Reading and TV don’t prepare you for the sheer scale when you see it for yourself. What hit me first at Royal Birkdale was the number of white marquees. I don’t know what colours he went with, but I’m sure the size of the operation when Alexander decided he wanted India would have been similar.
Of course, a slight difference in sport.
The clubbing of a small white ball as opposed to that of a large, shaggy head. Mind you, those golf balls were not as white and quite shaggy when the British Open burst on to the scene in 1860. All Willie Park Senior got for winning the first one at Prestwick was a red leather belt with a silver buckle, and that too just for the year till the next one, when he had to hand it over to Tom Morris Senior.
Red belts are back in vogue but no such fashion accessory will pass hands at Muirfield next week. Instead, the 2013 winner will collect £945,000 (around Rs.8.5 crore). My guess is he won’t miss the red belt.
Coming back to Royal Birkdale, a few miles north of Liverpool. People in their thousands milling about a golf course, every vantage point taken, deafening cheers erupting all over the layout, an atmosphere of festivity in the air—this went against what golf was made out to be. Then again, whenever a golfer was ready to play, you could hear a beer belch across the fairway. I say… Quiet please, old chap!
The 1998 Open lived up to its billing. In form Mark O’Meara got past fellow-American Brian Watts in a play-off, and Tiger Woods finished a stroke behind. I caught the now famous chip in, local boy Justin Rose holing out from the rough on the 18th. The reaction was heard in London.
Colonial hangover or what, of the four majors (the other three are played in the US), Indians profess affinity to “the Open” or “the Open Championship”. The English believe it is “the” golf event and also that it is truly “open”. In their defence it must be said that it is the only major that has five international qualifying sites in Australia, Asia, Africa, Europe and America, which contributed as many as 27 players this year to the 156-man field.
Over the years, some of our golfers, the likes of Gaurav Ghei, Jeev Milkha Singh, Jyoti Randhawa, Shiv Kapur, Gaganjeet Bhullar and Anirban Lahiri, have been part of the select line-up through the international and local British qualifiers.
Singh and Lahiri played last year at Royal Lytham and St Annes, the latter having won the Asian qualifier. Always keen on the big events, Singh clinched the Aberdeen Asset Management Scottish Open the week before the Open for his entry ticket. Lahiri went on to finish a creditable tied 31st and caused a flutter on Day 3 when he holed out on the ninth from 150 yards with his nine-iron.
Singh could barge in again if he defends his Scottish title but the guy who is brushing up on his bump-and-runs with Italian coach Alberto Binaghi for the big week is Shiv Kapur. Playing the local qualifier earlier this month at Dunbar, along the east coast and a short distance south of Muirfield, Kapur fired on the back nine of the second round in the one-day shootout.
“I shot a 69 in the morning so I knew I had my work cut out in the afternoon. I just played steady golf till I stepped on to the ninth tee and then made five birdies in the last 10 holes for a 64,” said Kapur.
Of the 72 golfers who teed it up at Dunbar, three got in. The 31-year-old shared second place with Australian John Wade on seven-under 133. Kapur played the 2006 Open at Royal Liverpool, where he missed the halfway cut by a solitary stroke. “The first time was like dreamland for me. Now, after being on the European Tour for several years and also once you get a taste of playing in the majors, you realize what the fuss is all about,” he said. “It doesn’t get better than the Open Championship.”
The Delhi golfer is renting a house near the course for the week and the occupants are going to be dad Ravi Kapur and a handful of buddies, including retired Australian cricketer and now commentator and funnyman Dean Jones. Kapur is big on cricket and counts a number of cricketers as his friends, and as business associates in his Golf Premier League.
Like every year the setting is spectacular. Muirfield, about a 40-minute drive east of the Scottish capital of Edinburgh, lies on the south coast of the Firth of Forth (I’d love to hear a Scotsman say that). Negotiate the curve along the northern edge of the firth (sea inlet), past the lovely fishing village of Anstruther, and you’ll sight the home of golf, St Andrews. Muirfield happens to be home to the Honourable Company of Edinburgh Golfers. The course, hosting the Open for the 16th time, has recently been tweaked by Martin Hawtree. That name may sound familiar to some. The Golden Greens golf course in Gurgaon is his work.
So those who can’t get to Muirfield can find solace in Golden Greens which, I may add, is right up there on my list.
Prabhdev Singh is the founding editor of Golf Digest India and a part-time golfer.