Here Comes the Sun

Summer in England means a wealth of sporting events, from Wimbledon to the British Open

By: Tim Yeo

The British Open is one of the very few truly global sporting events. But if you get in a London cab this summer, the driver is less likely to talk about the Open than the possibility of one last hurrah by Tim Henman at Wimbledon or the prospects for England’s cricket team in the Lord’s test match. 

On the face of it, it’s surprising that golf’s only major played outside the United States ranks lower in Britain’s sporting psyche than Wimbledon, which hasn’t had a home-bred champion for a generation, or cricket, whose mostly middle-class appeal is confined to a dozen countries.

Not that there is a lack of interest in the Open.  But it hasn’t quite grabbed the hearts and minds of the public in the same way as Wimbledon or Lord’s.

One factor is its position in the calendar. As well as coming after the high points of the tennis and cricket seasons, it follows the iconic horse race meetings at Epsom and Ascot, the latter also a fashion parade always attended by Queen Elizabeth. Britain’s Formula One race and the Henley Royal Regatta, an international rowing competition on the River Thames 20 miles from London, also vie for attention.

Also, the Open is rarely held near London. This makes going to the Open hard for business types with crowded diaries. Furthermore, golf doesn’t lend itself to corporate entertaining as easily as other sports.

For networking, a day at Lord’s, the nation’s top cricket stadium, is better. The leisurely pace of cricket, played so slowly that a game can last five days and still not produce a result, means serious conversation can take place during the game. Business and political leaders are often seen in the private boxes, which have direct views of the pitch and serve food and drink all day.

In addition, cricket is played at Britain’s top private schools and many adults have fond memories of their own efforts in the game, even if they now have given up playing. They are experts on its subtleties, which elude the casual spectator, and vigorously debate them, nowhere more than in the Long Room of the Pavilion at Lord’s, the holy of holies into which only members of the Marylebone Cricket Club, founded in 1787, are admitted. This rarified space is cricket’s equivalent to the Big Room in the R&A clubhouse.

?>?>Wimbledon is all about women. Every British male knows that it’s the one event wives and girlfriends really want to attend. Even a family weekend in the country can be interrupted for the chance to enjoy strawberries and cream between the sets and the certainty of seeing friends in agreeable surroundings.

One factor that could catapult the Open to a new place in the affections of English fans would be the emergence of a new homegrown star. More than a decade has passed since Nick Faldo regularly dominated the leader board. The three victories by Tiger Woods have been greeted with warm approval, but when lesser-known players like Todd Hamilton and Ben Curtis carry off the Claret Jug, interest tends to wane.

None of this detracts from the Open’s status for golf lovers, who take great pride in the fact that the best players in the world feel obliged to leave the United States to play, thanks to Arnold Palmer, who elevated the Open’s stature in the early ’60s.

Indeed, it’s hard to think of any other event that involves such an exodus of American competitors to Europe as the Open. As a regular attendee of all these events, I am delighted that most spectators at the Open are there to watch golf rather than entertain clients or show off their clothes. Although I’ve never played tennis on Wimbledon’s hallowed turf or walked out to bat at Lord’s, I have played the Open courses, which are accessible to visitors. I don’t believe any other international sporting competition offers that opportunity. Long may it continue.

Tim Yeo is a member of both the R&A and Parliament.


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