It’s a mere 320 miles from my home to the Royal and Ancient clubhouse at St Andrews and the first tee of the Old Course where the 150th Open Championship is taking place.  At times, however, over the last eight months it has seemed an impossible trip for me to consider undertaking because of Covid and subsequent triggered issues.  I have, however, just returned from a magical, almost 48 hours in the home of golf, all the while revelling in day-long sunshine and brisk westerly breezes.

Look closely and you might actually learn the answer to that oft posed question: “What does a true Scotsman REALLY wear under his kilt?” Those westerly breezes gave us the answer!

Big sis Patricia was the driver on this little road trip which started in the best possible way with an overnight stay with old pals just outside Edinburgh.  Fuelled with good food, good wine and the warmth of great company we arrived in the ould grey toon at around 1100 on the Tuesday morning and the familiar sights and sounds of an Open instantly assailed our senses.  There were new sights, too, with the serried ranks of hundreds of tents a pitching wedge (oh, OK, maybe a decent drive for me) away from the famous Road Hole.  This is a relatively recent initiative and it provides welcome, affordable, accommodation for an assortment of workers at the championship, as well as for legions of golf fans.

The alternative tented village at the Open. Tricky to find your bed for the night if returning with a few drinks consumed! [Photo – Rhona Brennan]

One thing I do miss at a modern Open is the clatter of studded golf shoes on thousands of feet as the owners make their way along pavements and roads to watch their heroes in the gladiatorial arena.  The advent of soft spikes means we are now more akin to the slightly sneaky electric cars that noiselessly usher the players from point A to point B and to the buggies that silently deliver greenkeepers and rules officials to various parts of the golf course.  I do miss that particular background music that accompanied the Opens of my earlier days.

The first port of call was the media centre to collect accreditation badges and to reacquaint myself with my SiriusXM colleagues whom I haven’t seen in the flesh for three years.  And then it was straight into the broadcast booth with Taylor Zarzour for a forty-minute slot on his show.  Ah, it was good to be back and if the buzz of an Open at St Andrews doesn’t excite you, you must be lacking a pulse.

Back on air at last. Here with Taylor Zarzour, one of my wonderful colleagues from Sirius/XM.

Making our way out to the huge shop in the tented village threw up some lovely chance meetings for Patricia and me, firstly with former BBC colleagues Ken Brown and Andrew Cotter.  Cotter’s canine co-stars Olive and Mabel had failed to score any tickets in the ballot and were not present, so it wasn’t long before we were reminiscing about days in the commentary box with the great Peter Alliss.  Everyone has a story to tell and there would be more of that, along with a few moist eyes, at the service to celebrate Peter’s life.

With Andrew Cotter, centre, and Ken Brown, right.  Not quite sure just who is holding court here!

Shortly afterwards we bumped into PGA captain Sarah Bennett, whose insanely busy schedule had resulted in her going to The Shop the very second it opened for business last Sunday.  Give a busy person something to do and they’ll do it quickly.  Sarah’s gift buying was at lightning speed and as the credit card machines whirred into action she was informed she had made the very first purchases of the entire Open week!  That’s leading by example.

That evening was the AGW (Association of Golf Writers) dinner and amongst the revered print journos and assorted media types was newly-minted and published author Gordon Moir.  Gordon held the post of Director of Greenkeeping at St Andrews from 2000 until his retirement at the end of 2018 but he’s been busy in the interim and this book is the result.  Well worth a read, it is full of the trials and tribulations, as well as the privileges, of being the man in charge of the most famous tract of golfing landscape in the world.

With Gordon Moir, greenkeeper turned author. Both of us suited and booted for the AGW dinner.

Gordon is steeped in all things golf and has an abiding love for the Old Course.  Preparing for an Open is a real team effort so, despite his retirement status, he told me he had volunteered to join the team of bunker rakers accompanying the players over the first two days.  No lazing back in an armchair for Gordon!

This particular dinner is always a wonderful opportunity to catch up and spend a little time with friends and colleagues in the midst of a relentlessly busy and pressurised week for everyone.  As my late brother-in-law Dai Davies, golf correspondent of The Guardian, used to say,  “The majors aren’t just majors for the players, you know.”

My second (and final) day at this year’s Open began with two delightful meetings with a couple of old friends.  The first was with a pal from uni days in St Andrews, who is now a resident in the golfing mecca and the second was with a fellow golfer and friend from junior golf times in Ireland.  In other words I’ve known each of them for more than 47 years. Hang on, I’ve just re-read that previous sentence and I may need to go and have a lie down…

The emotional focal point of the afternoon, however, was the service of thanksgiving for Peter Alliss, aka “The Voice of Golf”.  The university’s Younger Hall was crammed with famous folk, all keen to pay their respects to Peter and all with their own favourite tales of time spent in his company.

We remembered the great Peter Alliss amidst a great deal of laughter. I think he’d have approved.

As I was sitting waiting for proceedings to start I realised that the last time I had been in that hall was as an undergraduate sitting an English exam.  I seem to recall there was an obligatory essay question on the poet William Blake, about whom I knew absolutely nothing.  The night before the exam I did some cramming and from this vast subject selected six things to learn about Blake.  No matter the question on the exam paper nor how it was couched those six facts were going to be my answer.  Somehow I was going to have to wrestle my scant knowledge into a framework that would appear to be relevant.  When we were told we could turn over our papers I immediately scanned down to the essay question on Blake.  Rapture and joy!  I couldn’t have set a better question myself.

The luck of the Irish was certainly with me then as indeed it was when I got the opportunity to work alongside Peter and get to know him and his wife Jackie.  The service was peppered with tributes from some of the most eloquent speakers you could ever wish to hear.  Some were present, some tributes were taped but in them all humour shone through and the result was an uplifting experience for those present.

A great day was rounded off with dinner and drinks with three more great pals and my almost 48 hours in St Andrews were drawing to a close.  On Thursday morning, the opening day of the 150th Open, Patricia and I sped out of the town at 0600 for the trek back to Cheshire and I realised that this, my 30th Open, was the only one during which I hadn’t set a single toe on the golf course.  Somehow it didn’t seem to matter – I had survived the test of a hectic four days (journey time included).

We arrived back in time to see Rory open with a 66 but settling down and relaxing was not an option until this blog was penned.  Now that’s done and dusted, there are only a couple of items left on the list:-

Got the TV remote?  Check.  Glass of red?  Check.

And breathe…..