Friday 1 October 2010

Eight shots

The Ryder Cup is my favourite sporting event, and has been ever since Largs' finest, Sam Torrance, sunk the winning putt at the Belfry back in 1985 to wrest the trophy from the USA for the first time in 28 years. It has grown into one of the top three most-watched events worldwide, behind the Olympics and World Cup, and, for me, its appeal is in the unique nature of the contest: it is the only "proper" world sport that features Europe v USA. All that said, I've never been a great fan of watching golf live. The TV close-ups of the players, the putts, the lies and the layout generally far exceed the neck-craning, uncertainty, discomfort and the occasional close proximity to a well-known face that comes with attending a tournament. So, when my colleague, Ian Muir, extended the offer, on IBM's behalf, to attend the first day's play at Celtic Manor, I did briefly weigh up my options. I already had the day off booked, and a marathon stint on the couch beckoned.

However, it would be foolish to turn down the chance, so, on Thursday morning I rose early to fly down to Luton with Ian. A stomach-churning taxi-ride took the "scenic" route to Heythrop Park near Chipping Norton where we were taking up the invitation of an OpenLogic golf day. OpenLogic are IBM partners so we were meeting up with Craig Durham and Stephen Park Brown, Craig being our IBM host and Stephen another IBM client. My golf was predictably wayward, as I haven't played all year and I was using rented clubs. The course wouldn't have been particularly testing had I had some practice. It lacked some good driving holes and was rather quirkily laid out around the grounds of an old house but we had an enjoyable, if rather long, round.

Eschewing the food due to be on offer (it was late and Craig and Stephen likened the adjoining hotel to "Fawlty Towers", having stayed there the night before), we travelled on to the Bristol Hotel in Bristol in the back of Stephen's Jag, which was a much more comfortable ride. We enjoyed some fine IBM hospitality with a meal in the Bordeaux Quay but by now the rain was on and the terrible weather forecast looked likely to be spot on.

Wakening early, but not early enough to go for the first, 0615 bus, Ian and I joined the others on the 0745 bus from the hotel into Wales and on to Celtic Manor, near Newport. The journey took about an hour and the rain was lashing down. The Severn was barely visible in the murky morning. Parking was fine but there was a bit of logjam getting through the airport style security (no mobile phones or cameras allowed) before we could walk down the very steep path behind the clubhouse and the course beyond.

During the descent it became apparent that the new holes built to accommodate the Ryder Cup were in fact on the flood plain of a river which looped around the course, and the course itself was effectively in a gorge. In other words, the chances of Celtic Manor staying dry in the rain were on a par (ho!) with me featuring in the European team. The course was sodden.

I made my way across the 18th and down towards the opening holes where the crowds appeared to be huddling together for survival. Trying to negotiate the steeply banked and increasingly muddy rough and walkways was treacherous. I saw one person go down: there must have been a few over the course of the day. Finally I reached the fourth hole in time to see Graeme McDowall and Rory McIlroy ("Big Mac" and "Little Mac") take forever over their approaches, drying clubs and so on. Stewart Cink and Matt Kuchar were similarly laboured in their preparations as the wind-driven rain battered into the players. McDowall played a great recovery from a near-plugged lie in the bunker by the green to secure a par and win the hole, to the soggy cheers of the partisan crowd. By then, Tiger Woods and Steve Stricker had driven but there was an inordinate delay while the cast of vice-captains, media and course stewards and everyone else who seemed to have a role that allowed them inside the ropes, conversed over walkie-talkies. A moustachioed senior media marshal near us informed his drenched team and us that they were suspending play.

I saw eight shots.

I was more fortunate than the other saturated spectators who then had little option but to crowd into the tented village, mill about in the rain or, inexplicably, sit in the stands for hours on end. At least I was able to climb back up to the Kidwelly Pavilion hospitality suite where, from the balcony outside IBM's box, I had a splendid view of the 16th green and fairway. I was able to watch, throughout the remainder of the day, as the fairway approximated to a river, a third of the green became flooded, and the bunker almost filled to the brim with water. After a splendid lunch, by which time I had dried to dampness, the rain really came on. It was a downpour of biblical proportions. Water was cascading off the roof of the pavilion, to add to the mass of mud on the steep bank below us which looked increasingly like a chocolate blancmange, one more heavy shower away from a landslide. Despite the odd distraction such as ex-Olympic runner Jamie Baulch being in our box, meeting Stephen Leonard, head of IBM UK, noting Sam Torrance in the box next door and excusing my way past Gareth Edwards, honorary captain of the sodden Twenty Ten course (I last bumped into Gareth at East Renfrewshire golf club in 1983, in the locker room, shortly before briefly trapping Telly Savalas, who was hosting a "Celebrity Show-Am" golf tournament, between the locker and gents' toilet doors), it was a dispiriting day. The valley would clear briefly, only for another bank of cloud and rain to roll down minutes later.

Ian and I had to return on a 1600 bus in order to get a taxi to Bristol Airport. It was particularly galling to see play resume at 1700, with the sun putting in a belated appearance too. We watched some of it on TV in the lounge at the Bristol Hotel, awaiting our taxi.

So, was this my one and only day at the Ryder Cup? Will eight shots be all I ever see live? Who knows. The 2014 edition is at Gleneagles, but I suspect I'll still have a preference for watching on the telly.

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