ST. ANDREWS, SCOTLAND | The blackboard next to the front entrance of the Dunvegan Hotel at the start of the week gave no clues as to what was on the dinner menu. Instead, it touched on the townsfolk’s concerns regarding the weather ahead of the 150th Open.
Sheena Willoughby, who along with her husband, Jack, owned the Dunvegan for 25 years and still has a vested interest in the business, penned a verse for every morning, starting on Monday:
“Finally, it’s almost here,
the weather is too good I fear.
We want the Sun but the wind to blow,
Scottish golfers to put on a show….”
As much as wishing the best for her compatriots, she wanted what was right for the Old Course.
Perhaps as never before, climate change, of which we are warned on a regular basis, captured the attention of golfing Scotland.
On the Sunday before the Open, the temperature in St. Andrews was 29.3 degrees Celsius (84.75 Fahrenheit), the third-highest recording in July in the past 100 years. One day later, it was nearly as high, at 26.27 Celsius (79.3 Fahrenheit). After that, conditions were altogether more familiar: testing winds on Thursday and rain on Friday by way of what could have been nothing more than a short reprieve before a return to the heat-wave scenario.
Looking to the future, Chris Lock, the Open’s onsite meteorologist, confirmed that while an extreme heatwave was unlikely to coincide with the next Open at St. Andrews – it could be in 2030, if Tiger Woods and Jon Rahm have been correctly advised – the average temperature will have risen and the summer will be drier. Though the Old Course still will be entirely manageable, it goes without saying that it will need more watering.
Already, the greenkeeping department has invested in technology to control water usage. However, when Global Golf Post asked whether desalinated water from the adjacent North Sea was a possibility, a representative said that it is featuring in regular reviews of irrigation processes, albeit not as an immediate plan.
As for the other knock-on effects of climate change, club makers will have to adjust their clubs and golfers will need to find a new level of touch, feel and intuition.
“When you’re up there leading the Open, you worry about hitting a lob wedge out of bounds because of a bare lie off the fairway.”
Over in the equipment vans, TaylorMade’s Sam Day predicted that they would be taking the bounce out of more wedges at the 158th Open at St. Andrews. That was on the basis of how as many as 75 percent of players had asked for that adjustment to be made the moment they stepped foot onto the slippery, sun-baked links last week.
Rory McIlroy said he was using a lob wedge with less bounce after his opening 66, and he was wondering whether he could do with less bounce again. “When you’re up there leading the Open, you worry about hitting a lob wedge out of bounds because of a bare lie off the fairway,” he said.
Robert MacIntyre hit on “the extra imagination” involved was at times something akin to crazy golf over the practice days. “You’re going to need a lot more of that, especially if you start talking pins,” he said. “You've got to really create angles to get near them.”
In which connection, nothing was as much fun over the four days as watching the progress of a ball which, having hit the ground, would take off on a route which took into account all sorts of mounds and dips which no one would have noticed in more ordinary conditions.
When Ian Poulter was asked whether he had sorted out a line for himself for his 150-foot putt he holed from across the ninth green on Thursday, he replied in the affirmative. “I did, bizarrely. As flat as that green is, I kind of hit it two cups out to the right, if you can ever figure out a line two cups to the right. I knew it might wander a hair right to left in the middle of its journey.” At that point, he stopped to remind his audience that anything inside 6 feet from 150 feet qualifies as “a helluva putt and beyond lucky.”
Luck had come into it all right, but it went hand in hand with an instinct sharpened by more than two dozen years of experience over Open Championship links.
That clothes selection made for as much trouble as club selection last week was not just down to the heat but the amount of lost luggage. Those overseas visitors who very sensibly make a point of arriving in the U.K. in something warm – whatever the time of year – hurried to the merchandise tent. As early as Tuesday, the best in the 150th Open-logoed summer shirts had gone. By Thursday, the same shoppers were ruing what they saw as their unnecessary purchases and looking for extra sweaters.
Meanwhile, with nothing in the way of rain, Richmond Agencies, which had supplied the R&A with 2,000 golf umbrellas, understandably was seeing its week as something of an unmitigated disaster. Then the heavens opened for a couple of hours on Friday morning and everything took a turn for the better. Before lunch, 60 to 70 percent of Richmond’s stock had disappeared.
At some point, we will hear how much money the R&A made over the week.
Top: Rory McIlroy during the third round