George Brown walked through the revolving doors and stood on the terrace, staring out over thedarkened course to the sea beyond. It was midnight.
Below, the stands stood empty, the marquees looked ghostly. Another Open Championship was over. He felt elated and exhausted in equal measure. As Estates and Golf Course Manager, he had been responsible for making sure that the Ailsa was in perfect condition for the world’s greatest players. He had done his job – but he hadn’t had much sleep in the last week.
Behind him, the hotel was still ablaze with light. It had been a close-fought contest and Nick Price, the Zimbabwean, had triumphed by a single stroke. The bars and lounges were buzzing and people would be up till all hours over their drinks, reliving every moment of a thrilling finale. Tired as he was, and glad to be out of the hubbub, George couldn’t quite tear himself away. He stood for another few moments, letting his mind quieten as he gazed into the darkness. Out on the point, the lighthouse winked its warning, but his eye was drawn as always to the dim outline of the course. In the afternoon when the sun was low you could see every wrinkle on it from here. And every wrinkle had its own tale to tell. No one knew that better than he did.
Even so, George still had to pinch himself sometimes. Turnberry’s previous Open, the second here, had been held in 1986, a few months after he had begun the job – a challenge if ever there was one. But he had risen to the occasion, and in the eight years since, he had successfully managed what many considered to be the finest, most spectacular links course on earth. His unseen hand had tended to the fairways and greens that drew golfers from every corner of the globe.
The humble caddy-master’s son from Sandwich, Kent had personally welcomed statesmen and movie stars, world-famous sportsmen and businessmen. He had played rounds with the rich and famous. And if ever he needed bringing back down to earth, he had his team of groundsmen and greenkeepers to remind him that in the end of the day it was all about the turf and the soil, the sand and the salt, the sun and the wind, the rough and the smooth.
George filled his lungs with fresh sea air. He was not a man given to regrets, but if he had one it was that he hadn’t been here for the “Duel in the Sun”, as Turnberry’s famous first Open was known. Every golf enthusiast the world over was familiar with the titanic struggle between Tom Watson and Jack Nicklaus in 1977. It had gone down in sporting annals as possibly the greatest golf championship of all time.
Watson and Nicklaus, the best of friends, the best of enemies. There was a photo in the clubhouse of the two men walking off the eighteenth green together at the end, the victor and the vanquished, arms around each others’ shoulders, their mutual affection obvious to the world. It never failed to tug at George’s heart. For three days the two Americans had level- pegged. Paired on the penultimate day, they were paired again on the Sunday and battled it out stroke for stroke until the seventeenth, when Nicklaus missed a birdie putt and went down a stroke. Turnberry – and the watching world – held its breath as each man in turn birdied the eighteenth, leaving Watson the winner of his second Open with a course record score of 268.
George left the terrace and walked slowly down the long flight of stone steps towards the darkened clubhouse. As he neared the foot of the hill he noticed movement on the pitch-and-putt course. Although it was now past midnight the street lamps were still on. In their sodium glow, two men were enjoying a leisurely game on the little 12-hole course. Their wives stood by and applauded as one sank his putt.
George’s house was just across the road and the path home took him more or less straight past them.
“Evening gentlemen,” he called out as he drew level. “I hope you’ve paid your green fees!”
All four laughed and George walked on, his heart beating a little faster.
He paused at his front door and turned round. The two men were standing close together, leaning casually on their putters, arms around each other’s shoulders. Their wives stood chatting a little distance apart.
George opened the front door and went upstairs.
His wife was already in bed. The bedroom window was open to the road and the pitch-and- putt course beyond.
“Who on earth were you were talking to at this time of night?” she asked.
He hesitated for a moment before replying, “Tom and Jack.”
“Tom and Jack?”
“Watson and Nicklaus,” he answered.
He could see his wife’s look of disbelief. For a moment he could scarcely believe it himself. But it was true, it really was – seventeen years older, but still the best of friends, the best of enemies.
And it couldn’t have happened anywhere else in the world.
As he began to get ready for bed, a broad grin spread across George Brown’s face.