Tait: Success at Merion could pave path for Royal Porthcawl
PORTHCAWL, Wales -- Lovers of classic links like Royal Porthcawl should watch this year’s U.S. Open at Merion with interest. A successful staging of America’s national championship at Merion should provide food for thought for those who would love to see Royal Porthcawl one day host the Open Championship.
Wales has never staged an Open Championship. Indeed, it is the only country in the United Kingdom not to host the game’s oldest major. It’s maybe about time that was corrected.
Merion could provide the template.
Anyone who’s been to Merion will tell you it’s hard to imagine staging a modern U.S. Open over this fine Philadelphia course. It may have staged four U.S. Opens in the past, but the last time the USGA took the U.S. Open to this fabled course was in 1981, when David Graham became the first Australian winner of America’s national championship.
Of course, 32 years ago the U.S. Open wasn’t as big a deal as it is now. Merion hasn’t been on the USGA radar since because it was previously seen as too short, and not having the space to accommodate a current U.S. Open.
However, the USGA has decided to limit ticket sales to 25,000 per round, down from the normal 35,000. Moreover, the course will measure 6,970 yards, compared to 6,544 yards back in 1981. Rest assured, the USGA will set up Merion to be more than a fair test for the world’s best.
So fair play to the USGA for having the courage to take the U.S. Open back to the place where Hogan hit that famous 1-iron in 1950, where Lee Trevino produced the rubber snake while defeating Jack Nicklaus in a playoff for 1971 championship.
If the USGA can overcome logistical challenges to take a fifth U.S. Open to Merion, then surely the R&A can do the same and take the Open Championship to Royal Porthcawl for the first time?
The Ryder Cup may have been staged in Wales at Celtic Manor two years ago, but don’t be fooled. Royal Porthcawl is far and away Wales’ best course. It ranks ahead of such gems as Royal St. David’s, Aberdovey, Southerndown, Conwy and Pennard.
Royal Porthcawl hosted the 1995 Walker Cup, when Great Britain & Ireland overcame a U.S. team featuring Tiger Woods. The Curtis Cup took place at Porthcawl in 1964. The British Amateur Championship has been staged there on six occasions. The course has held professional tournaments too, including the British Masters and the Coral Welsh Classic, while the Ladies European Tour previously held events at Porthcawl.
This year’s Wales Senior Open on the European Seniors Tour will be staged at Royal Porthcawl. More importantly, next year’s British Senior Open will take place in this part of Wales.
The Senior Open Championship could hopefully open the door to Royal Porthcawl staging an Open Championship sometime in the future. If that event goes well, then it is no stretch of the imagination to think Royal Porthcawl won’t one day get the real deal.
Significant changes have been made to the golf course in advance of the two senior Opens, including lengthening the par-5 5th hole by nearly 60 yards to 611 yards. Overall, the course can be stretched to 7,065 yards. That’s longer than Merion, and only 19 yards shorter than Royal Lytham played for last year’s Open Champion.
Of course there would be logistical difficulties to overcome to take the Open Championship to Wales for the first time. However, it’s nothing that can’t be achieved considering the Open Championship currently travels to such out of the way places as Royal St. George’s and Turnberry. The R&A, the golf club and the Welsh government could make it work in the same way the USGA will make Merion work this summer.
Set-up correctly, this classic course is good enough to test the world’s best at least once, if not on a regular basis.
Welsh players such as Dai Rees, Dave Thomas, Brian Huggett and Ian Woosnam, to name a few, have contributed so much to European and world golf that it would be great to see Wales repaid with the game’s greatest tournament. Hopefully Merion will pave the way to one day getting the world’s elite to play for the old Claret Jug on the best links in Wales.