Apologies to Lionel Shriver, author of “We Need To Talk About Kevin” for nicking her title and also to the Open Championship for associating it with the monstrous Kevin.
The Open has not yet become a monster but it is a behemoth and not long ago I (and numerous others) had an email from the R&A asking for ideas for improving the Open. Well, on closer inspection, there wasn’t that much room for suggestions, it was more about your Open and sports-watching habits in general.
Not being a corporate, big business being, it seems to me that quite a few of the R&A’s recent decisions have conspired to make the Open less open, to make it, frankly, more dull and boring and uniform, more about money-making than making golfers, or golf fans, of non-golfers.
The most appalling decision was to ditch terrestrial television, at a stroke (a very bad stroke) slashing the audience by millions. People have to work much harder to find the golf now, which is why many of them will end up not bothering at all. Perhaps the numbers will be made up eventually as we oldies die off and are replaced, if all the promotional campaigns work, by on-line-streaming, tech savvy, social media junkies who play most of their games on a device with a screen. Golf is all about connectivity after all.
By far my favourite worst decision, however, was the corporate sanitisation of the exhibition/merchandise tent, although perhaps I should thank the R&A for turning it into a place I don’t have to visit any more and saving me a shedload of money. (Although I do usually go in once, for a quick recce, to confirm that it’s still a soulless temple to Mammon.)
In the tented village at Troon last year, there was a big advertising poster thing featuring a family of four clad in the R&A’s favoured brand and I couldn’t help wondering how many hundreds their bill would come to. Luke Donald is lucky that he doesn’t have to clothe himself at his sponsor’s prices but, of course, you do get 10 per cent off if you pay with a particular card. That applies to ice cream and food too and you will need more than loose change to keep yourself fed and watered at Open prices. I think they’re iniquitous but no doubt some diligent number crunchers beavering away at their spreadsheets will say that the figures make sense. Not to those of us who crave a bit of variety, a smidgeon of flair, a hint of the unexpected and value for money they don’t. But at least the main event didn’t disappoint, with Henrik Stenson and Phil Mickelson putting on the performance of their careers in the last round.
Unparalleled golfing excellence notwithstanding, I have a friend who won’t be going to the Open again because of the boozing. “Too many pissed up lads,” he said. “I don’t want to be in the middle of it any more. And the crowds prevent any decent view of the golf.” So that’s him off the attendance list.
You have to be canny and clued up to watch golf at the big events and staying sober throughout a long day in the fresh air or the hospitality tents can be a big ask for those who are there for the day out and haven’t signed the pledge. Encouraging the crowd to feel involved can be a double-edged sword if they take heckling and partisanship to extremes and start interfering. Not everyone knows what the limits are.
Mind you, I was sorry to hear that the Bolly will be gone at Birkdale, or at least its champagne tent will. Bollinger didn’t sell enough bottles at Troon apparently. I hope I’m misinformed because I have many happy, if slightly fuzzy memories of long, entertaining, informative sojourns therein, particularly on a Saturday when no deadline loomed. One non-golfing friend still waxes lyrical about her visit to a particularly wet and windy Muirfield (welcome back to the rota by the way) when the weather saved her from having to watch any golf at all and she babbled the afternoon away on a sea of bubbles.
Golfers have a long association with drink – though today’s highly toned athletes seem to be more abstemious than their predecessors – and I love the story about Harry Vardon and his response to the woman from the Temperance Society who knocked on his door and tried to persuade him to sign on for abstinence. Vardon drew himself up to his full height and said: “Madam, I have never knowingly been beaten by a teetotaller. I bid you good day.”
Slainte. Happy St Patrick’s Day everybody.