Unruly crowds made headlines at the 2016 Ryder Cup, but there’s no prospect of similar scenes at the Alfred Dunhill Links Championship this weekend, the event’s St Andrews-based chief marshal tells Michael Alexander.
Ugly. Uncouth. Unacceptable. These were just some of the words that were used to describe the behaviour of a number of USA golf fans who hurled verbal abuse at European players at the 41st Ryder Cup at Hazeltine, outside Minneapolis, on October 2.
But according to Brendan Duffy, chief marshal at the Alfred Dunhill Links Championship, it’s not the sort of antics that can be expected around St Andrews, Carnoustie or Kingsbarns this week.
That’s because golf fans – and ‘celebrity spotters’ – at the Dunhill tend to be a far more discerning bunch, insists the former RAF Leuchars Rapier Missile warrant officer and St Andrews Golf Club member.
Yet there’s still a job to be done by Brendan’s 700-strong team of volunteer marshals tasked with ensuring that the US $5 million event runs smoothly across the three Courier Country courses.
“The primary role of the marshals whether they be static, travelling (with matches) or in the grandstands is to ensure that the players can play their golf without being disturbed by spectators and to ensure that the spectators stay behind the ropes,” explains the Northern Irishman, who has been chief marshal at the Dunhill since 2004.
“It has to be remembered, however, that spectators – on Sunday at least – have paid to watch the golf and an important part of the marshal’s role is to ensure that they can do so and that their visit to the tournament is made as enjoyable as possible.
“That’s the most important thing for me – to assist the spectators with information, because we get a lot of questions asked.”
The Alfred Dunhill Links Championship, which got under way on Thursday October 6, 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 Brendan.
Before a regime change in 2010, crossing marshals at St Andrews were paid the minimum wage. It was a legacy which dated back to the days of work being provided for local caddies at The Open from the 1960’s.
Today, the marshals – now rewarded with £12 of vouchers for a half day shift, a free fleece-lined wax jacket and hat, plus complimentary ticket for the final – still play a vital role keeping order on the course.
This year they comprise a mix of volunteers from local golf clubs, golf enthusiasts, and for the first time, feature members of the army from Leuchars Station, having previously utilised members of the former RAF Leuchars Golf Club.
Many local volunteers 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 and Ireland.
Brendan’s first experience of the Dunhill was in 1985 when, as a serving RAF Leuchars serviceman, he was tasked with leading out the 16 nation flags as part of the original Dunhill Cup team tournament.
“That was a breath taking and surreal experience,” he recalls.
“For first time I was up close with the pros. It was all pros in those days.”
When the Falklands and Gulf veteran left the RAF in 1992 after 30 years’ service and secured a job with St Andrews Links Trust, it paved the way for him to become more involved with local golf and after experience of marshalling at The Open and Dunhills, he was asked to take on the chief’s role.
St Andrews is, of course, no stranger to hosting major golf tournaments.
While the Dunhill attracts many autograph hunters, to many seasoned locals the celebrity element is in fact ‘no big deal’ when the town is regularly a magnet to the rich and famous.
Yet when the Open Championship comes to town every five or six years, 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.
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 Swilken 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 at the Dunhill tend to be very well behaved and very knowledgeable about the game.
And for Brendan, and many of the marshals, the highlight of the Dunhill is meeting and speaking to the public.
This year the Alfred Dunhill Links Championship includes a line-up of Major Championship winners, including current Masters champion Danny Willett, and members of the European Ryder Cup team.
Willett flew straight from the Ryder Cup in Hazeltine with Rafa Cabrera Bello, Matthew Fitzpatrick, Martin Kaymer, Thomas Pieters and Lee Westwood.
Other Major champions in the field include two-time winner Padraig Harrington, Louis Oosthuizen, Graeme McDowell, Trevor Immelman and Y.E.Yang.
Among the celebrities taking part are Hollywood stars Jamie Dornan, Andy Garcia, Matthew Goode, Hugh Grant, Greg Kinnear and Kyle MacLachlan.
They are joined by the likes of music giants Ronan Keating, Huey Lewis and Bon Jovi’s Tico Torres, while Linkin Park’s David Farrell and former Westlife lead singer Brian McFadden are playing for the first time.