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For four days beginning next Thursday the world's greatest golfers will play for the United States Golf Association's 55th Open Championship on the lake course of San Francisco's Olympic Country Club. The event will draw an expected 50,000 spectators and the undivided attention of the entire golf world. The best reason for this, I think, lies in a comment one former winner of the Open made to me not long ago: "The importance of winning this tournament is like nothing else in golf. In terms of prestige a victory lasts forever. And because of that everybody is shooting to win and nobody is interested in finishing second."

With stakes that high, the 72-hole struggle each year has a tension and excitement all its own, regardless of the final scores. Next week's SPORTS ILLUSTRATED will appear on the opening day of the tournament, with a cover picture of last year's winner, Ed Furgol, and with its own new trademark in sports journalism: a PREVIEW. Our PREVIEW will include a map of the deceptively difficult, 6,700-yard course; a background of the U.S. Open and pre-tee-off reports on the players by Herb Wind; a revealing conversation with the reticent Ben Hogan, who has won the Open four times; a color gallery of the tournament's best-known golfers.

Next week also in San Francisco, SPORTS ILLUSTRATED will present an exhibit called The Art of Golf. The idea for the exhibit was born some months ago when SI's SPORT IN ART editor, Elaine St. Maur, met with Richard Gump, a member of the U.S. Open Committee and president of Gump's unique emporium in San Francisco, where the exhibit will be shown. The result is a selection of 57 items ranging from a contemporary abstraction down to a 17th Century Rembrandt etching of the game of kolf, and includes photographs from SI's own black-and-white and color files.

During the summer the exhibit will appear as a sidelight to some of the nation's big golf tournaments. In July it will move to The J. L. Hudson Co. in Detroit in conjunction with the PGA Championship; and in September to Thalhimer Brothers in Richmond, Va., during the playing of the U.S. Amateur.

The accompanying picture shows the 17th green of the Royal Liverpool Golf Club in 1881. It is part of the exhibit and part of the enduring pageant of golf.