More than a century later, it continues to divide opinion because of its several blind tee shots and bumpy fairways, which can generate unexpected bounces and send well-struck shots into the rough.
After an unusually wet spring, that rough is higher than usual, which could lead to tougher scoring conditions on a par-70 course that is no paradise in any conditions.
“This week, there’s going to be a premium on keeping it on the fairway,” Darren Clarke said. “That long stuff is really long and thick.”
Clarke, a Northern Irishman, won the 2011 Open, his only major championship, at Royal St. George’s. He did it at age 42, in weather that ranged from sunny and benign to a Saturday squall that shredded umbrellas and plenty of contenders’ hopes.
But Clarke, who grew up playing at Royal Portrush and other great Irish links courses, was able to weather the storm with the help of two sports psychologists and an ability to lower his ball flight.
He finished at five under par, three strokes ahead of Phil Mickelson and Dustin Johnson.
“My whole mind-set was very accepting,” Clarke said on Wednesday. “This golf course, you can hit really good shots. But because of the undulation — like any links but here maybe a little more, especially if it’s firm and fast — you can get some funky bounces, should we say. That’s part of playing links, but here sometimes it can get a little bit worse. I was very prepared to accept it that week.”
The bounces should be less extreme at the start of this year’s tournament because the rain has softened the fairways. But the forecast calls for dry weather, and links courses can firm up quickly.