It’s been a busy week, an unusually busy one for me these days, not least because it involved a trip to Scotland, where I played golf, attended a memorial service and caught up with friends. Brill. Must get out and about more often.
The golf was at Dundonald Links in Ayrshire, not too far from Troon, albeit not so venerable, on a glorious day. I played most of the round in shirt sleeves despite so many years in the Midlands, as far from the sea as it is possible to get in England, that I’m probably now classed as a southern softie. My golf was less wonderful than the weather but it was a joy to be on a links again and we even got to play a hole with Catriona Matthew, of Solheim Cup fame.
Catriona has retired from the day-to-day grind of tournament golf – it’s usually the travel that takes its toll – but is far from done with the game and one of her many roles is as tournament ambassador to the Trust Golf Women’s Scottish Open. It’s at Dundonald at the end of July, 28th-31st, with a prize fund of $2 million. Dr Prin Singhanart, the physicist who founded Trust Golf, part of a Thai-based technology enterprise, said, “We look to enhance and grow this historic event to sit alongside the best tournaments on the schedule….we aim to to grow the game and create the best opportunities for female golfers.”
There were two other very special females – not golfers – on hand to support the tournament, taking a brief break from their countrywide tour with their manager Andrew Cotter. Yes, it was the global social media stars Olive and Mabel, labs without limits. They’d been performing in St Andrews and, I think, Troon and were preparing to head for the ferry to cross to Belfast and then, passports permitting, Dublin.
With the labs, very down to earth for superstars, busy scavenging for food – don’t forget they’re the breed that put the nick into picnic – Andrew said, “With a lot of their family nearby in Troon, they look forward to this sporting event above all others.”
After a lovely, luxurious night at Dundonald Links, it was off to St Andrews for Renton Laidlaw’s memorial service. Renton, who died last October at the age of 82, spent his life on the move as a writer and a broadcaster, radio and television, supreme. He had the gift of the gab – everything invariably beautifully judged and paced, rarely lost for the mot juste – but above all he had a gift for friendship. In a notoriously bitchy, backstabbing business, no one had a bad word to say about Renton. Occasionally he’d be teased for his propensity to go on a bit – whenever he was accepting an award, say, or hosting a dinner – but he had a never-ending fund of great stories, so why not tell them?
He was a multi-tasking workaholic who wrote, broadcast, edited (The Golfer’s Handbook of blessed memory, a great resource) and still had time to be secretary, chairman and president of the AGW. I used to joke that he was like a shark – he had to keep moving to keep breathing. He’d fly to Phoenix for the day, then the south of France, Sunningdale, St Andrews, Augusta, Australia, there was nowhere he wasn’t known. He was kind, generous, twinkly and was much loved. He never married – he never stayed still long enough – but his friends, female and male, were devoted to him and gathered from all over the world to pay tribute to him.The stands are already going up around the Old Course in preparation for a very special Open, the 150th, this July and nearly 300,000 spectators are expected during the week (10th-17th), with the whole show expected to generate around £200 million in total economic benefit to Scotland according to the SIRC (Sport Industry Research Centre) at Sheffield Hallam University in a report commissioned by the R&A.
This is an all-ticket Open – not quite so open then? Gone are the days when you could pitch up on the day and buy a ticket at the gate. Apparently when the ballot opened there were more than 1.3 million applications.
One of the great things about St Andrews is how compact it is and how cosmopolitan – it’s packed with students from all over the world as well as golfers. It’s also home to hordes of gulls, big buggers who swirl around with malice aforethought, ready to outdo the greediest labradors as nickers of picnics and, afterwards, splatter whatever lies beneath – be it pavement, pedestrian or car. If you’re a driver, make sure you have a big bottle of water and some kitchen roll to hand. You’ll need it!
Some of the golf writers were on the tee on Tuesday, part of the pre-Open briefing and recce and they got a dry, grey and chilly morning for their game. I was lucky enough to capture Derek Lawrenson’s opening drive (below).
Derek, golf correspondent of the Daily Mail, former chairman of the AGW and a happy Liverpool supporter anticipating an unprecedented quadruple, has been on my road-to-hell conscience for nearly three years. He won the Golf Writers’ Championship in 2019 (at Royal Liverpool, Hoylake), for a record-equalling fourth time and I meant to send him a note welcoming him to the club – but never did. Sorry Derek. Well done. Welcome.