One of the most memorable sporting contests of modern times, the 1977 Open Championship saw Tom Watson and Jack Nicklaus, by many considered two of the best players in the history of golf, battle for the title in front of record-breaking crowds.
The tournament that truly set Turnberry on the road to greatness was the John Player Classic of 1972, attracting a field of the world's leading players, including Arnold Palmer, Tom Weiskopf, Peter Thomson, Gary Player, Tony Jacklin and Peter Oosterhuis. But the winner, with a combined score of 285, was New Zealand's Bob Charles. Despite some rather poor weather conditions, the John Player Classic proved that Turnberry could play host to a major tournament, attract big names and cope admirably with a large crowd. Tournaments come no bigger, of course, than The Open Championship.
Even so, when the R&A announced that Turnberry would host its first Open in 1977, the choice was seen as something of a risk, with concerns over accommodation (the grand Turnberry hotel aside) and access. As history shows us, however, the reticence was to prove misplaced as Turnberry played host to record crowds and the most thrilling finish in Open history. Esteemed golfing writer, Donald Steel takes up the story: 'The weather was on its best behaviour and the two finest players in the world at the time, Tom Watson and Jack Nicklaus fought out the most brilliant and dramatic head-tohead confrontation imaginable...'
It was Turnberry's greatest hour with the excitement exceeding any script that could have been written. There was an almost fictional touch about the climax as Watson came to the final hole one stroke ahead of Nicklaus. He hit the ideal iron to the corner of the dog-leg whereas Nicklaus' tee shot drifted towards the gorse. On first inspection, it didn't seem possible that Nicklaus could manufacture any kind of shot. When Watson, playing his second, hit a seven iron which sat down two feet from the hole, it seemed to be that. ‘However, Nicklaus, somehow, managed to catch an eight iron squarely enough to get his ball to the edge of the green - whereupon he holed it for a three. Watson's putt which minutes before had looked no more than a formality suddenly took on a new dimension but it really was short and, in order to maintain the pattern of perfection, it was right that Watson knocked it firmly home. ‘What happened in that Open took a long time to sink in and the superlatives about it have continued to flow.
The filmed version has been shown more times than Gone With the Wind. As an exhibition of superb strokeplay, courage and character, it may never be equalled. As an example of all that is good in the game it was a lesson to other sports.'
Although the golfing merits of Turnberry had been known to a national audience for many years, the Open of 1977 took the links onto the global stage. Hours of television coverage and acres of newsprint put Turnberry firmly on the itinerary of any golfer worth his or her salt. After all, who wouldn't want to play the course that had so enthralled the world and brought the very best out of two legends in the game.
"This is what it's all about, isn't it?" -Watson to Nicklaus at the 16th tee of the final round