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

PROMOTED VIDEO
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

Isis hostage crisis: Militant group stands strong as its numerous enemies fail to find a common plan to defeat it

Isis stands strong as its numerous enemies fail to find a common plan to defeat it

The jihadis are being squeezed militarily and economically, but there is no sign of an implosion, says Patrick Cockburn
Virtual reality thrusts viewers into the frontline of global events - and puts film-goers at the heart of the action

Virtual reality: Seeing is believing

Virtual reality thrusts viewers into the frontline of global events - and puts film-goers at the heart of the action
Homeless Veterans appeal: MP says Coalition ‘not doing enough’

Homeless Veterans appeal

MP says Coalition ‘not doing enough’ to help
Larry David, Steve Coogan and other comedians share stories of depression in new documentary

Comedians share stories of depression

The director of the new documentary, Kevin Pollak, tells Jessica Barrett how he got them to talk
Has The Archers lost the plot with it's spicy storylines?

Has The Archers lost the plot?

A growing number of listeners are voicing their discontent over the rural soap's spicy storylines; so loudly that even the BBC's director-general seems worried, says Simon Kelner
English Heritage adds 14 post-war office buildings to its protected lists

14 office buildings added to protected lists

Christopher Beanland explores the underrated appeal of these palaces of pen-pushing
Human skull discovery in Israel proves humans lived side-by-side with Neanderthals

Human skull discovery in Israel proves humans lived side-by-side with Neanderthals

Scientists unearthed the cranial fragments from Manot Cave in West Galilee
World War Z author Max Brooks honours WW1's Harlem Hellfighters in new graphic novel

Max Brooks honours Harlem Hellfighters

The author talks about race, legacy and his Will Smith film option to Tim Walker
Why the league system no longer measures up

League system no longer measures up

Jon Coles, former head of standards at the Department of Education, used to be in charge of school performance rankings. He explains how he would reform the system
Valentine's Day cards: 5 best online card shops

Don't leave it to the petrol station: The best online card shops for Valentine's Day

Can't find a card you like on the high street? Try one of these sites for individual, personalised options, whatever your taste
Diego Costa: Devil in blue who upsets defences is a reminder of what Liverpool have lost

Devil in blue Costa is a reminder of what Liverpool have lost

The Reds are desperately missing Luis Suarez, says Ian Herbert
Ashley Giles: 'I'll watch England – but not as a fan'

Ashley Giles: 'I'll watch England – but not as a fan'

Former one-day coach says he will ‘observe’ their World Cup games – but ‘won’t be jumping up and down’
Greece elections: In times like these, the EU has far more dangerous adversaries than Syriza

Greece elections

In times like these, the EU has far more dangerous adversaries than Syriza, says Patrick Cockburn
Holocaust Memorial Day: Nazi victims remembered as spectre of prejudice reappears

Holocaust Memorial Day

Nazi victims remembered as spectre of prejudice reappears over Europe
Fortitude and the Arctic attraction: Our fascination with the last great wilderness

Magnetic north

The Arctic has always exerted a pull, from Greek myth to new thriller Fortitude. Gerard Gilbert considers what's behind our fascination with the last great wilderness