Apparently they were not mandatory, but it seemed that everyone at The Renaissance had one anyway.
No, not face masks – and you were only required to wear those if you were in one of the covered areas about the course. No, I mean another essential item in the return of golf fans to the fairways at the abrdn Scottish Open.
Rab and Rhona Rucksack were back, and it was just great to see them. Indeed, Milletts and Blacks must have been cleared of all backpack produce in the last week. You wouldn’t see as many if you spent a whole month at Glencoe.
Back behind the bright blue ropes
Around 4000 fans were permitted back to watch behind the bright blue ropes at The Renaissance – almost forgotten the thrill of getting tangled up in those – but it seemed like much more.
When someone hit one close to a flag, there was what appeared to be an explosion of noise. It wasn’t really, but it just felt like that. We’ve been accustomed to just the sole slow clap of a deeply unimpressed journalist in the 21 months since the last spectatored golf tournament in Scotland, the 2019 Dunhill Links.
There’s going to be 32,000 a day at the Open at Sandwich next week. We’ll need to bring earplugs.
The players, to a man, totally loved it. Most have been playing in a vacuum for nearly two years and it’s been dispiriting. They discovered again how buoyed they are by the cumulative reaction of the crowd.
‘You walk to the green with your chin up’
“They really want you to hole everything,” said Robert MacIntyre, who really needs a crowd to bring out his natural ebullience. “You walk to the green with your chin up”.
The weather, for once on a significant Scottish golf occasion, played along. It was glorious and sunny, and there were shades and caps and all those rucksacks full of wisely-packed raingear remained unopened.
There were loads of excited kids – one small lad nearly fainted when Henrik Stenson gave him a golf ball.
There were pizza picnics – the wood-fired pop-up pizza place has been a welcome lockdown addition – and obviously ice cream. A few clumsy tumbles down the slopes? That’s what happens when you’re a slave to fashion and wear Converse rather than golf shoes.
Distancing? Well, it wasn’t slavishly followed, to be honest. It was kind of hard to do when the banner groups of MacIntyre-Lee Westwood-Collin Morikawa and the all-world afternoon group of McIlroy-Rahm-Justin Thomas were being followed around.
But the best golf fans in the world (trademarked) were clapping at the right times, as they always do. The “ooohs” of disappointment when a MacIntyre putt stayed up were as genuine as always.
‘It felt ‘normal’ again’
It doesn’t take much for the European Tour’s chief executive Keith Pelley to get optimistic, and he was thrilled by the whole day.
“I drove in today and saw the set-up, and it was easy to have a smile on your face as it felt that word, ‘normal’ again,” he said.
“I think this is the first time in almost 18 months at one of our tournaments that I have visited the village. We haven’t had villages because we haven’t had fans.
“To see people in the stands is just terrific. When you are talking to the players, having talked to a whole bunch of them today, they said it just changes the whole atmosphere.
“We are incredibly excited about a potential return to some type of normality and this is a good first step.”
‘We have shown we can create a safe environment’
— The European Tour (@EuropeanTour) July 8, 2021
Pelley said the help of the Scottish Government had been “spectacular”.
“We have shown that we can create a safe environment. We are still obviously playing in a restricted bubble but, even then, we’ve made a couple of changes.
“One, for example, has allowed spouses to come back this week. That has been a big boost to the players. Just a little bit of hope that fans are going to come back and grow gives people a good feeling.”
England’s Jack Senior was the surprise leader, by one shot over Lee Westwood and Justin Thomas. Jon Rahm, the new World No 1 and US Open champion, started with a 66 to be just two off the lead.
But it almost didn’t matter. You felt the light at the end of the tunnel at last, glinting off thousands of rucksack tags. We’re back, folks.