Tee time for 100,000 as golf has a ball

At midnight on Friday Old Tom Morris will be in full swing again
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The Independent Online

On the stoke of midnight on Friday, Old Tom Morris will walk down the steps to the Royal and Ancient Clubhouse at the Old Course at St Andrews and hit a ball down the first fairway, signalling the start to the biggest golfing event in history. As Old Tom won the first of his four Open Championships back in 1861 it is fitting that he should initiate a celebration of six centuries of golf.

On the stoke of midnight on Friday, Old Tom Morris will walk down the steps to the Royal and Ancient Clubhouse at the Old Course at St Andrews and hit a ball down the first fairway, signalling the start to the biggest golfing event in history. As Old Tom won the first of his four Open Championships back in 1861 it is fitting that he should initiate a celebration of six centuries of golf.

When Old Tom drives off from the floodlit tee at the home of golf, he will trigger the World Shotgun 2000 in which more than 100,000 players from 550 clubs in 60 countries will play the game from the New StAndrews golf club in Japan to the Dunes Golf and Country Club in Moscow, turning the globe into one great golf ball.

The patrons of this unique event are Arnold Palmer and Sir Michael Bonallack, the former secretary of the R & A. "By uniting golfers across the world this will help promote the heritage, integrity and values of the game into the new millennium," Arnie, who will return to St Andrews for the Open in July, said.

The idea was the brainchild of Peter Mason, external relations manager of the St Andrews Links Trust which manages the town's six courses. "Golf is one of the biggest participant sports on the planet with 50 million players aged from eight to 80," Mason said. "The idea is to bring the roots of the game to people's attention by linking everyone back to the starting point. The global response shows just how much golf has taken hold since it first became popular in St Andrews 600 years ago."

Getting everybody to tee offsimultaneously is no easy task. When Old Tom - stories of his death have not been greatly exaggerated as the maestro is being played by David Joy, a St Andrews playwright, artist and historian - strikes on the midnight hour, it will be 8am in Japan. He will not be alone for in Stornoway and Finland it will be light enough at midnight to play 18 holes.

Old Tom's drive will be filmed and transmitted live around the world on the internet, signalling golfers to tee off in countries, in the Far East for example, which are eight to 12 hours ahead of the United Kingdom.

It will be the first of four starts at St Andrews at six-hour intervals, designed to co-ordinate with the time zones of the world. Saturday, 24 June, was chosen as the nearest Saturday to the longest day in the northern hemisphere.

At 6am visitors will tee off at every hole on the Old Course, an R & A cannon to be used as the starting signal; at midday there will be the St Andrews Millennium Grand Match with 600 local golfers playing all six courses and at 6pm the early evening shift will play the Old course. The 12pm start - it will be 7am for clubs on the eastern seaboard of the United States - is such a huge operation covering such a vast territory that the poor old R & A cannon is not deemed to have sufficient firepower to be heard by everybody in the charge of the 600, so it will be supplemented by artillery - two 25lb cannon from the Royal Highland Gunners.

The R & A will not make the same mistake of the Glamorganshire Golf Club in South Wales which, on one occasion, concluding that a shotgun start was insufficient to carry the course's hills, opted instead for a red flare. It alerted not only the players on every hole but unfortunately the coastguard, who promptly launched the Penarth and Barry Lifeboats.

"Our signal will probably be heard in Dundee," Mason said. "We are starting this celebration with a bang and finishing with an even bigger one." Before a ball is struck, two golfers from Scotland and two from New York have won a cruise to the Open on the QE2 in a prize draw for all the clubs registered in World Shotgun 2000. Everybody else will be content to receive a certificate, signed by Palmer and Bonallack, and their names will be buried in a time capsule at St Andrews. Those who don't make it can take part in a virtual version by registering on Microsoft's Gaming Zone. Proceeds from the entire enterprise will go to junior golf.

The participants will play with a special ball made by Slazenger, the world's oldest manufacturer. It has a polybutadiene core and a surlyn cover which blends titanium and magnesium. It differs slightly from the object which will be used by Old Tom or indeed the Slazenger with which Harold Hilton won the Open in 1892.

Old Tom will hit a feathery, a ball crammed with a top hat full of goose feathers softened by boiling, covered with bull's hide, soaked in alum and painted white. It may not go far but it will, literally, be the shot heard around the world.

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