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

News
Alex Salmond said he accepted 'the democratic verdict of the people'
newsSNP leader says Scotland must move forward as 'one nation'
Arts and Entertainment
Friends is celebrating its 20th anniversary this year
tvSeries celebrates 20th anniversary
Sport
Yaya Touré (left) and Bayern Munich’s Spanish defender Juan Bernat
footballToure's lack of defensive work is big problem for City
Voices
voicesApple continually kill off smaller app developers, and that's no good for anyone
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
Liam Neeson said he wouldn't
tv

Liam Neeson's Downton dreams

Sport
Wembley Stadium
footballNews follows deal with Germany
Arts and Entertainment
A spell in the sun: Emma Stone and Colin Firth star in ‘Magic in the Moonlight’
filmReview: Magic In The Moonlight
Sport
A 'Sir Alex Feguson' tattoo
football

Arts and Entertainment
Ben Whishaw is replacing Colin Firth as the voice of Paddington Bear
tv

Thriller is set in the secret world of British espionage

Life and Style
life

News
ScienceGallery: Otherwise known as 'the best damn photos of space you'll see till 2015'
Life and Style
fashion

Bomber jacket worn by Mary Berry sells out within an hour

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

Mystery of the Ground Zero wedding photo

A shot in the dark

Mystery of the wedding photo from Ground Zero
His life, the universe and everything

His life, the universe and everything

New biography sheds light on comic genius of Douglas Adams
Save us from small screen superheroes

Save us from small screen superheroes

Shows like Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D are little more than marketing tools
Reach for the skies

Reach for the skies

From pools to football pitches, rooftop living is looking up
These are the 12 best hotel spas in the UK

12 best hotel spas in the UK

Some hotels go all out on facilities; others stand out for the sheer quality of treatments
These Iranian-controlled Shia militias used to specialise in killing American soldiers. Now they are fighting Isis, backed up by US airstrikes

Widespread fear of Isis is producing strange bedfellows

Iranian-controlled Shia militias that used to kill American soldiers are now fighting Isis, helped by US airstrikes
Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

Shoppers don't come to Topshop for the unique
How to make a Lego masterpiece

How to make a Lego masterpiece

Toy breaks out of the nursery and heads for the gallery
Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

Urbanites are cursed with an acronym pointing to Employed but No Disposable Income or Savings
Paisley’s decision to make peace with IRA enemies might remind the Arabs of Sadat

Ian Paisley’s decision to make peace with his IRA enemies

His Save Ulster from Sodomy campaign would surely have been supported by many a Sunni imam
'She was a singer, a superstar, an addict, but to me, her mother, she is simply Amy'

'She was a singer, a superstar, an addict, but to me, her mother, she is simply Amy'

Exclusive extract from Janis Winehouse's poignant new memoir
Is this the role to win Cumberbatch an Oscar?

Is this the role to win Cumberbatch an Oscar?

The Imitation Game, film review
England and Roy Hodgson take a joint step towards redemption in Basel

England and Hodgson take a joint step towards redemption

Welbeck double puts England on the road to Euro 2016
Relatives fight over Vivian Maier’s rare photos

Relatives fight over Vivian Maier’s rare photos

Pictures removed from public view as courts decide ownership
‘Fashion has to be fun. It’s a big business, not a cure for cancer’

‘Fashion has to be fun. It’s a big business, not a cure for cancer’

Donatella Versace at New York Fashion Week