Brian Viner: Open circus provides stage for the clowns of Merseyside

One could quite easily be forgiven for thinking that the Open Championship is about golf, but in fact the Royal and Ancient game is only the very tip of the iceberg that, were it to appear in the Ribble estuary just north of Southport, would surprise nobody, least of all those Americans in town who appear to be suffering from the delusion that the summer is about sunshine.

One of those Americans is said to be the Hollywood heart-throb George Clooney, which is what I mean about the golf being peripheral. Natives of Southport are called Sandgrounders, and for many females of the species, and not a few males, the question of who is leading the Open at any one time is of slightly less interest than the whereabouts of gorgeous George. I am going with some friends to a restaurant in Birkdale this evening, and we have been tipped off that Clooney will be there, too. Unfortunately, the same rumour applies to every half-decent restaurant in town. Meanwhile, nobody I know has actually set eyes on him. He's probably in Santa Monica, in front of his TV watching baseball. There was also a flurry of excitement at a cocktail party I went to on Thursday when a man mentioned that he'd seen Jack Nicholson, followed by a palpable sense of deflation moments later when it turned out that he'd said Jack Nicklaus. Such is the beguiling glitter of showbiz, even when the world's greatest golfers are knocking around the neighbourhood.

It is 10 years since the Open circus last rolled into town here, and circus is about right; given the amount of flapping canvas in the tented village, and for that matter the presence of so many clowns. Twice in the past three years the Open has been played within 20 miles of Liverpool, affording lots of opportunities for flashes of the Merseyside wit that was never sharper than in a football match at Anfield a few years ago, when an observer on the Kop pleaded with the players to get the ball wide. "Wing! Wing! Wing! Wing!" he screamed. "For fuck's sake, will someone answer that fucking phone," came a weary voice. Such shafts of humour from those watching do a lot to illuminate sporting occasions (although we still wait in vain for something properly amusing from the Centre Court crowd at Wimbledon, where errant pigeons and witless cries of "C'mon Tim!" still have the power to get everyone chortling) and under the relentlessly leaden skies at Birkdale this week we have needed all the illumination we can get. Yesterday I reported an observation made behind the ropes as the Australian Aaron Baddeley, one of the more pedestrian players, went with great deliberation about his business. "He's slower than a bloody tax rebate," a Scouser remarked. "Er, what's one of them?" said his mate.

No matter how seriously Baddeley takes his job, however, he cannot match the single-minded devotion to duty exemplified by some of the crowd marshals at the Open, who do a marvellous job, if in some cases with 20 per cent more officiousness than strictly necessary. On Thursday a couple of press colleagues and I were sternly corralled round the course by a fellow wearing an official armband and a toothbrush moustache. We joked among ourselves that he was probably a regimental sergeant-major on unpaid leave. At the end of five rain-drenched hours, when he shrugged off the biblical soaking we'd all had as though it had been a fleeting spot of drizzle, we realised we might actually be right. So we asked him if perchance he was in the Army. He was. And a sergeant-major, to boot.

Still, the huge army of unpaid volunteers and paid helpers are as vital to the success of the Open Championship as the 156 golfers taking part. More so, perhaps. Many of them are members of Royal Birkdale, thrilled that their venerable club is hosting this great event for the ninth time since it joined the rota in 1954, and keen to play a part, which is how I came across a well-spoken captain of industry yesterday who was wearing a lapel badge reading "Litter Convenor" as proudly as any seven-year-old schoolboy wears his milk monitor's badge. One of the litter collectors in his charge is 15-year-old Florence King, of Greenbank High School, which abuts the tented village. She has just been made head girl for next year, but does not consider herself too illustrious to pick up discarded prawn cocktail crisp packets. It's that kind of attitude that put the Great in Great Britain and also makes the Open the marvellous occasion it is, whether it's Jack Nicklaus wandering around or Jack Nicholson, and whether George Clooney is eating on Liverpool Road in Birkdale this evening, or at Spago in Los Angeles.

b.viner@independent.co.uk

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Caption competition
Caption competition
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Daily Quiz
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Career Services

Day In a Page

Is this the future of flying: battery-powered planes made of plastic, and without flight decks?

Is this the future of flying?

Battery-powered planes made of plastic, and without flight decks
Isis are barbarians – but the Caliphate is a dream at the heart of all Muslim traditions

Isis are barbarians

but the Caliphate is an ancient Muslim ideal
The Brink's-Mat curse strikes again: three tons of stolen gold that brought only grief

Curse of Brink's Mat strikes again

Death of John 'Goldfinger' Palmer the latest killing related to 1983 heist
Greece debt crisis: 'The ministers talk to us about miracles' – why Greeks are cynical ahead of the bailout referendum

'The ministers talk to us about miracles'

Why Greeks are cynical ahead of the bailout referendum
Call of the wild: How science is learning to decode the way animals communicate

Call of the wild

How science is learning to decode the way animals communicate
Greece debt crisis: What happened to democracy when it’s a case of 'Vote Yes or else'?

'The economic collapse has happened. What is at risk now is democracy...'

If it doesn’t work in Europe, how is it supposed to work in India or the Middle East, asks Robert Fisk
The science of swearing: What lies behind the use of four-letter words?

The science of swearing

What lies behind the use of four-letter words?
The Real Stories of Migrant Britain: Clive fled from Zimbabwe - now it won't have him back

The Real Stories of Migrant Britain

Clive fled from Zimbabwe - now it won’t have him back
Africa on the menu: Three foodie friends want to popularise dishes from the continent

Africa on the menu

Three foodie friends want to popularise dishes from the hot new continent
Donna Karan is stepping down after 30 years - so who will fill the DKNY creator's boots?

Who will fill Donna Karan's boots?

The designer is stepping down as Chief Designer of DKNY after 30 years. Alexander Fury looks back at the career of 'America's Chanel'
10 best statement lightbulbs

10 best statement lightbulbs

Dare to bare with some out-of-the-ordinary illumination
Wimbledon 2015: Heather Watson - 'I had Serena's poster on my wall – now I'm playing her'

Heather Watson: 'I had Serena's poster on my wall – now I'm playing her'

Briton pumped up for dream meeting with world No 1
Wimbledon 2015: Nick Bollettieri - It's time for big John Isner to produce the goods to go with his thumping serve

Nick Bollettieri's Wimbledon Files

It's time for big John Isner to produce the goods to go with his thumping serve
Dustin Brown: Who is the tennis player who knocked Rafael Nadal out of Wimbeldon 2015?

Dustin Brown

Who is the German player that knocked Nadal out of Wimbeldon 2015?
Ashes 2015: Damien Martyn - 'England are fired up again, just like in 2005...'

Damien Martyn: 'England are fired up again, just like in 2005...'

Australian veteran of that Ashes series, believes the hosts' may become unstoppable if they win the first Test