Smokers feel heat as blaze fears increase

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The Independent Online

First the trains, then the pubs, now the golf courses. John Daly, Darren Clarke and Miguel Angel Jimenez discovered what millions of other workers have already gone through when they received letters yesterday regarding their smoking habits.

It was not a ban as such, just a strongly worded memorandum telling them to take care when putting their tobacco of choice out on the course. Put simply, the recent heatwave has turned Hoylake into a bonfire just waiting to be set alight, as happened at nearby Hillside Golf Club on Tuesday when flames broke out on five holes.

With more than 30,000 here yesterday and 40,000-plus expected today, the fears are as obvious as they are pronounced and the Royal & Ancient reacted accordingly when situating two fire engines on the course, even though the Hoylake fire station is only two minutes away. "We have taken advice from the local fire chief," said Peter Dawson, the R&A chief executive. "Also, we have put up notices around the course asking smokers to be particularly vigilant. And yes we have told the players as well."

Although temperatures are likely to dip today from yesterday's high of 34C the officials are still mindful of heat injuries. Paramedics have bikes at their disposal to reach far-flung locations on the course as quickly as possible and are keen for the fans to come prepared.

"We would like to advise spectators coming to bring sun cream as well as hats," added Dawson. But as he said it he knew that the weather would be putting few off in a locality that has gone golf-crazy this week. "The anticipation of the event here in the north-west has been quite unprecedented," he said. "But then as we know the Championship hasn't been here for a long time."

Thirty-nine years, in fact; not that Jack Nicklaus or anyone else from that era have come back to find a Hoylake with which they are familiar. David Howell even claimed yesterday that the sun-blasted layout bears no resemblance to the one he went around 10 days ago. "Last week I played the 17th and used a two iron for my second shot and was short. Today I hit my drive there about 370 yards, past a bunker that I didn't contemplate even being in play. I could have putted my second this time."

Howell was neither complaining nor suggesting that the Open might become a farce on fairways like marble and greens like greased marble. "This is as firm a course as we've ever seen," said the world No 10 who is one of Europe's principal hopes in winning a first major in seven years. "On Monday it looked in danger of a couple of the greens dying. Obviously they've gotten back on track," he said.

The Hoylake greens staff have done so by judicious watering and in order to ensure it remained playable closed the course at around 6.30pm yesterday to complete their preparations. There was nothing they could do about the rough, though, which has burned away in the glare. "With the rough dying off it's not going to be the hardest Open," said Howell. "But with it so firm and with balls running into the rough it is still going to be tricky. And if it blows, well..."

It was a possibility few were considering yesterday despite the breezes raising themselves as much as they have all week. Sergio Garcia drove the 393-yard 11th with ease while John Daly hit the 560-yard 18th with a driver, nine-iron. Still, though, the R&A would not be drawn to admit it was concerned. "You've heard quite often from the R&A that we like hard, fast links conditions," said Dawson. "Well, this year we've got it in spades. The course is pretty fiery out there, just as we would want it."

Lighting up Golf's top puffers

John Daly

The biggest and the best. Smoked 28 cigarettes in a three-and-a-half-hour practice round here and says he can't function without nicotine.

Fire risk: 10.

Darren Clarke

A lover of cigars, Clarke can often be located on the course by the mushroom of smoke emanating from his Havana.

Fire risk: 7.

Miguel Angel Jimenez

The Spaniard is so attached to his Cubans that at The Masters this year he kicked up an unholy stink when his stash was confiscated by American customs.

Fire risk: 8.