Scotland in late September is not generally known for its balmy climate, and while the glorious sunshine today bathing the east coast of “The Home of Golf” might not quite put it on a par with the temperatures still being experienced in Saint-Tropez, the star-studded, celebrity clientele on show might just do it.
The Alfred Dunhill Links Championship, as always being played over three of the world’s finest links courses, The Old Course at St. Andrews, Kingsbarns, and Carnoustie, is as unique and characterful an event as you will find on the international golf calendar.
It not only provides a stern test of the world’s best golfers, in some of the most iconic golfing landscapes, but its blanket Pro-Am format attracts a celebrity contingent as prestigious and globally known as the old clubhouse at St. Andrews itself.
Hollywood legend Michael Douglas, who won a Best Actor Oscar at the 1987 Academy Awards for his lead role in “Wall Street”, is this week taking to the links with another marvel, this time of the golfing world, former Ryder Cup Captain Colin Montgomerie.
From the professional sports field there is a multitude of ex-Olympians, footballing heroes, and current sports stars, from World Cup winner Sir Bobby Charlton, to rowing gold medallists and Knights of the Realm Sir Steve Redgrave and Sir Matthew Pinsent, former darling of the tennis world Tim Henman, while current England cricket captain Andrew Strauss is also joined by ex-spin-King Shane Warne.
And that is naming but a few. The partnerships the format throws up are nothing short of mind-boggling; who would have ever thought that Challenge Tour graduate David Horsey would ever play a professional golf event alongside ten-time surfing world champion Kelly Slater?
Another film actor, Hugh Grant, is making his regular appearance at the tournament, as is another famous amateur golf nut, radio DJ Chris Evans. They are joined by luminaries of the music business Huey Lewis and Bon Jovi drummer, Tico Torres, and the latter is eternally thankful for the opportunity to grace such remarkable venues.
“Coming here every year is a treat and an honour,” he enthused. “To able to walk on the hallowed grounds that have been walked for the last 500 years is pretty amazing.”
And former Australian cricket captain Steve Waugh compares the experience to his most prized memories from his own career.
He said: “I think playing the Road Hole, to me, is like playing at Lord’s in cricket.
“It’s got that tradition and mystique and something special about it,” he continued, “and when you play it, and when you are on that tee and you’re nervous, and you’re looking forward to playing the hole, that’s the closest I’ll ever come to playing international cricket again.”
A number of the pros have elected to play with family members, including McIlroy who is playing with father Gerry, and his good friend Graeme McDowell, who teed-off beside brother Gary.
2011 Open Championship winner Darren Clarke, meanwhile, had to make do with Lee Westwood’s former partner, friend and boss Andrew “Chubby” Chandler, and the ISM founder had nothing but good words for this week’s event.
“One of the great things about this is it has become a bit like a club,” he said. “There are 160 amateurs and you’ll probably find that 120 are the same guys that were here last year, so they get used to it and they know when to get out of the way and let the pro get on with it.
“The whole format just works; it is, as I said, it’s like a boys club.”
And while the week is unquestionably a great deal of fun for both players and amateurs alike, there is the serious matter of a not insignificant €588,148 prize for the victor, and with it a chance to make a serious move in this year’s Race to Dubai.
World Number One, Luke Donald, is looking to become the first in history to top the money lists on both sides of the pond in the same season, and the Hemel Hempstead born man currently possesses a healthy lead at the summit of the Race to Dubai, while also retaining a narrow gap in the transatlantic standings.
Looking to hunt Donald down this week in Scotland are three of the current top six in the World Ranking: defending champion Martin Kaymer, US Open champion Rory McIlroy, and World Number Two Lee Westwood, and all three have been resolute in their beliefs that the Race is far from run.
Westwood, who won the event in 2003, said: “We’ve got a lot of big events coming up, worth a lot of money. We’ve got a World Golf Championship, we’ve got the Dunhill Links and the Portugal Masters over these next few weeks.
“There’s still a lot to play to play for, and if you put a run together then you would hope someone can put a bit of pressure on Luke.”
Kaymer topped the Race to Dubai in 2010, helped in no small part by his three back-to-back victories at the US PGA, the KLM Open and, of course, the Alfred Dunhill Links Championship, and the German identifies a special bond with the Old Course.
“Here in St. Andrews, to defend my title would be absolutely fantastic,” he said. “This is a place where I feel the most comfortable. I don’t know [what it is], but you feel so peaceful here, so much like home.
“I am playing with my dad this year as well, so it will be a great week.”
Despite the assortment of fame and fortune on display this week, however, the real stars of the show are the three courses on which the professionals and amateurs will together do battle.
For the eleventh time, the elite of the golfing world, sports, entertainment, and business have flocked to Fife and Angus, to play the world’s oldest sport on some of its most cherished turf.
From the historic Road Hole at St. Andrews, to the beastly test at Carnoustie and the new-links style of Kingsbarns, the Alfred Dunhill Links Championship continues to be a fitting tribute and celebration of links golf at its very finest.
And with a scene-stealing climax on the Old Course, who will be preparing an acceptance speech and who will be picking up the much sought-after Dunhill Links trophy come prime-time Sunday?