The Hacker: Girl power gives blokes the bum's rush at Portrush
One of the beauties of golf is that mere mortals can not only try to emulate the great gods but that we can do so at the great venues. Your average park footballer will not often get the chance to put one in the top corner at Stamford Bridge, but your average club golfer, on production of the necessary fee, can live the dream on a famous fairway.
With certain qualifications, of course. All of the courses that host the Open are open to visitors but some have a larger welcome mat than others. At Royal St Georges, for instance, where in 2003 Ben Curtis leapt from obscurity and made hybrids fashionable, hackers need not apply; the handicap limit is 18. Perhaps Thomas Bjorn should have been made to produce his certificate after his fracas with the bunker on the 16th.
And at misogynistic Muirfield don't bother if you're female; unless you turn up as someone's chattel you won't be allowed on the course. We are forbidden unless accompanied by a man, and we're not allowed to eat properly afterwards either, being banished to a side room and graciously allowed sandwiches.
Another problem is the cost; both paying and playing at a championship links can be fairly daunting, although probably worth it as a one-off venture into Mittyland. The most expensive of those on the Open rotation is Turnberry, where you'd have to shell out £190 for those views of Ailsa Craig but it does compare rather favourably with the $495 demanded by Pebble Beach, where the US Open will reach its climax tonight.
The most famous and historic of the lot, St Andrews (where the Old Course is now being prepared for next month's tournament), is perhaps surprisingly accessible, with a high season cost of £130, a daily ballot and, for singletons, the chance to rock up on the day to see if you can get a game.
St Andrews has hosted the Open 28 times already. Two courses have done so only once: Prince's in Kent in 1932 and Royal Portrush, in Co Antrim, in 1951, and a double quiz question in that it has been the only Open venue outside England and Scotland.
Which is a shame, because not only is it stunning but also because Northern Ireland seems to produce high-class golfers in inverse proportion to its size. Darren Clarke and Graeme McDowell are Royal Portrush members and the course record of 61 round the Dunluce championship course is held by one Rory McIlroy.
I was fortunate enough to play it recently in an international media event. I will quickly point out both that availability, not ability, was the criterion for selection for GB2, and that the use of the word fairway above was, in my case, something of an exaggeration.
The wind blew to make it interesting but not punitive; the views over the North Atlantic of sand, sea, cliff and islands to Scotland were a perfect foil to any golfing deficiencies. And almost entirely due to my team-mate Carly, we saw off China and Canada. We were the only all-female pairing in the field. How they'd hate that at Muirfield.
Tip of the week
No 54: a bad workman blames his tools
If your clubs don't suit your game, this saying may be justified. All the major manufacturers will now produce custom-fitted clubs for no extra cost, so it is important that the loft and lie angles, shaft length, material and flex, grip size and weight of club all suit your individual style. If they don't, you won't be performing to your best.
For example, if the lie angle of your irons is too flat for you, the face will aim right at address, and the toe of the club will dig in at impact, opening the clubface further with pushes and slices. This doesn't mean a costly new set of irons is required; your existing set can be adjusted by your professional and made to suit your swing.
None of the top pros leave their clubs to chance. Every club will be specifically built to suit their game.
Simon Iliffe, Head Professional, Bramley GC, Surrey. www.theshortgame.co.uk
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