What football team would you select if you had the pick of every player in every era?
Who would be the half-backs in an all-time British and Irish Lions XV? Would Muhammad Ali in his pomp have beaten Joe Louis or Rocky Marciano or Mike Tyson in theirs? Sometimes, I invite the sportsmen I meet (being trivial and largely pointless, it tends to be a man thing) to play along, and it's always fun when they do, though some of them get a bit sanctimonious, and say that you can't possibly compare the greats of the 1930s, 1950s or 1970s with their modern counterparts. Or cheat, like Richie Benaud did when I invited him to name a cricket XI for the ages, and insist on picking a squad of at least 40.
Anyway, for those of us who get a kick out of this game it was interesting this week to see the hypothetical 18 holes drawn up by Padraig Harrington and Colin Montgomerie, selected on behalf of the new patron of the Open Championship, HSBC, from the courses currently on the Open rotation. The two men, winners of two Opens between them (as Monty might like me to put it), chose four holes from each of St Andrews, Royal Birkdale and Carnoustie, two each from Muirfield and Royal Troon, one from Turnberry, and one from next week's venue, Royal St George's. Which means no representation for Lytham or Hoylake, where there has doubtless been much indignant spluttering at the bar. Members can get very proprietorial about their courses.
So, assuming a mode of transport to get instantly from every green to every tee, the finishing stretch at Royal Harrington-Montgomerie GC would have the 16th at Carnoustie followed by the 17th at St Andrews and the 18th at Muirfield, a testing climax by any standards, especially in a combination of Carnoustie cold, St Andrews wind and Muirfield rain. Incidentally, that miraculous imaginary vehicle delivering the golfers to the next tee would have been appreciated by Bubba Watson at the recent French Open, where the poor fellow, denied the Red Sea-style parting of the crowd he gets back home in the United States, had to rub shoulders with the great unwashed, much to his displeasure. He should have taken a leaf from the Book of Monty, which is like the Book of Job only with much less patience. At the Scottish Open a couple of days ago, the great man was so cocooned in his own grimacing concentration that he blanked even Sir Alex Ferguson. Not even the Manchester United manager is enough to knock Monty off his big, galumphing stride. Hell, not even the sight of Elvis Presley behind the ropes, nattering to Lord Lucan, would do it. He'd just snap at them not to make so much noise.
Apparently he and Harrington argued a fair bit about their composite course. I wouldn't quibble with it too much myself, though I might switch the 13th at Birkdale for the 13th at St Andrews, a really challenging par-four into the largest of the Old Course's famous double-greens. And Muirfield never feels quite linksy enough to me, though its last hole is undoubtedly a corker.
Whatever, I understand the focus on the active Open venues, but I'd be at least as interested in a potential Open course lifted from layouts that are good enough to host the great championship but lack the room to accommodate the circus that must now accompany it: the vast tented village, the corporate hospitality facilities, the enormous grandstands. Royal Portrush, Royal Dornoch, Royal County Down and Royal Birkdale's next-door neighbour Hillside all fall squarely into that category, and I can think of dozens more courses with holes that would grace an Open. The third and fourth at Trevose in Cornwall are wonderful linksland holes, as are the fourth, sixth and 10th on the New Course at St Andrews, plus others at Royal Porthcawl, Royal Cinque Ports, Cruden Bay, North Berwick, Nairn and doubtless many more that I have not had the pleasure of scarring with my own seven-iron, including Castle Stuart, the venue for the Scottish Open currently unfolding, and said to be the finest links constructed in Britain for decades. Come to think of it, will the R&A ever choose a new-build to house an Open Championship? It would be bold, radical and visionary, so probably not.
Harrington & Montgomerie's Perfect Open Course
1st St Andrews 376yds, par 4
2nd Royal Birkdale 421yds, par 4
3rd Carnoustie 361yds, par 4
4th St Andrews 480yds, par 4
5th Carnoustie 392yds, par 4
6th Carnoustie 512yds, par 5
7th Royal Birkdale 177yds, par 3
8th Royal Troon 123yds, par 3
9th Turnberry 449yds, par 4
10th Muirfield 475yds, par 4
11th Royal Troon 490yds, par 4
12th Royal Birkdale 183yds, par 3
13th Royal Birkdale 498yds, par 4
14th St Andrews 618yds, par 5
15th Royal St George's 496yds, par 4
16th Carnoustie 245yds, par 3
17th St Andrews 495yds, par 4
18th Muirfield 473yds, par 4
Can Cesc track back? Will Dani train him?
Urging Cesc Fabregas to join him at Barcelona, Dani Alves said in an interview this week said that he engineered his own departure from Sevilla because "I saw the train passing by and I wanted to be in business class". It's not often that footballers deploy such thoughtful imagery and we could do with more of it, even if it's all railway-related. Fabregas, a Euro star if ever there was one, should tell us if he thinks Arsenal have hit the buffers. At the moment, he seems to be suffering from signal failure.