Wednesday, January 6, 2016


Two  things  Lisa and I have learned in our golf travels: (1) our  fellow golfing friends possess a well-spring of  generosity that never runs dry; and (2) following those friends' exhortations to play a particular course or join them in some erstwhile golfing  society has led  to many splendid experiences. But when in  June, 2014, our friends from St. Andrews, David and Barbara Grounds, first suggested the possibility of our marshaling at the 144th Open Championship  at the Old Course in 2015,  it seemed a  fanciful notion  to both of us. Since the topic had been floated  near the end of a happy evening of revelry and imbibing, we were not sure it was  a serious proposal. But when  the Grounds brought the subject up again after we returned to the states, Lisa and I  determined that marshaling at the "Home of Golf"  could make for a great adventure,  and that  with our  friends'  assistance, we could make it happen..

So how does one qualify as a  marshal at the Open Championship? David and Barbara filled us in. Because  various prominent   golf clubs in Fife  are  assigned marshaling responsibilities for  particular holes,  we both  needed to become  members of one of those clubs.  For me that meant joining "The New Golf Club." Lisa would apply for membership at St. Regulus- one of the two ladies golf clubs at St. Andrews. Their clubhouses  lie hard by the Old Course's 18th fairway- an area  which the pros never ever  slice into with their drives.  David and Richard Perry agreed to sponsor me for membership in The New while Richard's wife  (and Barbara Grounds' sister)  Chrissie Perry  did the same for Lisa at St. Regulus.  Joining most clubs in the U.K. does not involve  the sort  of financial commitment required for membership in an American  club. The combined cost of initiation and annual "subscription"  fees is roughly equivalent   to  that which  two months of country club dues would entail  in the U.S. .In  short order, we became proud members of these two esteemed golf clubs.

We decided to make it an extended holiday. Since  we were joining  golf clubs in St. Andrews , we felt we should spend additional  time there playing a few  competitions and getting to know the members. We also wanted to attend the James Braid Golfing Society's meet  in the Scottish Highlands prior  to the Championship. The Braid Society has served as our entrĂ©e into a host of golfing and social activities. We met our St. Andrews friends  at Braid events in earlier years. Those  connections led directly to our opportunity to marshal. at the Open Championship.

After a great week of golf in the Highlands with our Braid Society friends, we arrived in  St. Andrews for our required  Saturday marshals briefing 8 days before the championship week was to begin.  Much of what we were told was common sense stuff:  don't create a confrontation with a patron- call security instead; advise patrons to silence their mobile devices and not take pictures except during practice rounds;  don't talk to the players unless they speak to you; and let the caddies for the most part say "Quiet please" when there is a commotion that bothers the players. We received guidance on handling hole crossings, manning the grandstands, and providing helpful information to the spectators. Much of the briefing focused on marshaling at the 72nd hole of the Championship. It stood to reason that this would be the most likely stage for anyone planning a disruption of the event which could mean anything from  streakers  to  terrorist attacks

 So that Lisa and I could stick together during our marshaling stint, I asked  to be included as part of the St. Regulus squad. Mike Brady, Peter Stanbrook,  and I  would be  the only males  serving with a team of  ladies.  Lisa and I  met our friendly  hole coordinator, Carole Nye, and  her deputy, Val Donaldson at the briefing. Carole issued us sharp and official looking  blue windbreakers, hats, water bottle, backpack, and marshals' handbook. Unlike the gear issued to volunteers at the U.S. Open, our  equipment came free of charge.  We learned that St. Regulus  would take  responsibility  for marshaling at the 10th hole (a par 4) and 11th tee box (a par 3) - part of  the Old Course's "loop" which  turns the players back toward the old town after their outward hike. Carole then  e-mailed our schedule for the week. We were slated for  half-days, mostly in the afternoons.  on the Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday practice rounds, and  the Thursday, Saturday, and Sunday championship rounds.

The R & A closed the Old Course for play  for an extended period prior to the championship. But sightseers and even picnickers were still very much in evidence. We joined them on the Saturday prior to the practice rounds and posed  for  the obligatory family photo on the Swilcan  Bridge.  But then to our astonishment, we  gazed in the distance  and observed  two golfers striding  down the second fairway with a small gallery. How could this be? The course is closed! A course worker, noting our confusion filled us in. "That's Tom Watson and Brent Snedecker." Apparently if you were competing in the championship, you could play the course.

Lisa and I promptly jogged  down the fairway to catch up with the pairing. This was certain  to be an emotional  week for the 5 time Open Champion Watson. Now 65, he would be competing in the Championship for the final time at the Old Course. The R & A would be orchestrating a  send-off to rival  those enjoyed by Palmer and Nicklaus in their last-gasp  competitive efforts at St. Andrews. As championship week would not commence until the following day, there were no gallery ropes restraining us so  we and the other onlookers casually  mingled with the players as they worked their way through and around the ancient hummocks. Caddying for Tom was his son Michael. Surely this sentimental journey would be a great one for father and son to share.

 Snedecker had not previously competed  in an Open Championship on the Old, and Tom freely offered him advice regarding likely pin positions and the preferred routes  into the massive double greens. We were impressed with Tom's unfailing politeness when spectators requested a photograph.
Tom even engaged me in a brief conversation. Well, it was actually  more of a one-way discourse on his part. After observing me carrying a backpack sporting  a St. Andrews University logo, he out of the blue states, "Did you know there were more signers of the Declaration of Independence haling from St. Andrews University than any other institution?"  I did not. As I stopped to  mull this interesting factoid, Tom briskly moved on.  Actually subsequent research indicated that seven signers attended Harvard while only two were alums of St. Andrews. However, I doubt Tom is the sort who  would  have found it helpful to have been  apprised  his information was incorrect.

I was standing next to caddy Michael  when his father mounted the fourth tee. "We are worried about this tee shot. He can't carry the rough on the left to get to the safe area of the fairway," confided Michael. Sure enough, Watson pulled his drive into the heavy grass leading to a bogey. Observing  the 25 to 30 yard  distance difference in Watson and Snedecker's tee balls, I  marveled that Watson had somehow  come within an eyelash of winning his sixth Claret Jug only six years before.

On the par 3 8th, Tom pulled his shot slightly but still finished pin high on the green. It became very important for him to ascertain whether his ball had carried onto the putting surface or bounced there. This launched  a feverish effort on Michael's part to find the faint indentation of a ball mark on the green. This search continued even after the players finished the hole. I even tried to help. Finally, Michael found something  he deemed to be the ball mark- I guess it was.

When we reached the 11th, a  famous par 3 that marks the end of "the loop", Tom stopped for a moment and exclaimed, "This is the hole where Bobby Jones picked up his ball and quit," correctly recalling a historic moment of temper and embarrassment   for  the future winner of the Grand Slam. Then gesturing to the greenside sand surrounding the 11th, he challenged, "Do any of you  know the names   of those two bunkers?" When no one responded, he answered his own question. " The Shell and the Strath. You should know that", he scolded. Whereupon  he laced a piercing mid-iron shot into a freshening  wind  which resulted in his ball settling  15 feet from the hole. His knowledge of American history may be imperfect, but make no mistake- Tom knows golf!

As the players made their way back toward town, it became evident  that word of Watson's unscheduled appearance had spread quickly. An increasing number of enthusiasts  taking advantage of  an opportunity to be up close with the "Master of Links Golf"  had made the scene - and for free to boot!  Then as the players arrived at the 15th tee, the validity of the adage that "it never hurts to ask," was underscored when young and strong  English amateur Alister Balcombe approached Watson and Snedecker and asked the two stars if he could play in with them. Watson unhesitatingly welcomed the youngster and it was a three-ball the rest of the way. Balcombe had just wormed his way into a life-time memory, the tale of which he may well regale his grandchildren 50 years from now. But when he tells the story, he can be excused if he  skips over his nervous tee shot off  15- a dreadful screaming  pull which had to be a bit embarrassing. Snedecker offered consolation. "I do that every time I try to impress him [Tom]," he said ruefully.  Balcombe then settled down and hit several impressive shots.

On 18, Watson graciously posed for photo ops on the ancient bridge. Then he was joined by the other players and caddies. Savoring every moment of the first stage  of his "farewell tour" around the Old, I sensed that he was in no hurry to resume play. After several minutes on the bridge, it was  Michael who  shook  his father out of his reverie and  told him that it was time to move along. "There will be plenty of time for pictures on Sunday!"

Unfortunately, but not unexpectedly, Tom Watson missed the cut and did not make it to what turned out to be a Monday finish. Due to the lengthy weather delays, he finished in the darkness on Saturday night before a much smaller crowd than the R & A had anticipated for the occasion. But for Lisa and me, this  Saturday practice round watching the opening act of  a great champion's farewell  served as its own grand moment.

Sunday was special too. Cousin Judge Jim Case and wife Janice had e-mailed us just a few days before inquiring whether we were in St. Andrews by any chance. It turned out that they were coming over briefly to witness the induction of their great friend, three-time major champion David Graham's induction into the World Golf Hall of Fame which was to take place Monday at St. Andrews University. What a wonderful coincidence! They taxied up from Perth on Sunday to visit. We gave them a whirlwind tour of the castle and cathedral ruins followed by lunch at Dunvegan's.  Then  we headed  over to  the Old Course  so they could check it out. Upon  arriving at  the second tee,  we were informed  that Tiger Woods and  Jason Dufner,  had just  teed off  on that hole.  They  had  skipped  the first hole, perhaps to avoid  the attention of the crowd. Yes, Tiger Woods was mired in an unprecedented slump, but we considered it  a big deal to catch him in action. He flashed some game, comfortably driving the 9th hole par 4, but then chilly-dipped a simple  chip on the 10th.

When  the four of us reached the Road Hole 17th, we agreed  liquid refreshment to be in order, so we set up shop on the outdoor veranda of the Jigger Inn- St. Andrews' favorite watering hole. Downing a Guinness  while basking in the afternoon sun with great friends  at the Home of Golf- I don't see how it can get much better!

After seeing Jim and Janice away after our  too-brief visit, we motored  over to David and Barbara's house, a little over a mile from the R & A clubhouse.   With kindness that cannot be over-estimated, they offered to put us up at their lovely Hepburn Gardens home for the week. That really helped our travel budget because housing in the city during the week of the Open Championship  cost  a small fortune. Bunking in with us were Peter and Alison Stanbrook from Sussex, England (pictured below).

 We had met them  at a prior Braid Society event, and we were eager to renew their  acquaintance. Both the Grounds and the Stanbrooks were also serving  during the Open. The Stanbrooks , like us, volunteered as marshals  as part of the St. Regulus team.  Both David and Barbara  Grounds would  serve as official scorers. I am sure the six of us would have spent  a wonderful time  together under any circumstances, but the fact that all of us had duties  at the Open Championship  would transform  our stay into a wonderful bonding experience.

Monday, our first day of marshaling, dawned overcast and windy. Conditions never really improved the rest of the week. With some hesitance, we elected to drive to the course from Hepburn Gardens. This meant giving up our off-street parking spot with no guarantee  we could find another one close-by upon our return. But if we walked all the way from   the Grounds' residence  out to our station on the 10th hole- the farthest point of the course from town- that would necessitate  a  2 .5 mile walk each way. Considering we were going to be on our feet during the  shift, that amount of  additional walking struck us as excessive.

Upon arriving at the 10th tee, Carole handed out our daily meal tickets and  marching orders. I would be stationed in the left rough of the tenth with the primary task of spotting the contestants' tee shots  and making sure the spectators did not interfere with the action or move inside the ropes. Lisa would work the tee box.

 Shortly after making the trek to my position, I saw two male spectators  mingling inside the ropes with the players about 100 yards away.  Aha! Time for action! I started walking in their direction prepared to restore order.  But they both approached me with big smiles on their faces. Then I recognized them: ABC announcers Mike Tirico  and Sean McDonough. Media, of course, were permitted  inside the ropes. I segued into friendly mode and introduced myself to the broadcasters. They, like many folks we encountered,  expressed wonder in how an American landed a marshaling gig.

I watched 30 groups or more pass by me, and not one player missed  the 10th fairway! It is a good thing that none of them pulled one in my direction because I rarely could pick up the flight of the tee shots. One problem with marshaling the late shift is that we stay on premise  until (1) the last player tees off on 11, and (2)  "GS 1" (security) releases us from our duties. Generally the players finished their practice rounds by  8 pm, so we were not overly inconvenienced. After returning  our armbands  back to Carole Monday evening, Lisa and I  headed back to the Grounds residence. Notwithstanding their own hard work at the championship, David and Barbara  prepared a lovely meal for all of us. Most evenings of the week were spent gathered  together at the Grounds' dinner table and parlor as we regaled each other with tales of our daily experiences, some of which were undoubtedly  embellished by the fuel of liquid refreshment.

The St. Regulus team of marshals rotated the varying duties of marshaling  throughout the week. It was comparatively easy and fun working the tee boxes and the fairway. Manning the crossing at the 10th tee  in the proper manner was slightly more onerous-  as the crowds increased throughout the week so did the level of noise  thus necessitating more active crowd control.  Way down the pecking order of preferred duties was a shift at the refreshment area which involved  controlling the noise of the diners and the often  boisterous drinking crowd.  You couldn't see any golf, and people in that  area always  had to be reminded to keep quiet during play.

 But the hardest assignment  by far was manning the grandstand during one of the championship rounds.  Seats in the stand bordering the 10th green and 11th tee were among the most coveted on the course.  From that vantage point, a fan could watch play on four holes (8 through 11). The stand filled up quickly during our Thursday shift and two long lines of spectators waited with increasing impatience  for seats to open up. I worked one entry point with Eileen Marshall. She is the most pleasant of women, but could strike a serious take-charge mien when circumstances warranted. And on this day they did. As the stands filled up, she turned to me and said, "Bill, we are really going to have to be on our mettle today."  I cannot recall using the word  "mettle" in the past,  but I think I will now.  In any event, Eileen  knew what she was talking about.

The big problem was spectators leaving the grandstand  to buy a drink or hit the loo and then  returning to their seats in the stands. People who had been waiting patiently in line understandably objected. Whether it was an oversight or not, we had not been schooled in our training how to handle this predicament. When someone would  say, "my family is up there!" we would  let him  in. One guy approached the entrance to the stands  with four Styrofoam drinks held end-to-end. I did not feel comfortable turning him away.  Aware of the increasing disturbance,  a  representative from the Chief Marshal's office appeared to provide counsel. "Once they leave, they can't come back in without going through the line again." The representative made the point that as many people as possible should have a chance to view the action.  Well that caused its own problems. I had advised a couple of fans they could come back after leaving, and I could not very well turn them away. But to let them in brought forth more complaints from those stalled in line.  Lisa and her partner on the other side of the grandstand were experiencing identical difficulties. We kept calm and avoided confrontation.  Once the likes of Jordan Speith, Jason Day, and Rory Mcilroy  passed by, the crowd suddenly diminished and the pressure  subsided.

Still it was fun. The fact that the day's work provided a challenge gave Lisa and me a feeling of making an important contribution to the operation of the most important golf championship in the world. We were tired by day's end but rallied for a delicious fish  dinner thereafter with fellow Braid Society members and marshals, Michel and Claire Joullie  from France.

Lisa and I had  Friday off, and that was a relief  because it was the worst weather day of what proved to be a  blustery championship. Play was suspended late in Friday's play due to prevailing high winds. Golf balls were being blown off some of the greens-  most notably at the par 3 11th- the highest point on the course. We whiled away the afternoon taking a tour of the new distillery at Kingsbarns and checking out various coffee shops in town. One young server bestowed on us  an appreciated random act of kindness by comping our piping hot coffee at Janettas Gelateria. We along with the Grounds and Stanbrooks journeyed over to the home of  Richard and Chrissie Perry for  a delightful dinner party. Lisa and I were forever pinching ourselves that we had made lasting friendships at the home of the game.

Our next shift was slated for Saturday afternoon. But play was halted again shortly after it began in the morning as the winds were still unrelenting. When we arrived for our shift at 2 pm, play had not restarted. By now,  it was apparent that the  championship could not  conclude by Sunday as scheduled. Despite the suspension of play,  there were still many people milling  around our station at "The Loop."  Many had traveled  a great distance  just to witness Saturday's play and  it was unfortunate  that there was no golf for them to watch. But  everyone remained in good humor. The delay gave Lisa and me an opportunity to converse with our fellow volunteers from St. Regulus.

It was late in the day before play restarted.  With only a couple of hours of daylight remaining, the goal was simply to finish the second round. There were only a handful of golfers  who had yet to play through our position at the loop. One was Daniel Brooks, a 28 year old Englishman who stood no chance of making the cut. I was standing behind him on the 11th when he lashed his iron into the  still-stiff left-to-right cross-wind. His  ball, unlike most shots we observed,  managed to hold the chosen  line  just left of the pin. Upon landing, the ball scooted right, and lo and behold trickled unerringly  into the cup-the first hole-in-one in the championship since 2012! If you ever happen to see a replay of Brooks' shot, you will catch  me in the background behind the tee.

Given that the championship would be  spilling over to Monday, Carole inquired of all the marshals as to their  availability. We expressed to her our plans  to journey down to northern England's beautiful  Lake District on Monday morning. Carole nodded her consent indicating that there should be plenty of marshals available and she had  "no worries" in excusing us. But as we wearily  sauntered back to Hepburn Gardens, (we did not drive to the course after Thursday- the walk wasn't that exhausting after all)  Lisa and I confessed to each other  sort of an empty feeling.  Certainly a  part of us  wanted to  see the championship through alongside  the rest of the St. Regulus squad. By the time we reached our lodgings, the Grounds and Stanbrooks already had prepared  a fine feast for us. This was followed by   parlor  putting instruction  earnestly provided jointly by Peter and David to hapless me. I don't think any of my putts  dented any  furniture  because I could never seem to get the ball to even graze  the targeted  table legs. My ineptitude  provided plenty of grist for David's droll humor.

Upon reporting for duty on the 10th tee on Sunday at 2 pm, we checked with  Carole to make sure  she could do without us on Monday. To our surprise,  she responded that she could definitely make good  use  of us "if it would not be too much trouble."  Lisa and I were in for the duration now, and  we both felt that was the way it ought to be. Sunday's play marked the ascendance of unheralded Irish amateur Paul Dunne who set all sorts of records in shooting to the top of the leaderboard along with former Open champion Louis Oosthuizen. Right on the heels of this pair lurked mega-stars  Jordan Speith, Zach Johnson, Jason Day, Sergio Garcia, Mark Leishman, Adam Scott, and Justin Rose. Speith's bid to capture the third leg of the Grand Slam was very much alive.

At dinner that evening, we learned that Barbara Grounds would be scoring  the final round for Zach Johnson.  Little did any of us realize what a  memorable assignment this would be for our  host (see Barbara scoring for Johnson below).

 For much of Monday's play, I was back again  patrolling  the left rough on number 10. The tenth was playing downwind and nearly all  of the players were taking dead aim at the green 386 yards away. Zach Johnson, not known as a big hitter, went for it also. He caught a great break.  His ball landed on a very narrow downslope which helped propel his ball another 75  yards.  Zach came by my position and seemed puzzled when he did not located his ball right away. "Where's my ball?" he inquired. "You are on the green sir!" I responded. And so he was. Two putts gave him a much-needed birdie. Zach was in the midst of a tear of six consecutive 3s  which ultimately brought him a tie for the championship. That gigantic and  fortuitous bounce off the downslope may have made the difference.

Once the final group of Oostuizen and Dunne came through, the St. Regulus marshals  gathered behind the second green for our assignments on  the 72nd hole. We would be manning  the rope line to the left of 18 (and right of number 1).

 We were conscious of our responsibility to be on the lookout for any misconduct, but we still found time to see both Day and Speith barely miss putts on 18 that would have included them in the first place tie.  Leishman, Zach Johnson , and Louis Oostuizen were the principals in the 5 hole playoff. When Zach's par on 18 closed out the championship, the crowd's deafening and heartfelt roar reverberated through the "old grey toon."

A further great moment awaited us after the presentation. Zach with Claret Jug in hand, circled the arena Cal Ripken style and slapped everyone's hand along the way. That included Lisa and me and the other  marshals stationed on the rope line at Granny Clark's Wind.

Our final dinner with the Grounds and Stanbrooks  marked the end of an  unforgettable week, and we all had tales to tell. Barbara was exhilarated over being part of  Zach's triumphant final round. She mentioned that he effusively expressed his  appreciation  for the efforts of  the  volunteers in his group. Marshaling at the Open Championship is an experience we will always treasure. The championship itself was memorable of course, but the camaraderie of great friends is what we will cherish the most.

P.S. One week later we were back in St. Andrews and David arranged a game for us on the Old 
(below Lisa drives off 1 with David and friend Umi watching).

Then Barbara and David joined us for a round on the New Course. You can tell from David's follow-through (below)  that he is proficient at hitting a running draw that works very well in the Scottish winds.

We hope to be back soon.