While great swathes of North America spent the first half of the summer as if under an enormous heatlamp, boiling or broiling with the shifts in humidity, the United Kingdom (and Ireland!) suffered a deluge of nearly biblical proportions.
Trying though the situation has been, and indeed remains, for the average punter – those over the age of three tend to take little enjoyment in the wearing of wellingtons – it has proven especially frustrating to those within the R&A charged with preparing Royal Lytham & St. Anne’s for the 141st Open Championship.
Aware that their chosen venue plays at its nuanced and idiosyncratic best only when a hard, running surface and unpredictable wind combine to endow an otherwise unremarkable layout with a wealth of shot-making opportunities, tournament officials have spent the previous eight weeks (if not longer) contemplating disaster.
Worst case scenario:
A dreary summer, record-breaking in its sogginess; four days of comparatively calm conditions: a blowout of epic proportions, a “birdiefest” unbecoming of the game’s most presitigious tournament, results.
Shame ensues. Humiliation. Links golf takes a hit in a perennially skeptical American media.
To avert possible catastrophe, then, the R&A appears to have taken the architectural equivalent of evasive action.
Fairways have narrowed, landing areas have shrunk and the rough, already thickened by months of wet, wet Lancashire weather, has snaked its way from the ankle to the mid-calf.
According to Tiger Woods, present when the R&A last flinched in the face of unfavourable conditions (at Carnoustie, in 1999), Open Championship rough has never looked or felt quite so severe.
“I’ve never seen the rough this high or thick and dense. You can’t get out of it. That bottom – six inches in some places – is almost unplayable.”
The set-up, should it remain largely unchanged, represents something of a gamble for the R&A.
In the event of calm weather, the course is afforded an effective, if somewhat crude defence: a perimeter of rough reminiscent of something the USGA would fertilise into existence. Under this scenario, emphasis is placed on plodding accuracy over imagination and variety, but the Open’s public dignity emerges unscathed.
If, however, a stiff breeze materialises to render more severe an already demanding layout, the event runs the risk of retreading Car-nasty’s path from grim public massacre to farce.
Either way, a minority of fans – Open Championship purists, you could call them – are likely to leave Lytham with a creeping sense of dissatisfaction, even loss. Links golf, after all, is best determined by the invisible hand of Nature, not the bitch slap of an activist greenkeeper.
Defending champion Darren Clarke proved surprisingly willing to underscore Lytham’s heretical character in an interview with Reuters’ Tony Jimenez earlier this morning.
“It’s not quite what we would expect on a links course. It’s a little bit thicker than what you normally find.
“It’s really tough – if you start spraying the ball around this week you might as well go home. There are a few patches out there where it’s just absolutely brutal.”
For what it’s worth, Britain’s summer is forecast to “arrive” as early as this weekend; the presentation of the Claret Jug may yet take place under clear blue skies.
It’s a prediction in which Peter Dawson, Chief Executive of the R&A, is likely to take cold comfort.