When watching an Open, either onsite or via television broadcast, it’s worth remembering that each Open venue – with the exception of the Old Course at St Andrews – belongs to a golf club. This week the field is playing at Royal Liverpool Golf Club, whose historical significance in golf is magnificently documented in the book The Long Golden Afternoon by Stephen Proctor. What is the role of a host club for an Open? Basically, it’s to prepare the course and to co-operate with the R&A organisation, allowing the erection of stands, hospitality tents and so forth. As such, the task of the club captain, secretary-manager and superintendent during the year leading up to the championship can be one fraught with worry.
Club secretaries and superintendents are the recipients of all kinds of complaints from members and even visitors. One club secretary-manager at a famous Lancashire club told me of a furious note from a lady member blasting him because “‘”the scones are the wrong shape”. The same man, stoicism personified, was also upbraided by a member saying, “The soup is too meaty.” He replied, “Well, Sir, that’s odd because today it’s vegetable soup.”
Superintendents, likewise, are frequent targets for attack, often heavily blamed for the vicissitudes of the weather and matters of Nature. Richard Forsyth, the highly valued superintendent of Royal Melbourne, was once accused of letting the grass get “too green”. He was also urged to check the diameter of the holes because “they seem too small”. And, “‘”Can we please have the greens softer for the women and firmer for the men?”
There’s been plenty of comment this week about Hoylake’s fearsome pot bunkers with their revetted faces. As the golf writer John Huggan correctly observed, revetted faces are not an old tradition on links courses by any means. Indeed, the enlarged black-and-white photo of my father in the Royal Liverpool men’s locker room shows him playing out of a bunker in 1956, and there is no revetting at all to see. Doubtless revetting helps preserve the shape of a bunker, but when taken to an extreme it does have a rather unnatural look about it.
This year the R&A has a new slogan painted all over the stands on the course: ‘Forged By Nature.’ Nature, they say? Would it be too churlish to point out the possibility of a contradiction between this slogan and all the revetted bunker faces? Dear me, I hear you cry, the greatest mashie-niblick player in south-western Japan (i.e. your diarist) is entirely misguided. After all, the R&A does put on the best golf tournament in the world, best by a long way. Let me make my position clear: if Martin Slumbers is not either knighted or given a peerage soon I’ll be on the phone to the King about it.
Since we’re here in Liverpool, birthplace of The Beatles, John Lennon’s famous song “Imagine” frequently comes to mind. Imagine if golf clubs had never begun raking bunkers, such that bunkers would represent a danger so ferocious that players would do their utmost to avoid them. An up-and-down from the sand would be almost impossible. Imagine how much more carefully players would go about their game. Beyond doubt, scores would be higher, but the game wouldn’t, I contend, be more boring. On the contrary, the thrill of pitching over unraked bunkers successfully would be all the greater. After all, as my father once pointed out, we don’t rake the rough.
It may, I admit, be some years before the R&A (and possibly the entire golf world) comes to realise the excellence of my argument, but I am a patient man. The failure of the world generally to accept my conception of an unraked bunker as an object of great beauty is hardly, I assure you, a personal setback. As a well-informed Irishman once remarked, lunacy tends to blunt a fellow’s antennae.
There wasn’t much wind today but there were plenty of showers. A shower of birdies, however, was not apparent on the scorecard of Adam Scott, although Cam Smith began to show his powers of genius on the final hole yesterday with an eagle, following that up today with a steady string of birdies and only two pesky bogeys. This man’s golf is as brilliant as his hairstyle is ghastly. We are, however, not here to scrutinise his grooming but to see him hoist that claret jug again.
Saturday, though, belonged to the mighty Jon Rahm, who came home in 30 to card a 63. Conditions were ideal, yes, the course soft and the wind absent, but it was a very strong performance. Rory McIlroy, who looked in more pain than Saint Sebastian yesterday, took to the course with a different sort of confidence today, though again he failed to catch fire.
Messrs Lee and Day teed off after three o’clock – the late hour is, according to some, a slavish gesture to please the American TV networks – and went about their tasks in different fashions, Day making birdie on the first two holes but Lee messing up the opening hole to record the first of quite a few tragic bogeys. Aristotle simply wasn’t with him today.
Rahm, Hovland, and Young, were outstanding, and the tough little bloke from Georgia, Brian Harman, showed true grit. Let’s remember something: among the past Open champions at Hoylake is a man from Georgia. His name was Bobby Jones.
Sunday is going to be a glorious battle.
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