Michael Alexander speaks to 2019 Alfred Dunhill Links Championship chief marshal Paul McGlynn about what it takes to keep order on the course.
When professional golfers were on the receiving end of “ugly, uncouth and unacceptable” heckling from golf fans at the 2016 Ryder Cup at Hazeltine, USA, it forced tournament organisers to make a mid-event plea for those attending the event to show more respect to the players.
But according to Paul McGlynn, chief marshal at the 2019 Alfred Dunhill Links Championship, it’s not the sort of behaviour that can be expected around St Andrews, Carnoustie or Kingsbarns this week.
The reason is that golf fans – and ‘celebrity spotters’ – at the Dunhill tend to be a far more discerning bunch, insists the former RAF Leuchars propulsion technician.
Yet there’s still a vital job to be done by Paul’s 690-strong team of volunteer marshals tasked with ensuring the US $5 million event runs smoothly across the three Courier Country courses.
“The main role of the marshals here is to ensure that the golfers who are playing get the right atmosphere and the right conditions to play and compete at the highest level,” said the 58-year-old, originally from Blantyre, who has been involved with around 30 of the 35 Dunhills held at St Andrews since 1985.
“They are basically there to be invisible effectively: to make sure that the crowd is behaved and let the golfers play as they should be doing.
“When you think of the months of set up in advance and months to decommission it for 144 people to come and enjoy themselves to play golf, that’s what we are here for – to support that and make sure it goes smoothly.
“To make sure there are no issues out on the course at all.”
The Alfred Dunhill Links Championship, which got under way on Thursday, incorporates an individual professional tournament for the world’s leading golfers and a team championship in which the professionals are paired with the amateur golfers which creates a unique atmosphere.
Yet without the volunteer marshals, there’s no way the tournament could go ahead, says Paul. This year they are mainly volunteers from local golf clubs.
Many have done the marshalling job for years – taking time out of their day jobs for the privilege – and all enjoy the buzz of being part of such a big event.
But it even attracts volunteers from as far as America.
Paul’s first experience of the Dunhill was in 1985 when, as an RAF Leuchars serviceman and a member of the RAF Leuchars Golf Club, he and a few friends got jobs on the scoreboards next to the 17th green.
Apart from a spell between 1999 and 2005 when he was based at RAF Lossiemouth, he has been involved as a marshal at just about every Dunhill since plus three Open Championships.
This is his first year as chief marshal for all three courses: he knows the Old Course particularly well having been employed full-time by St Andrews Links Trust for the past 14.5 years where he works as golfers’ assistants manager – in charge of rangers and starters.
Like many folk living in and around St Andrews, he is unfazed by the celebrity element when the town is regularly a magnet for the rich and famous.
Yet when the Open Championship comes to town every five years or so, the experience gained by marshals at the Dunhill is invaluable in coping with the scale of the Open crowds where the marshalling operation is far bigger than anything ever seen at the Dunhill.
This is something that Paul and his colleagues have in mind looking ahead to the massive 150th anniversary Open taking place at St Andrews in 2021.
Whilst not an issue at the Dunhill, a small ‘lager lout’ element of spectators at the Open can make marshals’ jobs much more difficult.
There was also controversy during the Millennium Open at St Andrews when millions of television viewers saw spectators being pushed into the Swilcan Burn by a rogue steward as they surged forward on the 18th fairway to see Tiger Woods clinch an historic victory.
This led to a review of security arrangements at The Open with an investigation also launched into how five streakers made it on to the fairways.
But all in all, golf spectators tend to be very well behaved and very knowledgeable about the game.
And for Paul, and many of the marshals, the highlight of the Dunhill is meeting and speaking to the public.
“I think what I enjoy most is probably the participation,” he said.
“Just being able to go out there and know you are making a difference. Going out to make sure the golfers enjoy themselves, but also making sure the spectators enjoy that experience as well. If it goes well and there is little or no incidents then that’s a good event and everybody is happy.”
*The Alfred Dunhill Links Championship runs from September 26 to September 29 when the final is played over the Old Course, St Andrews.