Does any other sport offer as many special and consequential tournaments during a calendar year as golf? Starting with The Players Championships on March 9 there are 14 of them broadcast on TV over the next seven months to whet our appetites.
They include the four men’s major championships, five women’s majors, two senior majors, and the grand finale in late September, back-to-back weekends of matchplay golf between Team Europe and Team USA for the Solheim Cup and Ryder Cup. Did you know that in the 38 contests between the teams, men and women, that the USA lead 19-18, with one tie?
An additional treat this year is watching the world’s best players contend with a terrific lineup of courses, what promises to be a brilliant visual feast of Augusta National, Pebble Beach, Los Angeles CC, Oak Hill (all four ranked by Golf Digest in America’s Top 20); Baltusrol and TPC Sawgrass (American Top 100); Hoylake and Walton Heath in England and the fabulous Royal Porthcawl links in Wales.
Great courses, full of character and exciting classic holes, prepared as challengingly as possible, make the majors stand out from regular tour events. Although we return to familiar territory at Augusta, Pebble Beach and the Stadium course at Sawgrass, we are also taken to courses new to viewers or those we distantly remember from ages ago. And Pebble Beach will have a different feel to it as it’s hosting the Women’s US Open for the first time.
Unusually, both the US Opens, men and women, are in California, meaning they will finish in the early hours South African time. While the women will be experiencing Pebble Beach for the first time in a major, exclusive LACC is a rarity for an old traditional club in hosting its first ever major of any kind. They have turned down opportunities in the past.
40 000 OAK TREES WERE PLANTED AT OAK HILL
Dramatic golfing history over the past century connects the old major venues with different generations of legends. Jack Nicklaus in 1980 won the US Open at Baltusrol and PGA Championship at Oak Hill, two courses which host majors again this year. They were respectively designed by two men considered among the greatest architects, A W Tillinghast and Donald Ross, both born in the 1870s. Between them they are credited with more than 600 courses in North America.
Oak Hill’s East Course, venue for the PGA in May, has previously held six majors (all won by Americans, most recently Jason Dufner in the 2013 PGA) and a dramatic Ryder Cup in 1995 where Europe edged America in a thrilling finish. It is near Lake Ontario, on the Canadian border, and it is said there have been 40 000 oak trees planted on the club property.
Baltusrol, another fabled American club with two championship layouts, close to Manhattan, has already had 11 majors, and in June will stage the Women’s PGA. The only non-American to win there was Scotsman Willie Anderson in 1903, so 120 years later we may see a second foreign triumph.
THE R&A VISIT A DIFFERENT TRIO OF COURSES
Last year all three of the R&A Opens, men, women and seniors, were in Scotland; this year we visit England twice and Wales. Royal Liverpool is hosting its 13th Open, although there were 39 years between No 10 and No 11. Hoylake may be the least interesting course hosting a major in 2023 (it ranks No 81 in the Golf Digest World 100), and its chief attribute is having the space to host enormous crowds. Tiger Woods won when it returned to the Open roster in 2006, Rory McIlroy in 2014. It has the only par-5 finish of any of the Open courses.
South Africa’s Ashleigh Buhai will defend her Women’s Open trophy at Walton Heath, south of London, inland heathland golf which is not too dissimilar from a seaside links. Five-time Open champion James Braid was the club pro from 1904 to 1950. The club has hosted numerous tournaments, including the 1981 Ryder Cup, but never a major championship.
Royal Porthcawl alongside the Bristol Channel in Wales is where two South African golfers nearly won the British Amateur. David Suddards and Ben Fouchee both lost finals there in the 1980s. Competitors in those events used to warm up by hitting shots on the beach at low tide. It has never been given an Open Championship or Women’s Open, yet now hosts its third Senior Open in the last 10 years. Bernhard Langer won the previous two, and at age 65 can he win a fifth Senior Open trophy? The last South African to win this trophy was Gary Player in 1997 at Royal Portrush when he beat John Bland in a playoff.
EUROPE HOST TEAM EVENTS IN SPAIN AND ITALY
The two team events are at venues in Continental Europe. The Solheim Cup is at Finca Cortesin, a resort course in Andalucia, Spain by Cabell Robinson which opened in 2007. Shortly after it hosted the 2009 World Matchplay, when it moved away from Wentworth. Europe’s women golfers have won four of the last six matches, although the USA lead the series 10-7.
The Ryder Cup is in Italy for the first time, at Marco Simone Golf & CC near Rome. This is an older layout, from the late 1980s by Jim Fazio, whose son Tom was entrusted with a design renovation specifically for the Ryder Cup. It hosted the 2022 Italian Open. The American team is looking to win away from home for the first time since 1993. Europe lead the series 11-9 (with one tie) since 1979, when it became Europe versus the United States.
For SA viewers, the least known major course in 2023 is that hosting the US Senior Open at the end of June. SentryWorld in Wisconsin was opened as a public facility in 1982 and while an excellent course it’s become better known for its fancy landscaping. The par-3 16th is the Flower Hole, 30 000 of them serving as colourful and decorative hazards.
Prize money for each of the men’s majors hasn’t yet been confirmed, but it’s certain to be in excess of $100 million, as The Players Championship is $25 million. The field will be missing defending champion Cameron Smith due to his switch to LIV.
The five women’s majors will offer a record total of $38 million in purses, almost double that offered in 2019. The first of the women’s majors, the Chevron Championship in April, has left the California venue, Mission Hills, where it had been played for 50 years. It moves to a Jack Nicklaus course, Carlton Woods, in Houston, Texas.
GOLF’S 14 SPECIAL EVENTS IN 2023
Players Championship, TPC Sawgrass (Players Stadium), Florida, March 9-12
Cameron Smith, $25 million
Masters, Augusta National, Georgia, April 6-9
Scottie Scheffler, TBA
Chevron Championship, Carlton Woods, Texas, April 20-23
Jennifer Kupcho, $5.1 million
PGA Championship, Oak Hill (East), New York, May 18-21
Justin Thomas, TBA
US Open, Los Angeles CC (North), California, June 15-18
Matt Fitzpatrick, TBA
Women’s PGA Championship, Baltusrol (Lower), New Jersey, June 22-25
In Gee Chun, $9 million
US Senior Open, SentryWorld, Wisconsin, June 29-July 2
US Women’s Open, Pebble Beach, California, July 6-9
Minjee Lee, $10 million
Open Championship, Royal Liverpool, England, July 20-23
Cameron Smith, TBA
The Evian Championship, Evian Resort, France, July 27-30
Brooke Henderson, $6.5 million
British Senior Open, Royal Porthcawl, Wales, July 27-30
Women’s Open Championship, Walton Heath, England, August 10-13
Ashleigh Buhai, $7.3 million
Solheim Cup, Finca Cortesin, Spain, September 22-24
Ryder Cup, Marco Simone G&CC, Italy, September 29-Oct 1