Late on Saturday morning, a little before lunch, a barman carried three cases of champagne in through the back door of the Royal & Ancient clubhouse by the back of the 1st tee. It was, after all, shaping up to be a long afternoon, and so only sensible to lay in some fresh supplies for the members.
From the inside, they will have had a fine view of the thousands of people milling around the Old Course, enjoying, or rather enduring, one of the strangest days in the 155-year history of The Open. Play started at 7am, lasted for exactly 32 minutes and then stopped for the next 10 hours while everyone waited, and waited, and waited, for the wind to drop to “acceptable levels”.
Exactly what “acceptable” meant was not clear. Whatever it was, it was not what the R&A believed it to be when play started at 7am. Started everywhere, that is, except at the 11th green, where Brooks Koepka refused to address his ball because it was wobbling in the wind. Instead, he spent half an hour repeatedly asking for new rulings from the R&A officials, while the play backed up behind him. Some of the other players out there must have wished they had followed suit. Louis Oosthuizen was lining up a two-foot putt till a gust blew his ball four feet across the green.
After the players were called in, the R&A explained that conditions had deteriorated in the half hour play had been under way. Not everyone agreed. “We should never have started‚” said Jordan Spieth. In all, 52 holes were completed in those 32 minutes, and they included 16 bogeys and four double bogeys, for a combined score to par of +21.
Having erred once, the R&A seemed to be so determined not to make the same mistake again that they ended up making an altogether different one. By the middle of the afternoon, the sun was out, the skies blue and the wind, while still stiff, was not nearly as strong as it had been in the morning.
Conditions were difficult but not impossible. Plenty have played in worse. And given that there is more rain forecast on both Sunday and Monday, you would think they might have shown at least a little more urgency.
At first, it all felt almost endearingly shambolic, redolent of old-school amateurism. But as the day wore on, the charm rather wore off. And when the R&A issued a press release explaining that anyone wanting to claim the 60% refund on their £70 ticket would have to “apply in writing”, any lingering sympathy for the club was entirely exhausted and they were subjected to a barrage of abuse on social media.
Which, if it achieved nothing else, was at least a way for the spectators to kill some time. Forty thousand fans had come in anticipation of one of the great days of sport, and found, instead, that the only thing to do was wander aimlessly around the otherwise empty links.
It is one of the quirks of the Old Course that the land is open to the public on Sundays. Open week is, in fact, one of the few exceptions to the rule. So if those same fans had come on pretty much any other weekend this year they could have done exactly the same thing they were doing now, only for free, and without being roped off from the fairways. Many soon tired of trekking around in circles and beat a retreat into St Andrews. Soon enough every pub was packed. A few found bars with television sets so they could follow the Test match at Lord’s.
Others made for the shops or the British golf museum, where, astonishingly enough, the queues to see the collection of antique clubs stretched back for 30m beyond the front door.
The dedicated decided to sit it out. Thousands of hardy souls took up spots in the grandstands so they could watch the grass grow. Outside, behind the 1st tee, a couple of young musicians put down a hat in the old Victorian bandstand, there being few things, of course, that help pass the time like being forced to listen to a beginner playing the bagpipes.
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