Mike Kern | Brits have a major edge

Posted: July 19, 2007

CARNOUSTIE, Scotland - The Brits get it.

Which, skeptically speaking, is more than you can say about most of what you experience when visiting the United Kingdom.

I know it's probably just all part of the Ugly American syndrome. But seriously . . .

If you want to lose 10 pounds, forget South Beach. All you really need to do is spend a few weeks over here. I mean, nothing says skip a meal like pass the haggis, please. And forget just about everything you thought you knew about bacon, dairy products, beef, sauces. Did I miss any of those basic food groups? Even the candy tastes different. Don't ask. You can become a vegetarian in a hurry. Minus, of course, mushy peas. I can't make this up. And how can a place brimming with tea not do the iced version?

Admittedly, they do a mean fish and chips. But it can get old. At least I understand the primary reason they down so much Guinness.

Television? Only if you're a cricket addict. The media hotel gets five channels. Honest. But it doesn't matter, because most of the time you'd be better off watching a heart monitor, anyway. The only hope is that the American station is airing a semidecent rerun. Who figured "Daily News Live" on Demand would start sounding good?

And don't get me started on the exchange rate, which might not actually be their fault. Nevertheless, the $4 bottle of Coke can never be a good thing. Or was that the $10 quarter-pounder meal at Mickey D's? Not that you'd even think of ingesting it.

But I digress. Because there's one thing the blokes on this side of the pond surely do better than anyone. And that's conduct a major golf tournament. Maybe that's because the Royal & Ancient has been doing it longer than anyone else.

This is their 136th Open Championship, after all. And once again, the venue, in this case the seaside links of Carnoustie, will basically be presented to the top golfers on the food chain as is. No gimmicks, other than the familiar array of terrain-inspired quirkiness that separates this brand of golf from any other. It's nothing if not unique. And, in this age of target golf, invigoratingly refreshing.

Sometimes, different can be good. Maybe this wouldn't work 52 weeks a year. But for 4 days, it's tough to beat.

"We don't do anything to try to cultivate anything," said Martin Kippax, the chairman of the championship committee. "Very rarely will an Open Championship venue vary to its own members, players and so forth.

"All we can do is [prepare] the course the way it is."

Hey, Tiger Woods calls it his favorite. So who's going to quibble with your two-time defending champ?

"I love playing over here because it allows you to be creative," he explained. "Augusta used to be that way [for the Masters]. The U.S. Open is obviously not. The PGA is kind of similar to a U.S. Open setup. Over here, you get to use the ground as an ally. We play so much in the States where everything is up in the air. If you had a [bad weather] day like we had [Monday], you couldn't really play in a States course.

"To be honest with you, you couldn't carry the ball far enough. I think it's just fantastic, that you get to hit different shots. You just don't get that opportunity [back home]. I grew up on kikuyu grass courses [in California], and you never would bump-and-run a golf ball there. I thought it was neat to putt from 40 to 50 yards off the green, hit 5-irons from 135 yards, because the conditions dictate, and it allowed you to do it as well. That to me was fun."

Compare that to a U.S. Open, which is easily the most tedious week in the sport. Sure, over here you can hit a drive 300 down the gut and find some hidden pot bunker that Tattoo couldn't squeeze into. But them is the breaks. And over here, you can just as easily have a bounce go your way. And everyone seems to accept that, perhaps even embrace that, when they tee it up.

Fair is a relative term. The folks at the U.S. Golf Association like to toss it around a lot. Especially after they go over the top. Just because it's the same for everyone doesn't necessarily make it fair. To me, the U.S. Open is inherently unfair. And that's OK. Maybe it should be the hardest event to win. Just fess up about the intent.

The USGA will tell you that the score doesn't matter. Then why does it insist on changing an Oakmont from a par 71 to a 70, if indeed it's only, as they claim, a number? Or severely narrow fairways and lengthen rough? The R & A understandably applies polish, too. But it doesn't alter the layout. Well, usually. One exception was right here in 1999. From all accounts it apparently isn't happening again.

When the winning score at St. Andrews is 16-under, nobody goes into a panic. They just go back 5 years later and do it again, knowing that if the weather's different the winning score could be 6-under.

That's fair.

The green jackets at Augusta got so rattled that their course was becoming too easy, they went out and made it too hard. Why? Now they have something that's more Tiger-proof, but that's not the way it was designed. Augusta used to be about eagle roars. In April it was boring. That's progress?

So give me the Brits. And enjoy. It might not always be pretty. But it's consistently different. Like the cuisine. Only more palatable.

Have you sampled the minced-pork pies? Hold the whiz. *

Send email to kernm@phillynews.com

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