Augusta National is the St. Patrick's Cathedral of golf. The U.S. Open is its Abu Ghraib. But the British Open is its batty and beloved old aunt.
The British Open -- oh all right, the "Open Championship" -- begins Thursday at grumpy, gorgeous Muirfield near Gullane, Scotland (population: 3,783).
This will be my 27th, but you need to get to at least one before you die. On the course, off the course, there's nothing in the world like it.
In fact, you need to get on a plane tomorrow. And when you get there, you HAVE to …
• Get your picture taken next to a flagstick. You'll feel like Shaq.
• Watch Phil Mickelson hit a 100-yard 8-iron and then go chase his hat.
• Bet your buddy 5 pounds he can't find the sign at Muirfield that says "Muirfield." There isn't one.
• Walk through rough so high you could misplace Danny DeVito.
• Try to catch ruddy-faced, helium-voiced first-tee announcer Ivor Robson taking a bathroom break anytime during his 10-hour day. He won't.
• Take off your shirt and be the tannest person on the entire grounds.
• Take tea at Greywalls, the fabulous old stone-and-roses hotel on the course. Suddenly, it's 1903 and Old Tom Morris is telling you about a cracking cleek he hit.
• Play unforgettable North Berwick and hear your caddie say, "Ya see Fife across the Forth? That'll be yer line for yer fifth."
• Order the full Monty Scottish breakfast, say hello to the Page 3 girl and delight in tab headlines like "Three Battered in Fish Shop."
• Speaking of fish shops, order like a local. "Once" means you want one fish 'n' chips. "Twice" means you want two. When the shopkeeper holds the package open, he is waiting for you to season it with salt and vinegar, as you like.
• Have a Bushmills with Darren Clarke and commiserate on what happened to him. Won the Claret Jug in 2011. Played as if he were drunk on claret ever since.
• Wait for the wind to stop and watch the bobbies tip over.
• Stay at a B&B with a front door so small you have to stoop to get through it. Then see whether you can find the shower. At last year's Open in Lytham, Tom Weiskopf had to turn sidewise and inhale to get into his. Ask him.
• Watch Tiger Woods hit knockdown stingers that would go through a tunnel without hitting wall or ceiling.
• Eat a jacket potato with baked beans and cheese from the on-course potato van. Follow that up with an ice cream flake. Just do it.
• Get out your brolly and your Wellies and go out into the teeth of the shutter-slammer storm that always blows into Muirfield during the Open. Then see for yourself how Woods came to Muirfield in 2002 -- as the Masters and U.S. Open champion -- and shot his worst round as a pro that Saturday: 81. Next day? Sixty-five.
• Which is every bit as good as Jack Nicklaus' 1981 Open, at which he shot 83 at Sandwich one day and 66 the next.
• Play golf at Crail, carefully: some of the fairways cross. Hey, when it was designed, featheries didn't hurt much.
• Figure out why Muirfield's first nine goes clockwise, second nine goes counterclockwise and decide whether Old Tom, the architect, was a genius or just dizzy.
• See whether Lee Westwood can make it 0-for-62 in majors.
• See whether Sergio Garcia can make it 0-for-60.
• Play chicken with cars at 30 mph, also known as a roundabout.
• Play the oldest-played course in the world, Musselburgh Old Links, and have the caddies show you the Musselburgh Skitter. It never gets higher than a can of Pringles. Useful.
• Watch three poor bastards tee off at 4:21 in a major.
• Sit at a pub, drink Belhaven -- made right up the road -- and relish the no-tipping-the-bartender policy.
• Stand on the third tee at Prestwick and ask your caddie, quite seriously, "Where's the fairway?"
• Stop into one of the betting shops that sprinkle every block like Starbucks and get a quid or two down. You can even make a bet pretending that Tiger Woods isn't entered. Phil Mickelson is the co-favorite in that one, at 16-to-1. Story of his life.
• Visit the Pimm's tent.
• Drive down single-lane roads with walls so high on either side you can see nothing but.
• Play the par-3 15th at Cruden Bay and ring the bell when you leave the green. If you don't, the group behind you won't know it's clear to hit.
• Hope for a playoff. It's four holes, best total score. Best system of any major.
• Learn to speak Scottish. That way, if a Muirfield member approaches you in the pub and says, "Were ya a bampot as a bairn? Wheesht, ya blootered goon," then you'll know he's saying: "Were you born as an idiot? Quiet down, you stupid drunk!"
• Play Lufness, make a lot of doubles, then order a bunch of singles. Single malts, that is.
• Play nearby Dunbar and have your picture taken next to the 15-foot-high flagstick on the hole called Pot. You'll feel like Mini Me.
• Stay to the end and watch them present the silver medal to the low 72-hole amateur. Doesn't happen every year. From 1974 to '78, nobody won it.
• Most of all, marvel at golf where it was invented and let it occur to you: They've been playing this game over here longer than people have been playing the piano.