An Aberdeenshire dawn. In deep December. At eight o’clock it’s still almost dark here in Northern Scotland, but I’ve been awake for a while.
A gale has been howling across the sand dunes all night, rattling the windows of my hotel room, whilst the branches of the tree outside are still swaying as if in the aftermath of some apocalyptic explosion.
I grab my windjacket, and head downstairs, past the hotel bar and restaurant where we ate so well last night. I nod in deference to this holy shrine – the hallowed tables where they serve the most famous sticky toffee pudding in all the world.
It was a cool, misty morning on the banks of the River Avon, the rain falling as softly as Irish tears beside the Liffey.
And as I ran this Sunday, I set my mind back to all the great Ryder Cups I’d watched through the years. Some won, some halved, and so many which were gloriously and frustratingly lost. Every single one of them was just as captivating and compelling as golf ever can be.
And yet in this year’s event, I felt there was something different, something intangible which I hadn’t seen before.
To be sure, the spectacle, and the atmosphere were more magnificent than ever, with both teams privileged to drink at long last from that well of Irish hospitality and welcome which flowed to the brim in County Kildare this week.
But more than that, I realised that it was our expectations which had changed.
I’ve never played at St Andrews. That’s a poor admission to make, for any keen golfer. Playing at the Home of Golf is a sporting ambition which I must one day address, since although I’ve played some of the best seaside courses in England, Wales, and the west of Scotland, so far only Stonehaven has witnessed my hacking on her eastern coast.
It’s always a marvellous battle with the elements on a links course. The wind, the dunes and the sea make such fine companions, that the experience can become almost sacred.
He’d been walking thoughtfully behind, but now his playing partners parted deferentially as he joined them. A brief flash of a film-star smile, a swish of a copper bracelet, and the ball soared into a blue Alpine sky. The finest player of a generation turned modestly to this lone spectator, nodding acknowledgement of the necessarily thin applause as another drive split the fairway.
The 16th hole in the last round, watching the defending champion come down the stretch at the Swiss Open and European Masters. And even though the double US Masters and triple British Open winner was only one stroke off the lead, and a smallish crowd was waiting in the single grandstand around the final green, with three holes left it still seemed there were only a handful of us actually out there on the course.
The European Tour has changed since then. By the time Luke Donald celebrated his Ryder Cup place with a victory in the same tournament at Crans-sur-Sierre in 2004, the crowds were massive. Just one event was responsible for raising the profile of the sport across the continent, and that was the Ryder Cup. And the one man who made it happen undoubtedly was that same Severiano Ballesteros.
Priorities shift like the tide, and this summer it seems high time to rediscover my golf game.
This is the real sport of my life, and the one where I can actually compete on a reasonable level. If I could run like I golf, maybe I’d even be a 2:30 marathoner.
I left my familiar tracks high on the Chalk of the Surrey Hills to find my 12 miler yesterday in Stratford-upon-Avon.
Started along the banks of the River Avon, then heading west into rural Warwickshire along The Greenway, following part of the route for the Shakespeare Marathon. We are having fabulous weather here in the UK – almost no rain for the whole of September – and the mist was still rising as I set out across the floodplain by Stratford racecourse. Views of the Cotswolds and Bredon Hill in the distance, with the leaves just showing a faint tinge of yellow.
Crossed the river again by The Four Alls pub in Welford-on-Avon before turning homeward in glorious autumn sunshine. Swans, canal boats and rowers were out in force alongside the Royal Shakespeare Theatre by the time I got back to town.