AS you can probably imagine from the way the Tuesday column takes shape, this correspondent has conjured some quite unfathomable moments on a golf course down the seasons. At best, my swipings, pokings and thrashings can be described as modest. At worst, utterly blasphemous

Nothing, though, has been as preposterous as the prolonged palaver involving myself and a bloomin’ St Andrews seagull over the hallowed terrain of the Old Course last week. Yes, the golf writers still get to desecrate some of the most sacred shrines now and again.

As for that pesky, feathered fiend? Well, it was my sacred steak, black pudding and slootery gravy pie from the halfway hoose that he was eager to desecrate with menacing, beady-eyed, beak-clacking kleptoparasitism.

You couldn’t blame the bird, of course. It really was a tremendous pie. But this whole ornithological farce highlighted my pitiful mental fortitude which swiftly became as brittle as the Dead Sea Scrolls due to the gull’s glowering presence.

All the way up the 10th hole, there he was, lurking ominously behind me and occasionally bursting into a thrusting, squawking waddle or taking flight in a sinister encircling manoeuvre to get a better angle of attack as the alluring reek of this meaty delicacy wafted across the auld links.

Overwhelmed by my own cursing, shrieking, flapping agitation, your correspondent ducked, darted and crouched like an under-fire infantryman landing on the Normandy beaches. My game, meanwhile, descended into a series of flustered tops, duffs, hoiks and skitters and eventually led to me picking my ball up and scurrying off to the relative safety of the next tee as my playing partners guffawed at the Hitchcockian absurdity of it all.

I’m pleased to report that I did manage to wolf down my pie eventually but the sheer gasping haste in which it was devoured led to a chest-thumping dose of heartburn by the time I surveyed my dodgy lie amid Miss Grainger’s Bosoms up the 15th.

When 290,000 souls descend on the Old Course for the 150th Open in July, the gulls of the Auld Grey Toun will no doubt have a field day. The record-busting figure, which will be some 50,000 more than the biggest ever Open attendance set at St Andrews back in 2000, is a jaw-dropping number.

The Old Course, despite its history and lore, is comfortably the worst viewing venue on the Open rota with double greens and fairways leaving spectators a long way from the action. If you managed to get a ticket in a ballot which had over 1.3 million applications, then good luck to you. Over the jam-packed links, your movement will have about as much surging impetus as Granpaw Broon hirpling to the booling club when his bunions are playing up.

Martin Slumbers, the R&A’s chief executive, has always said that “a big-time sport needs a big-time crowd.” He’ll certainly get his wish this summer.

A couple of years ago, Slumbers made it clear that there was, essentially, a hierarchy developing in terms of Open venues as the R&A look more favourably at hosts that that can easily accommodate the 200,000-plus mark. The emphasis on increased ticket sales gently nudges certain esteemed courses into the margins. That’s a shame for some outstanding venues.

So, is The Open becoming too big? The 150th showpiece will certainly be a mighty test of wider infrastructure in an age when various services, facilities and staff-levels in this country still feel a bit stretched in the wake of covid, Brexit and all that carry on.

Some of you, of course, will probably think The Open had grown too big anyway. The idea of simply turning up and buying a ticket at the gate, which was one of the great charms of the championship, has become such a thing of the past, your nostalgic thinking should be accompanied by a wistful tune played by a colliery brass band. When sport blends with high commerce, there’s always a price to pay.

And there’s a heck of a price to pay if you want to purchase a ticket through unofficial websites. A quick type into Google on the internet produces the kind of eye-popping results the Tory MP who claimed he was searching for a tractor got. You can get a ticket for the first day of the championship for £425. Prices for the final day reach £1675. It’s marginally cheaper than a night in a local Air B&B, mind you.

The R&A has set up a regulated platform for ticket holders, who now cannot attend The Open, to sell their briefs on at face value but there’s only so much the governing body can do on that front.

As with all big sporting occasions these days, the touts will continue to display the avarice of that ruddy gull chasing a golf writer’s pie.


Talking of forking out hefty sums, entry to the curtain-raising event on Greg Norman’s multi-million-dollar Saudi-backed series in Hemel Hempstead next month will set you back £68 per day.

For a shotgun-start event which still doesn’t have a confirmed field – speculation suggests maybe only 15 of the world’s top 100 will be in a 48-man line-up – it’s a bold pricing strategy which has attracted plenty of ridicule. Even the touts might give it a wide berth?