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The bounteous joys of summer
From Loch Lomond to Sunningdale, four hectic weeks produced as many worthy champions and more than one or two talking points

July brings a feast of golf on TV. This year is, it was four continuous weeks of prestigious stuff, starting with the Scottish Open at Loch Lomond and followed by the Open Championship at Royal Birkdale, the British Seniors at Royal Troon and the Women’s British Open at Sunningdale. Due to my association with the BBC and America's ABC/ESPN/Walt Disney organisations, I was gainfully employed at all of them, and what a wonderful pleasure they were.

Loch Lomond is always a treat, especiallywhen you get to stay at one of the lodges at the Cameron House Hotel,which has just been enlarged and expensively refurbished. The course is rather an enigma. There is no doubt that when the weather is benign, it is one of the most beautiful
places imaginable. It is secretive and beguiling. There is always had an air of mystery about it. Rumours abounded that Lyle Anderson, the charming American entrepreneur whose company created Loch Lomond, was in the process of selling it to a Middle East conglomerate – possibly yet another deal sourced in Dubai, perhaps? Anyhow, the golf was exciting, the crowds came, and if golf at the highest level continues to be played there, then once they work out a system of getting the spectators home after the event it will be near perfection.

On to Royal Birkdale for the Open. Situated a mile or two south of the fair town of Southport, Birkdale is one of the very best championship venues. The crowds came in huge numbers and were entertained to some splendid golf, particularly from Padraig Harrington, who retained his title in magnificent style. The last two hours of play were some of the most exciting I’ve seen for a long time. My heart wanted Greg Norman to win but my head thought Harrington, if he played his game on Sunday, really had the best chance of victory. And so it proved.

At 53, Greg Norman rolled back the years at the Open to produce
a performance for the ages

I wonder what would have happened if Norman had been the victor? Would he have retired on the spot? “That’s it, ladies and gentlemen. I don’t think I’ll be able to cap these last four days, so in future I’ll concentrate on my tennis with my new wife.” I suppose we’ll never know. Maybe Greg doesn’t either. I suppose Tiger Woods was missed but, on the other hand, he wasn’t. Harrington won with him in the field in 2007 and without him in 2008. He’s a tremendous champion – as he so emphatically went on to prove at Oakland Hills.

Back up to Scotland and Troon for the Seniors. After the buffeting winds
of Birkdale, Troon was wonderfully benign. A modest wind blew, but it changed direction and fooled many of the mighty men. Norman was once more in the field but victory was not to be his, nor Tom Watson’s. Instead Bruce Vaughan, a former fireman from the United States, kept his nerve and came out victorious, winning after a playoff with another American, John Cook.

I stayed at the Loch Green Hotel, perched on the high ground, no more than a mile or so from the links, and what a rare treat that was. First-class accommodation, glorious food and friendly staff. What more could you wish for?

Next year the event will be played at Sunningdale, the first time it will have been moved away from links/championship courses. I look forward to seeing how that goes.

And talking of Suningdale… well, at the Women’s British Open, the Asians swept the board. They came from South Korea, Taiwan and Japan and battered everyone into submission with their brilliant play and calm demeanour. Some rather harsh things were said about the lack of talent being produced in Britain considering the amount ofmoney being spent by various organisations to encourage improvement, which was
probably inevitable in the circumstances.

Due to political correctness, most people tiptoe round the reasons why Asia, particularly South Korea, is producing so many brilliant women golfers yet not so many men. Even inthis day and age, it seems, girls born to Asian families are not considered to be “worth” as much as boys. For years it was music and dance – children spent hours practising various
instruments allied to the dance and gymnastics. Then, perhaps 20 years ago, someone introduced them to golf. It was a way of escape. It was something “acceptable” for them to do, if talented enough, and thereby they could reap huge rewards. Children as young as seven, eight, nine were practising for several hours a day, every day. After a day on the course, they’d repair to their hotel room and practise their putting, trying to get to a situation where they would never miss from three feet.

On they were driven, although I imagine that for every success there will be 50 or 60 failures. We have been informed that there are over 1,000 young women in South Korea who have a handicap of scratch or less. Someone remarked they doubted there were a hundred young girls with a handicap of scratch or less in the whole of Great Britain.

The Asian impact is all very commendable but to me there is a slight whiff of the East Germany and Russia of many years ago, when young athletes and gymnasts came to various Games slight in stature, young in years, yet able to perform the most incredible feats, ever being driven on by the state or the family. When you don’t know all the facts it’s hard to be critical, but somehow the business of ‘battery-farmed’ sports people has a hint of George Orwell about it, and I’m not sure, at the end of the day, whether that’s a good thing.

September 2008

Reproduced with kind permission of Golf International Magazine


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