As this colossus strode across the green towards me he caught my eye and became human. He is just a man, barely 30 years old, not long married (a beautiful wife) and recently bereaved (a deeply loved father).
A sure hand shake starts and I speak “Okay so that’s two in a row - now you have to win next year to be like hat trick Thomson over there!” Tiger smiles like an angel – he has remembered our conversation from a week ago about Thomson.
“You did this for your family?” “Yes I did”. His senses are full. No more needs saying. The silver claret jug passes and he receives it as if a new born baby– his right hand under its base his left cradling and supporting its neck. He gently lifts it up and kisses it. Precious cargo.
I give him the gold medal: “Here, put this one in your pocket.” He is ready to display the claret jug now. I touch his forearm to signal that our intimacy (watched by 450 million) is over. He turns and holds the jug aloft for the world to see.
Shortly he speaks to us all and we are moved by his tribute to his father and his expression of love for him which he gives so openly and honestly. His triumph and its meaning is now complete.
My father told me that being lucky is a state of mind, a form of optimism, a self fulfilling prophecy. I now have evidence to the contrary: I was Captain at Hoylake when the Open returned. Nothing to do with my state of mind - just my sheer extraordinary great good luck.
I first met Tiger on the Saturday before the Open. He had gone out unannounced to play a few holes having arrived that day from the U.S. I and a few hundred others had chased out after him. I caught him coming off the 6th when he was talking to Peter Dawson who introduced me “Tiger this is Andy Cross, he is the Captain of Royal Liverpool.”” I still can’t quite believe what he said but with his wonderful powerful smile, (never underestimate Tiger’s smile) he said to me “It’s a great honour and privilege to meet you, sir” (and I am immediately thinking what a truly discerning fellow this is!). I tell him how great it is to see him, how thrilled we all are that he is here and we talk on about de Vicenzo who he knows all about and about Peter Thomson who I tell him is here this week. “Boy, five Championships, three in a row… some playing!”
I am now at the point where I have monopolised Tiger in conversation for probably two minutes which, given the fact that he needs to move on and play a few more holes, given the fact that there are people swarming it was really a very long time indeed. But I am in a big dilemma because my dear wife Brenda who was with me has hung back some 15 yards or so whilst I talk to Tiger and rule number one when chatting to world icons (I always find !) is introduce them to your wife! So I take the plunge and say “Tiger, can you do me a favour, can you just come and say hello to my wife and my friend?” and he says “Sure, you got it” and off we set walking 15 yards through the crowd, he shakes Brenda by the hand ”It’s a pleasure Maam” and I thought this Tiger Woods is truly a man of the people!
After the presentation and after his last press conference Tiger attended a reception in the Behrend Library with the RLGC and R&A committees. We hear a roar as he comes up the stairs and he enters with his beautiful wife Erin. He salutes us all by knocking back a glass of champagne in one and his first words are to Martin Kippax of the R&A : “Well Martin how high is it (the rough) going to be at Carnoustie next year? - Is it going to be that high (gesturing hip height) or that high (gesturing chest height)!!” You will remember Tiger failed to qualify at Carnoustie in 1999. He is thinking of three in a row already.
He talked for ten or fifteen minutes, signs our prints and then it was time for photographs: Tiger with the RLGC contingent and Tiger with the R&A contingent. We are just about finished and Tiger says “Hey there’s just one more photo we gotta take” and he collects together a number of our wonderful staff who had been serving us, Sandro and family members. Tiger puts his arms around them all and a photograph is taken. A picture they will treasure. This for me was a real measure of his warmth and his class.
Jack Nicklaus was here on 16th May 2006, to participate in one of the R and A’s patrons days. I have to say I was in a juvenile state of excitement (a common state of affairs in 2006)I got to the Club rather early and so, by coincidence, did Jack. So, before I was ready, just as I was walking across the lobby Jack Nicklaus walks in as well. I turned to him and he held out his hand and said “Hi, I’m Jack Nicklaus” and I thought to myself, “you don’t need to tell me who you are”.
The first surprise about Jack was that he was a lot smaller than I thought he would be. There is a picture of him outside the John Behrend library, a huge crew cut heavy weight, pounding a drive from the ninth tee in 1967- he was known as the “Golden Bear” and had a ferocious reputation for hitting the ball huge distances in his day. But time takes its toll and a number spinal problems and a hip replacement caused big Jack to actually shrink three inches since he was last here in 1967. This is what happens to you when you get older -in fact, the only advantage of being over 50 is you get cheaper car insurance!
Jack doesn’t have a reputation as the easiest of conversationalists. Desperate to find a light sociable opening line to ease me into a chat with him I remembered something Peter Alliss’s wife Jacqui had told me a few weeks before and I said
“ Jack I believe your wife Barbara used to meet up with Jacqui Alliss at the beginning of Open week at the Bollinger champagne Tent and enjoy a few good glasses together…?”
Jack’s brow furrowed and his eyes narrowed a little , as if he’d just got to his ball to find it plugged right under the face of a bunker. He replied
“No,no that wouldn’t be Barbara – she doesn’t take alcohol….” I was going down a one way road the wrong way with a man who’s won 19 majors!
Jack did a clinic with Luke Donald and then he played with the corporate teams and, in the evening he attended a dinner and he answered questions for an hour and a half late into the evening.
It was only something I learned later about that day that made me sit up and think. Unknown to me and many during the day we had a visit from John Morgan who used to be our professional here before John Heggarty. John that day was brought down to the course by his wife in a wheelchair because, very unhappily, he had developed a brain tumour and by that time had lost the use of his legs and one of his arms. John had been an outstanding golfer, the older he got the better he played -his best golf was played in his later years between 50 and 60. He played on the US seniors tour and he knew Jack, but not all that well and they played a few times in tournaments.
So, here is the scene, Chris Morgan (John’s wife) pushes John out onto the course hoping they can get a glimpse of the great man and Nicklaus sees them and he recognises John, and here is what I learned about later and what I found really impressive, Jack Nicklaus left his game and he sat down and he started to talk to John, obviously seeing that he was not good, and he continued to talk for a full 30 minutes. And Jack waived the match that he was supposed to go with ahead without him. He left them and John and Jack talked about all kinds of things, about golf, about the seniors tour and the times that they had come across each other in the past. What a big difference it made to John who was really uplifted.
John died a month or so later and, at his memorial service Andrew Murray (the European Tour Pro who was a close friend of John Morgan’s) told this story, (that’s how I know about it), that when Jack Nicklaus came to leave John Morgan at the end of their chat he gave him a big hug and he said “that’s not a hug……..that’s not a bear hug…….. that’s a golden bear hug” and they said cheerio to each other.
So there is the mighty Jack Nicklaus, taking that time to make such a big difference to John Morgan and how easy it would have been for Nicklaus to avoid what some might have seen as the embarrassment of such a meeting.
In the run up to the Open I was lucky enough to get a game with Ernie Els. Ernie had come up with a couple of other friends from South Africa (including his “patron” Johan Rupert owner of Leopard’s creek Golf club and owner of Dunhill) to have an early look at the course.
The best thing I did was to get Ernie as a partner and the worst thing I did happened on the very first hole.
Ernie pulled his drive slightly into the left rough and hit a provisional ball and the others guys hit their balls left and right and we spent a lot of time looking for their balls and by the time we had found them time had moved on and Ernie had found his ball, smashed it onto the green. I wouldn’t say I was nervous (just out of focus!) but I played my second shot very hurriedly, turned over the face of the club, hit it into the left rough, not very far down, scrambled over there, found it, hit it, got it on the green, ran up to the green and then saw Ernie looking quizzically at my ball as it lay on the green.
Ernie came over to me and said “Mr Captain I’ve got disappointing news for you - you just played my provisional ball”. I held my hands over my head and then he said “ah, don’t worry about it cos I am going to hole mine for a three anyway!” And Ernie gave me his provisional ball which is now on my mantelpiece!
Ernie was definitely interested in winning at Hoylake – he got a lift when we looked at the picture in the Clubhouse of his first international win which was at Hoylake, the Tillman Trophy. He was just 16 and there he stands, tall, scrawny, spiky hair - he looks a bit like something out of a boy band. When he signed the visitors book he saw that Phil Mickleson had already been there for a couple of days and I sensed the competitive hackles rising when he said “ah, I see Leftie’s been here…..”
Ernie was a superb ambassador, a wonderfully relaxed man who would pose for photographs with anybody and sign anything. He is a man who, unlike some, has used his fame and has done something with is fame and fortune for the good. Ernie has a foundation in Fancourt in South Africa where children from less advantaged backgrounds but with some talent for golf are educated and get to play golf. He told me that he had set up a Ryder Cup style match between the best of his kids and the best of Tiger Woods’ kids (Tiger has a similar foundation in America) and at the beginning of July 2006 (shortly after our game) his kids were going over to Chicago to play Tiger Woods’ kids.
And speaking of legacies what are the legacies of our Open, Hoylake in 2006?
Pinch yourselves . There is no hyperbole and no fairy tale in the following paragraph which is factually accurate:
In 2006 the Open returned to us here at Hoylake after thirty nine long years absence and the best player in the world, the world’s best known sporting icon, won the greatest and oldest golf championship in the world watched by record crowds basking in sunshine and watched by record worldwide TV audiences (who must have believed it was the Mediterranean). Tiger described our course as “a fantastic test” and the R and A described the event as the “greatest ever staging of an Open Championship”.
For the golfers Tiger’s victory will stand for all time as one of the greatest triumphs of both strategy and execution. He out thought them and he out played them.
The great weather made the course a classic Links – fast, furious and running to the delight of all the players who rarely if ever see these conditions. Tiger was asked “Has Hoylake stood the test of time?”, and I quote his answer with great pride: “I think it’s a fantastic test, with the golf course being this fast it lent itself to just amazing creativity. But this is the way – how it all started and how I think it should be played”.
The description lending itself to “amazing creativity” meant that there were so many options of how you could play it: you could leave it short of the bunkers (as Tiger settled for) you could hit it over the top or you could try to thread it through them but you had to plan and think. It was a game played through the air but also a game played on the ground. But Tiger was the only one who could execute the long irons his strategy required into hard fast greens. So the contest was won by the best player in the world and the top five finishers were four of the world’s top ten players. The cream rose to the top.
And for Golf our course is now held up by the R and A as a classic example of links golf and of “sustainable” golf – an initiative to persuade clubs and greenkeepers that you don’t need to over water and over treat courses – they retain and improve their playing qualities when the grass turns golden –“Gold is the new Green”.
The legacy for our region
What a fantastic success this was for our region, the whole of the Wirral. There were so many people, literally thousands of them from; - from our club, from other clubs, from the local communities, and from business communities – as well as the R and A and our splendid Metropolitan Borough of Wirral all of whom spent countless hours of hard work on this real labour of love. And all of them worked so hard with such pride to make the event a success to showcase our region and our golf.
I’ve never known an event where there was so much goodwill and so much pride running right through those involved from top to bottom. One of my favourite stories about the Open concerns those from the bottom of the pile – the Caddies.
I was in the Secretary’s office getting changed for the presentation. I had one eye on the television watching Tiger play the last couple of holes and a face pops round the door. It’s a face I feel I know but don’t immediately recognise. He comes in and he says “is the Secretary here” and I say “no I am afraid he is not but I am the Captain can I help you”. I then recognised it was Dave Musgrove who had caddied for Sandy Lyle and this week was caddying for Bernard Langer a stalwart of the caddy’s profession. He said “I am so glad I found you, the lads sent me. Normally we caddies are treated like XXXX (a stern Anglo-Saxon word!) and we are regarded pretty well as the bottom of the food chain. But I just wanted to tell you how well we have been treated this week and how welcome we have been made to feel”. (I knew that the villagers had taken them out for a great deal of beer one evening!). “Because of this the lads wanted me to give the Club this”. And he produced from his bag a first day cover of Tiger Woods American postage stamps. How wonderful it was to receive such a visit and gift. I think this story from the “troops in the trenches” says so much about how we welcomed all comers last summer.
The great weather brought in those record crowds, 230,000 (bettered only by the Millennium Open at St Andrews) but mostly the Open put the Wirral, our home, in a fantastic global spotlight and images of the Wirral Peninsular with its golf courses, its beautiful estuary, its islands, its birds seals and yachts were beamed around the world to 450 million people in a glorious week long advertisement for the region.
And the legacy of the Open to our region is the platform and profile it provided to attract investment on tourism for our benefit into the future. There are two particular schemes. The first is the development of England’s Golf Coast – that stretch of historic golfing terrain running from Blackpool down to the Wirral.
And the second is the waterfront scheme on Wirral which is a £4billion investment of business and property around Seacombe and the four bridges area and that will be developed over the next twenty years from private investment.
We can take pride in the platform built. I have wasted no opportunity in preaching the gospel when speaking around the region since the Open.
So I am frequently asked “was it a comedown after the Open?”. Emphatically, No, as if the Open wasn’t enough I have been lucky enough to represent the Club abroad on four occasions. The respect that I have been given as Captain abroad is a measure of the reverence in which the Royal Liverpool Golf Club is held throughout the golfing world.
Kevinge Golf Club, Stockholm, August 2006
The first of these in mid-August 2006 was to take a Captain’s side to the Stockholm area of Sweden. The origin of this mini-tour was an invitation from Kevinge Golf Club in Stockholm, the second oldest Club in Sweden, who had visited us in Hoylake in 2004 on their centenary. Amongst others our overseas member and “Mr Golf Sweden” Goran Zacrhisson is a member at Kevinge.
We enlarged the tour however to take in courses played by some of our friends developed through the Harold Hilton Tournament – which always attracts a hoard of marauding Vikings from Sweden! We also played Ullna (created by the Swedish soccer and ice hockey legend Sven Tumba who we met), Pro-Balsta – Anneka Soresnstam’s home club) and Svartinge.
Whilst all were outstanding golf courses I particularly loved Pro-Balsta. The architect and prime mover at Pro-Balsta is Peter Nordwall, Sweden’s leading golf course architect. He is a delightful man to play with – apart from his wonderful insights into the design of his course, it’s a great pleasure to be accompanied by his faithful dog Heidi. Heidi finds balls, respectfully sits when shots are played and never walks in a bunker or on a green. She accompanies Peter when during the many snowy months in Stockholm Peter cross-country skis across the course. At certain points he told me “Heidi and I will sit by a tree stump and simply contemplate” What a life!
In Sweden the connections between Hoylake and the great golfing world increasingly become clear to me. The daughter of the Prince of Connaught (who bestowed our royal patronage) was a member at Kevinge. Further a golfer called Ted Roberts (from a Liverpool family of golfers) who lived in Hoylake went out to become a pro for a long period at Kevinge. There is a real sense of many roads leading from Hoylake.
Pau’s 150th Celebration September 2006
In early September 2006 I attended the 150th anniversary of Pau Golf Club in the South of France, the oldest Club in continental Europe. It was founded by British Soldiers left in South Western France after the Neopolanic wars who settled there and began to play golf there. There were a number of Royal Liverpool members who also members at Pau in their early years and one of them, Sir Victor Brook, (who was the Captain at Pau) introduced a Hoylake caddy called Joe Lloyd to Pau and Joe became their first Professional and greenkeeper.
And Jo Lloyd later crossed the Atlantic and took up a position at the Essex County Club and, would you believe it, won the US Open in 1897, the same year that Harold Hilton won the first Open at Hoylake. There is a wonderful plaque on the first tee at Pau showing Joe Lloyd, and referring to his victory.
On that same trip to Pau’s 150th at the gala dinner I sat next to, would you believe, Harry Vardon’s son (six times Open Champion), a gentleman called Peter Howell and Peter told me that he was actually born in Liverpool, which surprised me because Vardon of course was a Jersey man. I said “well how did he come to be born in Liverpool ?” and he said “Well Dad was playing a tournament at Hoylake and it was there that he met my mother and I was born in Liverpool a little while after.” All roads lead to Hoylake!
You may like to know that Peter Howell’s wife wrote a book on Vardon from which much of the material of Mark Frost’s book “The Greatest game Ever Played” was taken. This book tells the story of Francis Ouimet’s win over Vardon at the US Open at the Brookline Country Club in 1913 – a victory said to move the balance of golfing power from the UK to the USA.
Whilst modesty would normally forbid it the Captain does have to record that he and his team (a four man team which included the Captains of Royal Cinque Ports, Royal Eastbourne and Royal North Devon) won the Pau 150th Celebration golf competition! The presentation was made by the mayor of Pau in the Hotel de Ville. Your Captain accepted the trophy in faltering O-Level French!
Royal Nairobi, October 2006
Perhaps the jewel in the crown of my trips however was to the Centenary of Royal Nairobi in Kenya in October. Brenda accompanied me with Johnny and Liz Turner as the immediate Past Captain and his lady. The celebration was an enormously generous six day affair with competitions on almost every day and some wonderful trips and entertainment organised. From the opening ceremony where flags proudly flew and the Minister for Sport (in the absence of President Kibaki who was due to come) planted a ceremonial tree to the closing gala dinner in a massive marquee we were treated like royalty. They are very keen to develop golf there. Somebody asked Michael Lunt the new Captain of the R&A whether his Club had had their Centenary yet. He responded “madam we have had two and our third is due in a little under 50 years time thank you”.
Most memorable moments? - A day out with Johnny and Liz visiting Lake Nkuru to see a million pink flamingos, a sea and symphony in pink and the sight of tens of thousands of migrating wilderbeast crossing the Mara River closely attended by a floatilla of crocodiles! Kenya is a beautiful country and its people are enthusiastic and vibrant. They have great problems there. Nairobi is dreadfully overcrowded with 50% unemployment. Life is cheap and violence lurks beneath the surface. My caddy for the week told me one morning that he had a terrible night last night – two men just a few doors down from him had been murdered in a gangland attack. I saw the chasm between his life and mine.
Royal Port Alfred Centenary
As I write this piece two months before the end of my office I am set to embark on a final trip to the Centenary of Royal Port Alfred. Port Alfred is the fourth Royal Club in South Africa (in seniority) behind Royal Cape, Royal Johannesburg and Royal Durban. It is a seaside course on the coast of Cape Province. Our own Prince of Connaught petitioned the King in February 1924 for Royal Title for Port Alfred which was granted in February of that year. I will be attending with my wife and Doug Norval and his wife, Margaret. This is a thank you to Doug for the tireless and extraordinary effort that he put in for four years as Chairman of the Open Championship Committee.
Of all the other highs and many wonderful events and celebrations I have attended there is one other memory I will treasure – Groves’ cannon ceremony at the start of the second playing at the Atlantic Trophy at the end of September 2006! On the putting green one sunny lunchtime Grovesey lined up his firing party – President Ged Parsons and his lieutenant plus Secretary and Captain lined up behind the gun (a small brass one - snap crackle and pop I thought). Groves, in full military mode presented the “shell” (a small shotgun cartridge) “Load Cannon Mr Starter!” “Cannon loaded Sir” “Prepare to fire”. Ged was handed the trigger, a string Pull!. A noise to awaken Neptune from the deep and Beelzebub from Hades split the air followed by roars of helpless laughter. Grown men were unable to speak for minutes after.
Throughout the year I have lived in the moment enjoying each event in its own right and have developed a deeper understanding of this wonderful Club. At two ends of the age spectrum I have talked and listened to Juniors (who were better dressed than me and almost as well behaved) and Seniors who told me their memories of the early Opens (Charles Elston won – Hagan’s 1924 Open when he recalled a then ageing Johnny Ball hole a long putt on 17th). What a family to be a part of!
It has been the greatest of privileges to serve this Club and I will be forever grateful for my extraordinary great good luck.
Andrew Cross, Captain Royal Liverpool Golf Club, 2006
Tiger accepts the Claret Jug from Andrew Cross, Captain of Royal Liverpool Golf Club