One of the many, many great things about golf, is that any player of any standard can play on the same courses as the greatest players of all time. It is hard to imagine walking out on the pitch at Croke Park, Anfield, Lords or Wembley – I am not sure what the circumstances would be in which that would happen – well, legal ones anyway. The opposite is true of the hallowed turf of St Andrews (I played the Old Course in 2001 – one of the greatest experiences of my life – still makes the hairs on the back of my neck stand up thinking about it) and this year’s Open Championship venue, Royal Birkdale.
I’ve had the pleasure of playing Birkdale before and – as reading of the blog will know – I was there that often during The Open that I may get invited to the Christmas Party – but today I added another great experience to my great sporting venue memory bank.
I bought my new-ish clubs from the professional, Brian, at Royal Birkdale last November and during the fitting process for the clubs I got to hit a few balls on the great course’s practice ground. I was only there a few minutes and only hit a few balls under his supervision. Today, it got a little better. I was trying out new wedges and was dispatched to the practice ground and chipping green – the same ones used by the world’s best at The Open – with a token for balls from the ball dispensing machine and the pro shop’s best wishes. That was a fun hour. Not just hitting my – soon to be – new wedges – thank you Mizuno – but standing there, soaking up the Open atmosphere, in the shadow of giants.
It was all the more thrilling for me as I stood on the same spot watching McIllroy, Speith, Harrington and co just a few short weeks ago and today I stood in their footprints – as it happens just a full wage from where The Champion Golfer Of The Year had taken his well-thought through penalty drop in the last round and made five from the practice ground – a modern day Seve car park shot.
I didn’t need today’s experience to teach me that golf is the greatest sport in the world but it was a lovely reminder. Golf; the sport of Kings, Queens and anyone else on the planet.