Golf: It's hats off to the stickers: Henry Winter's guide to life on the links

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The Independent Online
THE JOVIAL Red Cross attendant stationed a chip-shot away from the 16th has taken a week off work to tend to the Open's exhausted. By profession a local undertaker, and formerly an ambulance driver, Dave Cowing seems almost over-qualified for dealing with a procession of patients marching into his Portakabin with minor maladies.

'It's mostly people complaining about headaches,' Cowing said as he handed out another brace of Paracetamol yesterday. 'The heat and wind can really get to some of those walking the course.

'One man came in earlier with a serious headache; he was all bleary-eyed and unshaven but it was nothing to do with the weather - he just had a splitting hangover from what must have been quite a party last night.'

The attraction of defying the elements to follow men around an interlocking connection of coastal pastures is easy to comprehend. No other world championship sporting event offers such a unique and reasonably priced opportunity for the layman to observe and learn from the masters at close quarters: the ropes between punters and putters are no barrier to intimacy.

John and Dorothy Couchman, who ambled admiringly after the Celtic pairing of Des Smyth and Mike Miller, belong to a local club, North Foreland, and relish the chance to improve their game. 'It's amazing to see their delicate touch around the green,' John said. 'The Open is such a great event. The Times even had a picture of the back of my head last week. All my club members recognised me.'

The Couchmans, conversing in between respectful hushes as Smyth and Miller addressed their game, possessed an added cause for joining the small knot who followed the Ping-wielding duo. Miller's caddie is lodging in their Broadstairs home - for pounds 7.50 a night (plus full breakfast), probably the best deal in Kent. 'We've had caddies to stay before,' John, a retired bank manager, said. 'They're a funny bunch. They come in after a day on the course and everything's 'we' - 'we did this, we missed that']'

The Couchmans represent one of three types of links lizards, the diehards who stick with one group from first to 18th, clocking up a colossal yardage and loyalty factor. Two other human species are scattered on the Sandwich Sands: shifters and stickers. Shifters, like the spotted flycatchers and bartailed godwits which also populate the dunes, flit from fairway to fairway acting on whim and the prospect of prize pickings in another acre.

But arguably the most committed category is the sticker. 'They get here at the crack of dawn and camp out in the grandstands at the 17th and 18th greens,' Graham Thomas, a marshal patrolling the seventh fairway, said, 'even when no one will come in front of them for hours.'

Apart from the odd silly shout, the behaviour of all three types is exemplary. 'When I raise my 'quiet' sign people do behave,' Thomas said. 'The only nuisance is the skylarks who fly up to 40 feet and then trill away.'

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