Why tracking Tiger is such a joy

By James Mossop

The last putt drops, the player’s score is flashed on to the electronic scoreboard and minutes later Tiger Woods is addressing the world’s golfing media, answering questions and delivering details of every shot made at the Open Championship.

Few sports serve the hacks as efficiently and as effectively as golf.

For that we must, in many ways, thank the diligence of the Association of Golf Writers who, over the years, have worked closely with the Royal and Ancient Golf Club and the various tours. Add in Wi-fi services, instant transcription of interviews swiftly circulated and, as they say, “the job’s a good un”.

It was not always like this. Where once there was a canvas tent with a couple of tables and chairs, there now stands a structure to house hundreds of writers with TV screens and a cafeteria that provides anything from bangers and mash to chicken curry to John Smith’s Extra Smooth to Bordeaux red.

I am indebted to Michael McDonnell, former golf correspondent of the Daily Mail and president of the aforementioned AGW, who has edited a book of golf writing reminiscences with the title Forgive Us Our Press Passes in which fond memory of times before my first Open, in 1967, are recalled with humour and affection.

It is easy to imagine the difficulties of trying to report golf matches in that relative Stone Age of the 1920s and ’30s. At the Old Course of St Andrews, for instance, in 1938, the Press Association called up local military units with radio operators and hid them behind a wall where they relayed scores to messengers who dashed to a control room with their hole-by-hole (well, almost) scores.

On another occasion, the 1923 Amateur Championship at Deal, a team of racecourse tic-tac men was hired. They invented a form of semaphore and signalled to someone with a high-powered telescope. He then handed the scores to a fit young cyclist who would pedal furiously to the local telegraph office. Alas, as the match closed at the 12th, a storm of hail and sleet erupted and the lens clogged up and the tic-tac observer was completely stymied.

We’ve all heard the one about the copy-taker and his or hers tired query: “Is there much more of this?”

Copy-takers may be largely redundant now that modern technology has taken over but I am particularly fond of the account of the talented Eleanor Helme trying to dictate a report of the 1920 French Ladies’ Championship.

She wrote:

“Unfortunately a non-golfer was at the other end. Stymie, chip, bunker, dormy were Greek to him and all the time the voice of the French operator, at first polite, then insistent and then furious buzzed through my ears ‘Etes-vous fini, Madame?’

“It seemed as if I would never finish and then, silence. We were cut off and an apologetic postmaster explained there was a very important conference 20 miles away in Boulogne and perhaps Mr Lloyd George was wanting to speak to London. The lesser must sometimes interfere with the great.”

All of us have stories to tell about incidents when delivering copy. The telephone strike that occurred during the 1978 Open at St Andrews was a test of initiative. I was grateful for the late Ronald Heager coming to an agreement with a householder living alongside the 18th fairway.

Now the clatter of typewriters has been replaced with the soft tap of the laptop. Technology and wireless means that often we don’t need telephone lines.

Covering golf is a joy.

James Mossop covered the Open Championship at Royal Liverpool GC, Hoylake, for the Sunday Telegraph

Forgive Us our Press Passes is published by Lennard Associates, Mackere End, Harpenden, Herts, AL5 5DR and may be obtained from them at £10.