It was 1986 when I first went to the Open. As a 12 year old boy there was little that could beat spending four days from dawn to dusk watching my heroes do battle over the Turnberry links. My Dad was working in the hospitality suites and he dropped me off every morning and picked me up every evening. OK, it rained solid, the wind blew hard and it was bloody freezing but I can still remember it vividly as a great few days.
I've been back to many Opens since, living just 400 yards from the first tee at Muirfield meant that the 2013 edition was a particular thrill. I have been lucky enough to go to the US Open, the Masters and Ryder Cups; they are each wonderful experiences too and they all have their own very distinctive feels, the scale of the Open is unlike any other.
Some say that the only place to watch a golf event is the television. While I can understand why some are of that view, with a little planning you can get a huge amount out of a trip to the Open and if you have never been I would urge you to give it a go. Here are some tips to help you have a really special day.
Do a little research
It doesn't have to be a lot but it's worth finding out a little bit about the course beforehand. Watch a video flyover, read a little history. Just a bit more context of the course and research on where the drama is likely to be will help you enjoy the day even more.
Get there early, or stay late
The Open is one of the very few events that has no two tee start, with one set of players going off in the morning and one in the afternoon. Instead everyone goes off the first tee and they start early and finish late.
The first group goes off around 6.30am and the last one at 4ish in three balls. I have been on the course when the first guys have teed off and left when the last ones have finished and they are often great times of the day. The crowds are thin, there is a real sense of camaraderie among those watching and access is no problem. Go along at 6.35am this Thursday morning and you will come across Mark o'Meara and Chris Wood teeing it up. That's not a bad start to the day.
Wear Golf Shoes
There is one school of thought that says you shouldn't go to watch a golf event like you're dressed to jump over the ropes and spring into action if called on. Some say you look a little, well, silly. I say ignore such people. I guarantee that you will see someone fall on their arse at some stage on your day at the Open and don't let that person be you. The long grass gets pressed down and takes on a glassy quality, you will find yourself scrambling up dunes to get a good view. Wear your golf shoes with pride!
Take a Radio
If there was one bit of advice I would give to anyone going to the Open I would say take a radio. There are two options for listening on course - good old BBC Radio 5 Live which will have several hours of coverage every day and the Open's own radio station with non-stop action.
Listening as you go around means you will get an idea of who is making a charge, how the course is playing and adds flavour to your experience. It's also pretty cool to watch a player hitting a shot and listening to the commentary live at the same time.
If you're there on the Sunday afternoon it is critical to knowing which group is best to catch up with and even if you don't then see every single shot from the winner you'll really be on top of what is going on.
I would also suggest you do take a radio rather than listen on your phone. The radio will soon kill the battery on your phone and the signal will go in and out so an old fashioned AM radio will do the trick perfectly. If you are under the age of 20 then look them up on ebay.
.......and bring a Powerpack
Even if you're not listening to the radio on your phone the odds are you will kill the battery during the course of a day. There is a really good Open App where you can track the players on the course and of course Twitter will be full of commentary. You can make calls away from the action and discreet photos from a distance won't get you kicked out (although for the love of God don't stand next to the players with your camera out filming away, it's really annoying for everyone apart from you!).
So, pack a powerpack like this one and you will be able to surf to your heart's content!
Consider a rucksack
Every year you will see hundreds of people trudging along in the wind and the rain carrying a plastic bag with goodies from the merchandise tent or carrying their radios, programmes, powerpacks and binoculars. Their hands will be shrivelled and and faces glum. Don't let that person be you - a rucksack is the cure to all your ills!
Get ahead if you're watching a group
Following a group around can be surprisingly easy to do with a little planning. Their is a 'red route' from the 1st to the 18th which will allow you to wind your way around taking in the best vantage points and crossing the holes at the appropriate moment to place you for the next.
The secret to following one group all the way around and see every shot is to get ahead. Rather than stand on the tee watching every shot go ahead to the landing zone, you'll be in front of most of the other fans and will get a good perspective to see the shots. If the players hit it on top of me then I sometimes stay there but otherwise go up to the green to watch their approach shots and putts before going down to the landing areas on the next hole.
Now, of course it's nice to watch a few drives close up but you will get a much better view if you keep moving. To get the most out of that then listen in on the radio and.........
..........pack the binoculars
This might strike you as being a little hard core but a small pair of binoculars will help as well. One of the most common things you will hear from your fellow spectators on the course is 'who hit that'. A pair of binoculars and copy of the draw sheet (where you will find out which caddy has which bib colour on) will allow you to be the man/woman with the answers.
Smell the Roses
Chasing around after a group all day has its attractions, especially when the competition is coming to a climax but actually there can be just as much fun in staying put in one place for a while. Firstly, do spend a bit of time at the practice range, bunkers or putting green. You'll be able to get really close to the players and see them going about their routines and tuning up in normally a fairly relaxed atmosphere. Just seeing the sheer effortless nature of their swings can be a real inspiration for your next outing!
Secondly, it's well worth staying in one place for a while. The Open has more seats on the course than any other golf event on the planet so take advantage of them. Watching a few groups go through one hole can be a great way to see how different players go about the same challenge. A short par 3 or reachable par 5 make for a pleasant way to pass a couple of hours and get some thrills on the way, especially if you see a few high numbers thrown in as well!
A day at the Open won't be the cheapest day you will ever spend. The cost of entrance is steep and refreshments are pricey. Having said that, there is quite a good selection out there and enjoying a beer in front of the big screen with the huge hole-by-hole scoreboard changing next to you is a pleasant way to spend a while.
There is also quite a lot of 'free' entertainment - for juniors there's normally some tuition and various challenges for all ages. If you are a Mastercard or HSBC customer there's access to a special hospitality area (handy if it's raining).
Back in the day the tented village was a wonder to behold. All of the manufacturers would have stands as well as the inventors of weird and wonderful gadgets, purveyors of historical books, artists and tour operators. It was kind of like a golf bazaar. That has long gone now. The R&A have turned it into a high end clothing tent with everything branded to within an inch of its life. Where that works at Augusta, it's charmless and corporate here. However, if you do really decide you have your heart set on buying some gear then you may want to consider just buying it on the Open site. You won't have to lug it around all day and if your size and colour isn't available on the course, the odds are it will be online.
With a bit of planning you should have a great day at the Open. You will be able to get up close to some of the best players in the world and if you put a bit of planning into it will see a huge amount. It's quite likely that this will whet your appetite to play these great courses and that's one of the great things about British golf - you can do just that!
All of the courses on the rota are accessible with a little planning. Sure, they are expensive but if you are able to put away no more than five pounds a week you would have saved enough to get on any of the courses in a year's time.
There are tips on this site for planning trips to all of the great courses. None of them would disappoint but if you have to choose then I would encourage you to have a look at my write-ups of St Andrews, Royal St Georges or Royal Birkdale which may just be the pick of the crop. Enjoy!