romances the golfer’s eye with his wonderful use of light. Cannon is to modern-day course photography what Bernard Darwin was to golf writing in the first half of the 20th century.

Among other things, Steel and Cannon remind us of the forgotten Open links, such as Prince’s, Musselburgh, Royal Cinque Ports and Prestwick, where it all began over a 12-hole layout in 1860.

“The Open” was released to celebrate the 150th anniversary of the tournament. It’s more of a coffee-table book than an in-depth history of the tournament. There’s plenty here for fans both serious and nostalgic.

Among my favorite historical photos in “The Open” are: a relaxed Henry Cotton sitting on the bumper of his car changing his shoes in the parking lot at Hoylake in 1958; a boyish Seve Ballesteros watching – what else? – a recovery shot from the sandhills of Royal Birkdale in 1976; the sheer joy of Justin Rose’s reaction after pitching in on the 72nd hole at Royal Birkdale in 1998; newsreel cameraman shooting from the roofs of their cars at Royal Lytham & St. Annes in 1952; Hogan seated on a box next to Carnoustie’s first tee in 1953; and Roberto de Vicenzo relaxing in the bleachers at Carnoustie in 1968.

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