June 16 2011
The 2011 Open Golf Championship takes place next month at the Royal St George’s Golf Club in Sandwich, Kent. The Open is always a fabulous blend of history, tradition and golfing expertise, but this year’s tournament, which runs from July 14 to 17, has a particularly exotic undertone, especially if you are an enthusiast with a literary or cinematic bent.
Royal St George’s was the favourite club of the keen amateur golfer and James Bond creator Ian Fleming, who used it as the template for the famous match between 007 and Goldfinger in his 1959 novel. In the film, Sean Connery and Gert Fröbe battle it out at the more prosaic Stoke Park course near Pinewood Studios. But in the book the “Royal St Mark’s” is unmistakably Sandwich, as the author sets up “a game played on a beautiful day in May with larks singing over the greatest seaside golf course in the world”. In both the film and the novel, Goldfinger proves he’s a wrong ’un by being caught cheating with the assistance of his henchman, Oddjob.
Fleming’s membership of Royal St George’s began during his bachelor days in 1948. Sixteen years later, he’d just been voted captain-elect and had attended his first committee meeting when he died suddenly of a heart attack. Living out aspects of 007’s lifestyle, notably the 60 Morland Specials cigarettes a day and those power-packed vodka martinis, had taken its toll, and he died at the unhappily early age of 56.
But with what style and panache he’d lived his life. There can surely be no journalist who hasn’t read with envy of the way he organised his time as Atticus of The Sunday Times. According to his first biographer, John Pearson, who assisted on the column, Fleming would dictate his copy to his secretary between 3pm and 4.30pm every Thursday. The next morning he corrected the galley proofs and checked the illustrations before popping round to the old Scott’s in Piccadilly for lunch, prior to jumping into his American Ford Thunderbird and racing to Sandwich for nine holes before tea.
Fleming had a born writer’s sense of place, as his loving descriptions of Royal St George’s demonstrate. He adored the east Kent coast and his weekend house, White Cliffs, which had belonged to Noël Coward, was at nearby St Margaret’s Bay. He also enjoyed conveying his and Bond’s penchant for good food and drink and would no doubt have appreciated that top-quality refreshments are considered a vital component of the Open Golf Championship.
Watching the world’s best players over the full 18 holes from dawn to dusk will test the stamina of the most resilient spectator. Fortunately, the caterer Sodexo is offering a range of official hospitality fine-dining packages that promise “locally sourced food of the highest calibre” and, as The R&A’s chief executive, Peter Dawson, observes, they will provide the perfect opportunity to “relax and recharge” before heading back out onto the links.
The current Open champion, Louis Oosthuizen, was a 250-1 outsider at the start of last year’s competition, so I’m not going to pretend it will be easy to back the winner this July. But I haven’t lost faith in my 2010 tip, Rory McIlroy, who finished third at St Andrews after being blown off course during the second round, and I’m backing him each way once again at 16-1 with Fitzdares.