Women’s British Open: BBC’s Hazel Irvine on St Andrews

The BBC Sport presenter explains what makes St Andrews a unique venue for golf

What role has the Auld Grey Toun played in your life?

I was born there and lived there for my first four years. I was born at the Craigtoun Maternity hospital which became an old folks’ home and has now become part of the Duke’s Course. I have actually played there so it is quite surreal playing at where you were born. We then moved to near Helensburgh on the west coast. I studied History of Art and English and went on to study honours in History. I have lots of associations and a huge number of memories, both personal and professional. Round every corner there are floods of memories from my student days and I still think the university is the best place you can study; there is an intimacy about the place as well as a real cosmopolitan and town and gown feel. Some memories are just plain daft and some are quite stressful – for example when you walk past the old lecture hall where you sat your finals. More than that, I was heavily associated with golf, I played for the university and helped to stage the golf holiday programme in the summer time which was a thrill.

How much has it changed?

All the pubs have been through various incarnations so a number have changed but the Balaka curry house never changes and the Victoria Café is still there. We used to go to the Niblick pub and would run down for last orders from the halls of residence. I used to stay in the Hamilton Hall, which is next to the R&A clubhouse and has now been taken over by Herb Kohler, so the Dunvegan pub was always a big one as it was so nearby. I was on the top floor in room 90 so I had a fantastic view of the 1st and 18th and every morning I used to come striding out with my best friend Anne in the lead up to our finals, march down the side of the 1st fairway and across Granny Clark’s Wynd and straight back up to the library.

To then work there in a professional sense must be particularly exciting for you?

What was a massive thrill was to have our production studio, we call it the Silver Bullet, right next to the putting green and I was able to present the programme when Lorena Ochoa won it in 2007 and, for so many reasons, it was just so lovely. I remember sitting up there in room 90 and looking down and wishing I was a part of the golf and now I was.

What is your favourite course?

I love the Old Course but I always preferred the New, a lot of the fairways were lined with the gorse and there was this amazing sea of yellow. It was a beautifully serene place to be and there was a little more shelter. We had an exemption system in the first couple of years where if you did reasonably well in your studies you didn’t have to sit your exams at the end of the year. So my rationale was that if I worked my guts out I could play golf in the last term. The student rates were something like £35 to play all five courses so it was incredible and you could skip out after all the tee times had gone and play the 1st, 2nd, 3rd, 16th, 17th and 18th and imagine yourself taking the imaginary applause of the imaginary crowds. It is a magical place to be.
I love the Old Course but I always preferred the New, a lot of the fairways were lined with the gorse and there was this amazing sea of yellow What does your role entail when the coverage begins?

If we are live I will have written my opening script and generally my role is to pitch in with leaderboards and go out and speak to players. At the Women’s Open we tend to get a little bit closer to the holding area for the players so I can speak to them face to face. A lot of the time I am lobbying like crazy to try and get the players into the studio as you get a different kind of interview as they are naturally more relaxed, they are sitting down with a drink and it’s warm and you can explore a little bit more than just their round. And hopefully it’s illuminating for them as well.

Who do you particularly enjoy speaking with?

There are some really engaging personalities in the ladies’ game; Yani Tseng is a particularly charming individual and is great fun, they are all very media savvy. It’s always a pleasure to see Catriona Matthew, sometimes she brings the girls in and her husband Graeme is lovely and is such a quiet driving force.

Presumably Catriona’s win would be up there with your favourite moments in golf?

Her win at Lytham has to be among my favourite memories in sport, she was one of my first ever interviews on Scottish television in 1987. I was this junior reporter and Stirling University had just started their golf scholarships and Catriona was one of those. ‘Beany’ is not one of the most effusive people in an interview, she is perfectly charming of course, so there was me trying to do an interview with both of us as nervous as the other. We got through it and then all these years later to be standing behind the 18th at Lytham and seeing her win was extraordinary. Being a mother myself and to come from 11 weeks and win after giving birth was incredible. It’s also really exciting to see some of these youngsters coming through like Charley Hull and Holly Clyburn and I’m really looking forward to meeting them. I’ve met Lydia Ko a couple of times and she is a remarkably mature person. I’ve seen Carly Booth since she was about nine so it is really rewarding to see these players come through and makes you feel quite old at times!

Do the nerves get any less?

It manifests itself in different ways, over the years you learn that you will get a bit twitchy as the event approaches. You evolve a process of preparation and as long as you have completed that then you will be OK. It is like studying for an exam, if you haven’t done the work then it will always be a bit of a kick scramble. Because I have done the work I feel more relaxed and then I can enjoy it and that excitement and anticipation is channelled into adrenaline and you can then channel those nerves into something that is constructive. I’ve done a lot of work with UK Sport and it is interesting to hear how athletes prepare for events and, while I will never be as talented as them, there are some similarities in what we kind of go through in terms of nerves and preparation. You can only do your best, it is live television, which is the thrill and the terror of it, and there is nothing I would rather be doing than watching the Open Championship or Women’s British Open. 

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