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Senior British Open elevated to Senior Major

The announcement wasn't introduced with great fanfare or self-congratulatory chest-thumping. In fact, it was all rather muted.

But lest there be any doubt, let it be said here and now. The inclusion of the Senior British Open on the PGA Tour's Champions Tour as a major for the first time next year represents a long-awaited and bountiful yield from years of increasingly vintage crops that the Tournament has enjoyed.

It has been a long time coming, but the reward that is still being celebrated in the thickly carpeted halls of the European Tour is richly deserved.

This championship has never been a solo effort. It has taken the tireless endeavors of a number of parties -- the European Tour, the International Management Group and the Royal & Ancient Golf Club -- to make it happen.

The part that the PGA Tour has played in the recognition of the Open Championship for the players 50 and older on this side of the Atlantic should not be underestimated, either.

It could be argued that the Senior British Open needed the approval of the PGA Tour more than the opposite case. After all, the Champions Tour would not have a great deal to prove if asked to substantiate a claim that is successful without any event on the other side of the pond being included in its schedule.

But it didn't do that. Instead, after looking at the situation, PGA Tour officials came to the conclusion that this Tournament was of a high enough quality to merit inclusion as the fifth major championship on its schedule.

For that, they should be heartily congratulated. Some critics over here say the PGA Tour is insular, a trifle incestuous. This decision disproves that theory, and then some.

There is only one small regret about the whole thing, and that is that the honors list of previous winners of the "British" will not earn the retrospective accolade of major winners in the world of seniors golf.

Thus, the likes of Brian Barnes, the broad and bonny Scot, Bob Charles, probably the best left-hander ever to grace the game, Christy O'Connor Jr., arguably the greatest player in the fabled history of Irish golf, and Gary Player, the enduringly feisty South African, will not be able to claim their Senior British Open victories as "major" triumphs.

On the other hand, from 2003 onward the man who prevails can log his win as a legitimate seniors major. And that is good news for everybody.

It is somehow appropriate that next year the championship will return to Turnberry on the craggy western seaboard of Scotland, where the first Senior British Open was staged 16 years ago. The wild and rugged Ailsa course, its famous lighthouse and all, deserves it.

In between then and now, the championship has been held over a variety of wonderful links courses. After Turnberry, it went to Royal Lytham and St. Annes, then on to Northern Ireland, where it enjoyed a number of years in the happy homestead of Royal Portrush, followed by a triumphant stay at Royal County Down further down the Ulster coast.

Who will win the first Senior British Open under the global umbrella is anybody's guess. What is more certain is that the great American golfers who have played in it can never be thanked enough over here.

In the last few years, the field has included such luminaries as Jack Nicklaus, Arnold Palmer and, last year, Tom Watson. All of these modern golf heroes, it should be noted, have seen their participation in Britain's premier seniors event as part of their responsibilities to the larger game.

Every one of them has given more to golf than it can ever repay. Every one of them has made the long trek across the water to make their contribution to the cause.

Not one of them has won it, but in the greater scheme of things, that really doesn't matter. The salient point is that they have come and played their hearts out and, afterward, have gone back and told their peers that this is a Tournament in which they really should play.

For that, the whole of European golf should be grateful.


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