Celebrity amateurs take their turn alongside the elite

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No longer will Scotland be humbled by Paraguay, nor Tiger Woods by Santiago Luña. The Dunhill Cup, as a nations event, is no more. It may have had its little idiosyncrasies but the tournament was a welcome diversion from the weekly grind of 72-hole strokeplay.

But Johann Rupert, the head of Richemont, the parent company of the sponsors, Alfred Dunhill, decided last year to take his event legit. So instead we have the Dunhill Links Championship, which has official Order of Merit status on the European Tour with a huge first prize of £550,000, the largest in Europe outside the Open.

In all the purse is £5m, for which sum the sponsors have been allowed to pick their own format. It is a European version of the AT&T Pro-am at Pebble Beach. Each of the 156 professionals is playing with an amateur, some of whom have paid £5,000 for the privilege, some of whom are so-called celebrities from the worlds of film, show business and sport. The event also takes place on three courses for the first three days. Each team plays once at each of the Old Course, the highly acclaimed new layout at Kingsbarns, on the coast just south of St Andrews, and at the dreaded Carnoustie, the beast from the 1999 Open. On Saturday evening there will be a 54-hole cut with the final round on the Old Course. Six-hour rounds will be the norm.

While the format has proven successful in the States, something called the Wang Four Stars was tried at Moor Park in the 1980s and was short-lived. Whether this tournament will be any more successful at this woolly hat time of year – gales are forecast – in a town so unimpressed with celebrity that Prince William chose to attend its university remains to be seen.

If the American professionals are staying at home, the lure of the venues has brought out the likes of Michael Douglas, who plays with Darren Clarke, and Samuel L Jackson, who plays alongside Lee Westwood. Hugh Grant and Sam Torrance make an unlikely pairing and, while there is a strong European Tour field, Seve Ballesteros and Nick Faldo have withdrawn, presumably so as not to be shown up by people who play far more often, and possibly effectively, such as Alan Hansen (a handicap of two), Nigel Mansell (three) and Ian Botham (five).

Botham, naturally, will be playing with his old mate Ian Woosnam. In winning the World Match Play at Wentworth last week, Woosie used much the same approach as Botham on his charity walks: more massage, more beer.

Clarke has promised to stay off the Guinness in the Jigger Inn by the 17th of the Old Course. "This is a serious week for me," the Irishman said. "I need to play well if I am going to have a chance to win the Order of Merit." Clarke is £440,000 behind the US Open champion, Retief Goosen, at the top of the money list.

Goosen has chosen to play with his brother Francois, while Clarke and Douglas will meet for the first time this morning. "I hear Darren is a great guy," Douglas said. "I've brought him a gift of a couple of cigars." They should get on. "I'm a big fan," Clarke said. "My favourite films of his are Wall Street and Traffic." Steve Elkington is playing with a friend, the Texan country and western singer Clay Walker. "I've told him so much about St Andrews," Elkington said, "he had tears in his eyes when we teed off today.

"The biggest problem we'll have is getting Clay to the first tee on time. The bigger star you are, the longer you keep them waiting. He once kept 65,000 at the Astrodome waiting for an hour while he waited to see whether I won a tournament."