TROON IN ’73…A REAL EYE-OPEN-ER!

Bob Shields

My humble boozer’s walls are plastered with posters, pictures, prints and all kind of pub paraphernalia… but the one thing you’ll never see is a calendar.

I only have to glance at the TV screens and I can tell you the day, the date, the month, the year… and probably the time!

The pub trade keeps its own calendar – through sport!

The action begins in earnest around February and March when Six Nations international rugby takes us from Edinburgh to Rome, Dublin, Cardiff, London and Paris. For one week only there’s a diversionary event at Cheltenham… and usually some folk rowing up the Thames.

April is a shower of sport – from the sloping greens at Augusta National to their perfectly flat equivalent at the World Snooker Championships in Sheffield. The going is a bit heavier for the big Grand National meetings at Aintree and Ayr.

And May is the month of champions. The first weekend traditionally sees snooker’s crowning moment at The Crucible.

The remaining weeks will reveal a host of other champions – in all the major football leagues and in cup finals at Hampden, Wembley and across Europe.

But, hey… all of the above are just warm-ups for a sizzling summer of sporting action!
Wimbledon, Euro2024 football in Germany featuring Scotland, plus the Olympics and Para-Olympic Games in Paris. There’s Royal Ascot, the Tour de France, and Solheim Cup golf.

But for Ayrshire, one week in particular will stand out.

From July 18 to 21, the greatest golfers in the world will flock to Troon for the 152nd Open golf championship. My first Open was back in 1973 when I was a junior reporter at the Ayrshire Post… and Troon wasn’t even “Royal”! The course had to wait until its 1978 centenary for that distinction.

Before ’73, I thought a big golf tournament was the Tam O’Shanter Trophy event at Ayr’s Belleisle. But there I was – just old enough to start shaving but not old enough to start drinking – with an ‘Access All Areas’ Press Pass to the greatest golf tournament in the world!

On that opening day of Wednesday July 11th – the Open was staged Wednesday to Saturday until 1980 – I literally didn’t know where to look.

Palmer to my left, Nicklaus to my right, Player on the hole in front, some Scottish kid called Bernard Gallagher behind me… and Lee Trevino on the first tee.

‘Supermex’ was going for a hat-trick of Open wins and was my favourite golfer at the time. Now aged 84, he probably still is. A tenacious competitor, he still found room for a sense of humour in his golf bag and would wise-crack with anyone during his round, even his opponents.

When Jack Nicklaus once warned him on the first tee that he didn’t like to talk during a match, Trevino told him, “You don’t have to talk Jack, you just have to listen.”

Perhaps his most memorable quip of all is when he advised fellow golfers to hold up a one-iron in the event of being caught in a lightning storm.

“Yep…” mused Trevino, “… even God can’t hit a one iron!”

As well as the action on the course, this young correspondent got his first experience of a truly world class media event. In the Press Tent – in those pre-electronic days – lads and lassies scampered up ladders to place numbered cards on the giant master scoreboard.

Sadly, I missed the moment a single ‘1’ was placed against the legendary Gene Sarazen’s score. Aged 71 and playing in the final major of his career, Gene bowed out with an ace at the famous “Postage Stamp” eight hole.

At the end of every round, the leading players would take centre stage and answer the questions that would make tomorrow morning’s headlines. I was too shy to ask a question. In fact, I was too shy to even talk to my fellow journalists! I was rubbing shoulders with my heroes – legends like The Observer’s Hugh McIlvanney and the Daily Mail’s Ian Wooldridge – but couldn’t even bring myself to say “hello”.

Thankfully, that was to change over the years as I grew in confidence, and maybe gained a bid of standing in my profession.

Twenty-three years later, I was covering the Frank Bruno v Mike Tyson fight at the MGM Grand in Las Vegas when Kilmarnock born McIlvanney spotted me enter the hotel bar and waved me over.

“Have a drink, Bob,” he smiled, “we’re probably the only two * from Ayrshire here!”

That was 1996, and a year later I would meet Hugh again at The Open championship at Royal Troon!

I’ve been to five Open championships of the ten that Troon has hosted, and each time the ‘Claret Jug’ headed west across the Atlantic with Messrs Weiskopf (73), Watson (82), Calcavecchia (89), Leonard (97) and Hamilton (2004).

I was on holiday in 2016 when Henrik Stenson ended a run of USA winners that stretched back to Arnold Palmer in 1962.

Will an American take the trophy home this year? Er… I hope not!

I’m having a punt on England’s Tommy Fleetwood who finished third in this year’s Masters and could be coming onto form. I think Tommy’s got a “major” in him, but I said that about Colin Montogomery for two winless decades!

Each way, I will put a fiver on Ludvig Aberg, the young golfer from Sweden tipped to be Europe’s answer to Tiger Woods.

But the real winner in July will hopefully be South Ayrshire. Let’s make the world welcome.

And hopefully, the sun will smile down on us as well.

As Lee Trevino once quipped, “Golf? In Scotland? You get the four seasons in one backswing!”

*Bob Shields is a former assistant editor, chief writer and columnist at the Scottish Daily Record and Ayrshire Post columnist for fifteen years.