It’s one of those times of the year I normally don’t relish, when the two golf fanatics in the house, namely, a son and husband will be glued to the television from practically sunrise to sundown watching The Open, this year being held at St Andrew’s on the Fife coast of Scotland.
Normally when this sort of thing happens, I try to get offside as much as possible – go shopping, do the garden, visit friends – but this year might be a little different. So I was dozing in bed the other morning when I heard GMac on the radio talking about the competition and he revealed he was staying in the ‘Old Course Hotel’, set right on the edge of that most famous golf links in the world.
You lucky so and so, I thought, remembering it was just last year I had the opportunity to stay there myself. It was only for a weekend, but the impression it left will last a lifetime, being one of the few places I’ve visited where the staff are so friendly and welcoming, they treat you like long lost family and have a warm greeting every time they pass you, but without being intrusive. It’s a delicate balance but they manage to achieve it here. The hotel’s bar and restaurant, named the Road Hole Bar and Deck, overlooking as it does that most famous par4 in the world (the advice is to aim directly for the hotel when teeing off in order to avoid its notorious bunker) have panoramic views of the entire links with the sea stretching out towards the horizon beyond. One memorable moment was eating a plate of grilled Loch Fyne Kippers with parsley butter and a Scottish oatcake, watching the early morning players coming in on that 17th Road Hole. And one floor below, you step out the back door of the hotel and straight on to the grass of that hallowed old course.
Seve Ballesteros described his win here in the 1984 Open as the happiest moment of his whole sporting life.
Mark James, however, is alleged to have said his most common mistake at St Andrew’s was just turning up. Another remarked that there was nothing wrong with St Andrew’s course that a hundred bulldozers couldn’t put right. In spite of this being the most esteemed course in the world and a sacred ground to which every golfer aspires to make a pilgrimage at some stage in his or her life, this weekend is one of the few when golf will be played on a Sunday on the Old Course – it’s normally a public right of way on Sundays when visitors and locals can walk the course, with or without dogs or children in buggies.
But as well as remembering the lovely relaxing time I had in St Andrew’s, it’ll be the man known as ‘the voice of golf’ that’ll make The Open for me. The remarkable Peter Alliss, who after 54 years of commentary is still going strong and coming out with witticisms like the following, when he spotted a female golf fan who he thought looked like Carol Vorderman: “I watched Carole Vorderman on Countdown the other day and got aroused. Seven letters, not bad for someone who left school at 15.” Only Alliss could get away with it. So, bizarrely, I find myself having done a complete u-turn and joining the two on the sofa for wall to wall coverage of The 144th Open. Strange one, that.