For those of us given to a wager, and with Internet betting we are rapidly increasing in numbers, golf is taking on an entirely new life.
The game has long since been a part of life here in Scotland but for some it has become a way of life with the way paved in gold all the way to the bookmakers shop door.
To those who took up the offer of remarkable cumulative odds on the Ryder, Walker and Solheim Cups all going the European way, I raise my glass in fraternal cheers. To those nationalistic American punters who got it all terribly wrong I offer sympathy coupled with understanding. Sympathy, for on this side of the pond we know what it is like to suffer ongoing collective defeat. Understanding because we also know that to fall so precipitously from such a height must hurt badly. We feel for our American friends for we also know that their suffering is not yet over.
The Presidents Cup is looming and some of us, including a great many bookmakers, are waiting with very sweaty palms indeed.
Authorities seem to be unaware of the booming bookmaking industry in golf. Matchplay events and international team events in particular attract a great deal of betting attention. Not only are bets made on the day on individual matches but they are also made on overall results. Thus the increasingly prevalent habit, which reached the ridiculous in the Solheim Cup, of conceded matches no longer relevant to the overall result plays havoc at the bookmakers. If not for the record book, then surely for the sake of the punter, all matches should be played to completion - and in earnest.
Having made a mockery of the major strokeplay events by tricking-up courses to an extent that leaves the outcome a lottery, one wonders if the authorities are in collusion with the bookies. Abrupt lengthening of courses is also a bone of contention for punters wagering on the winning score. Wind and weather are enough to juggle with without the whims of tournament officials.
The Lancome trophy has always been an event that attracted the wagering man. Coming as it does at the end of the social season in Paris and the golfing season in continental Europe, the old course at Nom-la-Breteche has enjoyed a special place in the European calendar for 34 years. There has always been something delightfully idiosyncratic about the Lanctme Trophy. The chic Parisian elegance of the talkative and strutting galleries, for who 'le golf' is about as relevant as the racing on ladies day at Ascot, was always likely to test Colin Montgomerie and be tailor made for taciturn Retief Goosen. And so it transpired.
But, as the apples fell from the trees lining the old Nom-la-Breteche fairways, even Monty expressed sadness that this year sees the end of this beautiful old course's place on the Tour schedule. The French National Course in the south of the country will host this slot in the future and European golf will be the less for it.
The National is of Trent Jones design and is distinguished only in the amount of water that occupies its acres. Indeed, the National Course makes the nearby Camargue seem more like a desert, although it would take more than horses and bulls to make it interesting. One can confidently rely on the European Tour authorities to eschew tradition and gut any event of its character whenever possible.
Nom-la-Breteche always produced entertainment and this year was no exception. Murray Urquhart from Inverness provided this year's moment. Now in his 30th year Murray has promised so much for so long that most had given up on him. He finished 36th out of 40 qualifiers in the Tour qualifying school last year and only got a late entry to this event.
Yet, on the second day of play, Murray put together a round of 62 - one shot off the course record - having started with a bogey and finished with only 26 putts. I know not what odds were available on him to take the lowest round score, but I'm sure they were longer than those for Ben Curtis to take the Open Championship. Murray won a £1,500 gold watch for his efforts, having only ever picked up that sum once in his pro life - and that in a Challenge tour event in Africa.
Doubtless, if the European Tour had its way the Dunhill Links Championship would be played over Pittenweem Municipal. The fact that it provides the best test of golf in the year is due to the insistence of the sponsors, Dunhill, who from the outset have been determined only on the best.
With the biggest pot of the year on offer, it is fitting that it should also make the greatest demand on the players. Not only do they have to play Kingsbarns, Carnoustie and the Old Course over a three successive days, but they also have to carry an amateur partner in the process.
For the betting man the Dunhill is a bonanza. Paul Lawrie paved the way for links specialists' two years ago and Pod Harrington followed suit. Paul McGinley could have his greatest hour this year but Sandy Lyle posted his intent last year by taking joint third place and the biggest payday in his long and distinguished career. For a top-five finish Sandy is a good bet again but it is time for one of the young blades to shine.
|| 15 - SEPTEMBER 2003