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The Changing Times for Golf Scribes

Imagine Golf Club's Dermot Gilleece looks at Tom Watson's loss and laments another loss; of golf scribes at major tournaments

Posted Jul 23, 2009 by Dermot Gilleece

tom watson

                In common with countless others of my vintage, I learned my craft watching Tom Watson.  Which means that I had a huge, emotional investment in events at Turnberry last weekend, when the supreme effort of a seemingly indefatigable 59-year-old wasn't good enough.  It brought to mind the comment of Watson's great rival, Jack Nicklaus, in very different circumstances in 1977, when the Bear threw an arm around his conquerer's shoulder and said: "I'm tired of giving it my best shot and coming up short."

                A par on what is widely regarded as one of the weaker finishing holes on the Open rota, would have been enough to secure for Watson arguably the greatest triumph in the history of professional sport.  But the golfing gods, whom he had claimed were on his side, even before the championship started, denied him the glory which he seemed so richly to deserve.

                Other thoughts went through my mind after this, my 30th successive Open championship.  I was struck by how much the event had changed over the years, outside the fairway ropes.

                When I watched Watson capture his third Open title at Muirfield in 1980, the media centre resounded with the clatter of typewriter keys.  And later in the day, there were the shouts of 
frustrated scribes, dictating their copy down a telephone line to a typist who had little concept and precious little interest in such curious terms as "bogey", "birdie", "greenside" and "hanging lie."

                Further into the 1980s, the typewriter remained, only to be accompanied by technologically-advanced Americans with a marvellous invention called a word-processor, or laptop.  Gradually, the British media followed suit but my employer at the time, "The Irish Times", didn't make the transition until 1992. 

                Meanwhile, the sounds changed in the media centre.  Instead of the clatter of metal keys on paper, there was a much more gentle, clicking sound.  And instead of frustrated shouts down telephone lines, there were agonised screams as this infernal new invention mysteriously swallowed up hundreds of carefully-crafted words which were never to be seen again.  

                It happened to me as late at the 2000 US Open at Pebble Beach where, after writing 1,200 words on the astonished achievement of Tiger Woods in winning by 15 shots, I accidentally hit the "delete" key on a new laptop and lost the lot.  When I later recounted the experience to my cardiologist, he said he dared not speculate on the impact this would have had on my life-expectancy.               

                Back at the Open, I had the experience in 1992 of spending so long attempting to transmit some preview copy on the Tuesday, that I missed the annual Golf Writers' Dinner at which Ireland's greatest amateur golfer, Joe Carr, was the guest of honour as captain of the Royal and Ancient.

                And the event continued to grow.  Yet, as it is with your children, you didn't really notice the growth except on reflection, some years later.  But things are changing.  For instance, I could see last week that from a time when no fewer than 500 applications for media accreditation to the Open were turned down annually, we now had  no shortage of space for scribes.  As it happened, New York, Washington and Boston were the only American cities to have newspaper representatives witnessing the makings of which could have been the best golf story of this or any centure.  Canada had a lone representative, from the "Toronto Star".

                 All of which gave a somewhat chilling perspective to remarks by Padraig Harrington after he had accepted the Golf Writers' Trophy in the R and A Marquee for a second successive year.  Not for the first time in public, Harrington acknowledged difficult times in the newspaper industry, while urging his fellow professionals to be more supportive of beleaguered scribes.

                 Little more than 10 years ago, no fewer than 50 American newspaper titles were represented at the Open.  Their sharp reduction accounted for the vacant places in the media tent which, at 55 metres by 35, remained essentially the same structure as it was back then.  Interestingly, the R and A decided on these particular measurements because they happen to fit all of the venues on the Open rota.

                 "There was a time when we also had 200 photographers here," said David Begg, who was Open press officer from 1982 to 1996.  "There used to be a desperate scramble for places but sadly, the day of the freelance snapper is gone. Most of them have been replaced by major agencies such as Getty Images."

                 The world recession has had much to do with diminished numbers, but there is another, key factor.  "I vividly recall a conversation I had in 1996 with Sal Johnson, an American journalist who did the player profiles," Begg continued.  "When I asked him to tell me about this new-fangled thing called the Internet, he replied: 'It's going to revolutionise the media industry.'  And I didn't quite know what he meant."

                 Now he knows.  Indeed here I am on the Imagine site, contributing to the problems of my own craft.  And lamenting the way Turnberry's 18th hole, shattered a dream. 

- Dermot Gilleece

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