The 149th Open at Royal St. George’s is rapidly approaching, as the planet’s finest golfers prepare to descend on Sandwich for a compelling four days of action.
But the course is no stranger to hosting the prestigious old Championship, first doing so exactly 125 years ago when John Henry Taylor held aloft the first of his five Claret Jugs after his one-shot victory over Andrew Kirkaldy and Douglas Rolland.
St. George’s possesses a long and storied history, being placed in the global spotlight for The Open no fewer than 14 times in what have been a diverse blend of Championships since 1894.
And, with the countdown to July intensifying, it appears apt to look back on the statistics of the competition at the course and identify the trends that have become conspicuous.
There are two men who have been crowned Champion Golfer of the Year twice at St. George’s, making for 12 different winners during the 14 Championships held there.
That duo is made up of Harry Vardon and Walter Hagen, who took a visible liking to conditions on the Kent coast to waltz home to a memorable pair of victories.
Jersey-born Vardon helped himself to a staggering six Open titles between 1896 and 1914, winning at St. George’s in 1899 and 1911 to enhance his impressive trophy cabinet.
American Hagen, meanwhile, triumphed at two successive St. George’s Opens in 1922 and 1928, assisting him on the way to the 11 majors he won throughout a scintillating career.
Overall, seven different nationalities have been victorious at the Sandwich-based course, spanning three different continents thanks to South African Bobby Locke’s crown in 1949.
And the most recent winner added another to the list, as Northern Irish favourite Darren Clarke won in 2011 for his only major championship to date.
The numbers that matter
But what scores have this elite list of players won with? Naturally, the winning mark has improved considerably over the last century and a quarter, with Australian Greg Norman holding The Open Championship total scoring record with a total of 267 in 1993 – a brilliant average round of 66.75.
Indeed, there has been no winning score over 300 at the course since Hagen’s first victory in 1922, with a general pattern of descending totals becoming apparent over the last 100 years.
Across the 14 Opens hosted the overall average winning score stands at 290.8, with Taylor’s 1894 total of 326 unsurprisingly topping the list numerically.
Norman's final round 64 during his 1993 triumph, to hold off the pursuits of Nick Faldo and Bernhard Langer, was the lowest final round by a Champion until Henrik Stenson surpassed that in 2016.
The men who’ve thrived on the Kent fairways
Two figures have firmly made the most of their Open trips to St. George’s, both achieving no less than five top-10 finishes at the course during their sparkling careers.
And they are the aforementioned Taylor and Vardon, continually making sure they were in contention in the early days of the Championship to successfully augment their pockets with prize money.
Scottish player James Braid also achieved four top ten finishes between 1894 and 1911, while the more modern era has seen too few Opens held at the course to mean anyone gets near Taylor and Vardon's joint record.
That said, however, Thomas Bjorn, Sergio Garcia and Davis Love III all achieved two top-10s in 2003 and 2011, while Nick Faldo achieved the same feat in 1993 and 2003 as well as Sandy Lyle and Langer in 1981 and 1985.
The hardest holes
The course at St. George’s is far from straightforward, swallowing up many innocent victims over the years in what can often be unfavourable conditions for scoring.
The opening hole is notoriously difficult, with a perilous area of rough on the right of the fairway and a green always sloping away from players.
If south-westerly coastal winds become turbulent, it can provide a real early challenge for many and get their round off to a far from ideal start.
The sixth, while not the hardest on the course, is unequivocally one of its picturesque – and is known as ‘The Maiden’ – but the eighth is another difficult one to handle owing to its tee shot into the wind and the pair of bunkers lurking on the right-hand-side.
And the back nine features some of the most challenging holes in Championship golf, not least the 13th and 18th that have the potential to derail even the most comfortable-looking of final day leads.
And with well under a year to go, golf fans around the world wait with bated breath to discover who will be able to handle the many of St. George’s traps most competently.