The scene is set. And what a scene it is.
There is no venue quite like Royal St George’s, a picturesque links course on England’s south-east coast that has had to wait 12 months longer than anticipated to stage The 149th Open.
Ten years have now passed since the Championship’s last visit to Sandwich, when Darren Clarke memorably prevailed at the 20th time of asking.
On that occasion, only four players finished the week under par on a course famed for its spectacular undulations but it is quite possible scoring may prove a little easier this time around, with good weather forecast and Royal St George’s looking notably greener than in past years.
“I'm delighted with it. I think it looks absolutely fantastic out there,” said The R&A’s Chief Executive, Martin Slumbers, in a news conference on Wednesday.
“We're very conscious that this course has got a lot of very severe undulations in the fairways and in the landing areas. We've been conscious right the way through t ensure that a ball that lands on that doesn't get kicked off at a pace that could take it into deep, deep rough.
“It is a bit greener out there than you would have seen at some other courses, and that's purposeful.
“We set out to have a course which is fair, plenty of room on the fairway, rough that's meaningful, and greens that will run at around 10 (on the stimpmeter). They're running at 9.8 this morning, and they'll be up at 10 tomorrow (Thursday) morning, so I think it's just where we wanted it.”
A UNIQUE TEST
The world’s best players know they nevertheless face the sternest of challenges this week, as they seek to secure the iconic Claret Jug.
Several holes at Royal St George’s rank among the toughest at any Open venue, while the course’s unique design is sure to test the mettle of even the most battle-hardened competitor.
“It is about being confident on where the lines are,” added Slumbers.
“There's a lot of blind shots. There's a lot of shots where you don't see the ball land. You've just got to know what line you're going to hit it on and be confident that it's going to be there when you get there. I think that plays with your mind, and I think it's wonderful. I think it's a great challenge.”
RETURN OF FANS
In any circumstances, there would be much to look forward to, but the coming days promise to be particularly joyous for the fans in attendance at Sandwich after the COVID-19 pandemic forced the Championship to be cancelled in 2020.
Royal St George’s will welcome up to 32,000 spectators per day, meaning the atmosphere – a key component of any Open - is sure to be electric.
“I think all in all, getting the spectators here for us was really important,” Slumbers explained on the eve of the Championship.
“I've talked about what I think of The Open in terms of where I want it to be positioned as a world-class sporting event, and big-time sporting events need big-time crowds. We've worked really hard with government to do that.
“We're very conscious of the environment that we're all operating in. There's very strict conditions for any of those spectators to be able to get into the grounds, and they're being held further back from the players than we would normally do. If you go out, you can see the ropes are further back.
“But I think spectators play a massive part in sport; (and it’s) no different in the Open Championship.
“When you wait and see what the 18th is like on Sunday afternoon when the winner is coming down, when the crowds are in the grandstand, that's what the Open is about for us.”
A CHANCE FOR THE OUTSIDERS?
An extra layer of intrigue is provided by the identities of the last two men to be crowned Champion Golfer of the Year at Royal St George’s.
Clarke was ranked outside the world’s top 100 when he triumphed a decade ago, while Ben Curtis proved an even more unlikely victor in 2003, sensationally winning on his first major appearance when ranked 396th in the world.
That statistic alone will give hope to every player bidding to emulate Clarke, Curtis and a host of legendary names.
A special place in history awaits the winner of golf’s original Championship. Royal St George’s is ready to provide the perfect stage.