Thursday, March 1, 2012

Open for discussion

Posted By on 03.01.12 at 10:00 AM

St. Andrews's old course
  • St. Andrews's old course
If Scotland leaves the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland—a serious possibility—then what becomes of the British Open?

"What becomes of the UK?" is possibly the more urgent question across the pond. Scotland's first minister—and leader of the Scottish National Party—has proposed a referendum for 2014, and as Neal Ascherson explained this week in the New York Times, the possibility that the Scottish people will vote to walk is considerable.

If the UK breaks up, everyone over there will have plenty to sort out—such as what to call the piece that isn't Scotland. With all due respect to Wales and Northern Ireland, the kingdoms united in 1707 were England and Scotland. United Kingdom would hardly do after the divorce.

As for Britain—that's actually the name of the island that the English, Welsh, and Scottish share. Calling all the people on it, plus the institutions they share, British has been a handy way of papering over the differences among them. If Scotland bails, continuing to call everyone British, though technically correct, would make as much sense as calling Spanish and Portuguese Iberians or Haitians and Dominicans Hispaniolans.

So again, what about the British Open? Though officially it's simply the Open Championship, the world knows it as the British Open and doesn't want it messed with. It's a premier international sports event, and it's intimately identified with Scotland, where the game supposedly originated in the 15th century. Of the nine courses that take turns hosting the British Open, five are in Scotland—Turnberry, Muirfield, Carnoustie, Royal Troon, and, preeminently, the old course at St. Andrews—which golfers the world over dream of playing once before they die. Every five years, St. Andrews hosts the British Open.

The British Open will be back at St. Andrews in 2015—unless, I suppose, there's no longer a Britain. Has the Scottish National Party thought this through?

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