In these fraught and tumultuous political times, it is comforting that there remain some things we still do especially well. One of them is assuredly the Walker Cup. To be walking the fairways – literally – at Royal Liverpool on the opening morning was a rare treat.
In a quintessentially British way, it felt that most of the spectators were only a maximum of two steps removed from knowing each other.
The blue-bloods from the world’s great golf clubs and institutions on both sides of the Atlantic mixed happily with the enthusiastic local golf fans.
On the one hand, there were R&A members and USGA representatives with delegations from the likes of Los Angeles Country Club, Merion, Royal Lytham and Royal County Down.
On the other, golfers young and old sported the crests of Wirral clubs such as Heswall, Bromborough, Caldy and Hoylake Ladies.
They spoke the common language of golf. For anyone who takes pleasure in sharing the watching of sport with fellow dedicated enthusiasts, spectating at the Walker Cup is unparalleled. It’s an event that only those who truly love the game attend.
If the crowds were a little sparse when the foursomes got underway – they knew it would be a long day’s spectating – that made it all the richer an experience for the early risers.
At the Walker Cup, uniquely, tradition dictates that you can wander down the fairways behind the players. It offers the opportunity to watch golf of the highest quality from close quarters. The thud of wedge on sandy seaside turf is a joy to behold.
While walking down the 1st fairway after an opening iron that finished perilously close to the out-of-bounds practice ground, the affable Tom Plumb said hello to a few of the many friends and well-wishers who had come up from his home county of Somerset to support him.
That’s another feature of the Walker Cup. You can expect to find a delegation from each of the home clubs of the various players. In Harry Hall’s case that meant a Cornwall flag bobbing up and down beside him wherever he went.
Matt Fitzpatrick, part of the European team at the 2016 Ryder Cup, followed his younger brother, Alex.
Playing in the top match, within an hour and a half of getting the Walker Cup underway, Fitzpatrick and Portmarnock’s Conor Purcell were striding down the 10th fairway, a handsome lead established.
The entire foursomes series was concluded within four hours of its 8.30am start. And yet the players often don’t even have time for lunch between sessions in the Ryder Cup.
That left an hour before the first of the singles teed off. Can you think of anything more British than such a civilised gap between sessions for what the Honourable Company of Edinburgh Golfers would call a good lunch?
It is very much in keeping with the spirit of the event – the Corinthian spirit.
The Walker Cup is an event that does not obviously belong in the 21st century. It is done and dusted inside two days. It’s exclusively for (gentlemen) amateurs. The only formats entertained are foursomes and singles. Pace of play is brisk. There is much pomp and ceremony off the course but very little on it. Expect opening ceremonies, grand dinners, drinks parties and sub-three-hour rounds.
Needless to say, good shots from both teams were treated with appreciative applause. To be the visiting team in the Walker Cup is be accorded every respect, according to the ancient laws of hospitality towards strangers.
The only discordant notes in the galleries spectating at the Walker Cup came between a group of friendly Welsh, Scottish and English spectators as they waited for the third match to approach the 12th green.
Contemplating the Cornish flag coming towards them, one wondered if they were hoping for independence too.
“There’ll be nothing left of us,” an English woman lamented. “Ireland, Scotland, Wales, Cornwall…
“I’m sorry. I promised my husband I wouldn’t mention Brexit today.”
Everyone shifted their feet uncomfortably and stared into the middle distance for a couple of seconds.
The elephant in the room here was, of course, the existential threat to a sporting team representing Great Britain and Ireland in the future.
And yet, at Royal Liverpool, an Anglo-Irish alliance led out the home team. They duly posted the first point of the weekend.
The teenagers and 20-somethings – five English, three Irish and two Scots – that make up the home team are delighted to play together and know no different.
Perhaps it is a suspension of disbelief; perhaps an example of sport breaking down boundaries where politicians and all else fail. Take your pick.
To attend and therefore participate in the experience of a home Walker Cup is to be part of a gentler, more inclusive, friendlier, more courteous, more respectful and, yes, privileged world.
But, at least for one weekend every four years, it feels like a special place to be.
We dive deep into the golf ball roll back plans!