But, happily, the sun also rises. Not good news for Icarus. But certainly for the Open.
Returning to a simpler programme and format, taking the game back to its roots and to its earlier home at Craigielaw, in 2011, the Open recovered its magic. Once again, there was a buzz in the air and , it was with that same sense of excitement that, in 2012, we moved to Angus County. More properly, in the golfing canon, to the legendary acres of the self-styled Carnoustie County. Since when, the Open has, quite simply, gone from strength to strength.
It’s true that the exemplary promotional skills and generous support of those who run this extraordinary brand have more than played their part in this success. And it’s also true that the courses themselves – Montrose, Panmure, Abroath, Monifieth and Carnoustie Burnside – have been their own Jack O’Lanterns, guiding in visitors from the very furthest corners of the golfing landscape. But I think it’s also true that this now burgeoning growth of the World Hickory Open is no more than a reflection of a general truth that the hickory game is very much coming of age.
Yes, there were times, not so very many years ago, when the night looked very dark. Not so much a matter of not seeing the wood for the trees. But, rather, of not even being able to see the trees. That said, what was nonetheless happening, almost unnoticed, was a growth in the number of players. And, most importantly, of players from across the world. America, Europe. Scandinavia. Australia. South Africa. A growing world family and one that was returning every year.
There are now annual hickory Opens in some twenty countries. Back in 2005, you could have counted those countries on the fingers of your hand. I’d like to think that, in some small part, the World Hickory Open has acted as a catalyst to that growth and, if that’s true, then it may explain why this year, on the wonderful fairways of the Carnoustie Championship course, we will be playing host to golfers from no less than fourteen different countries. And how very welcome they will be.
A short while ago, in the context of the first Musselburgh Challenge, I said that I would brood on why the hickory game proved quite so popular. Let me take that thought further and reflect on why I think it is now beginning to take the centre stage as a sport to be defined and celebrated in its own right.
To be honest, I think that the modern game has lost its way. Technology rules. The older, classic courses are humiliated by massive and powerful clubs that demand a habitat of at least seven and a half thousand yards. The driving of Godzilla. High, vaulting approaches, complete with the obligatory back-spin. Even a yardage count, courtesy of GPS. In such a world, the Mungo Park six thousand yard challenge is a joke.
And yet it isn’t.
That challenge remains as fascinating as it was when first introduced. Play it with the clubs it spawned. The cleek, the mashie, the niblick. Play the contours of the land, follow the mindset of Willie Park, Old Tom and Jamie Anderson as they thought their way through the heathers and the whins. Bring intelligence, tactical skills and thought, hole by hole, to your game. It’s played, not in the air, but on the ground, where touch and feel are the watchwords, rather than the hammer. And, as such, it’s a game for all. Which, of course, is where it all began.
Can I put all that in a single word? I’m not sure. But I’ll try. If pushed, I’d say that that the word is fun. The hickory game is fun. Go out there and enjoy it.
Lionel passed away on January 10th, 2017. Lionel – the heart of hickory.