CARNOUSTIE, SCOTLAND "I love rain," Rhod McEwan said this morning, enjoying the sound of rain pelting the nylon roof of the British Open merchandise tent. "I want the mother of all storms, absolutely."
McEwan is no misanthrope. He just wants people to swing by his corner bookstall, which has been a fixture in the giant sales tent since the '92 Open at Muirfield. BUYER AND SELLER OF GOLF MEMORABILIA reads a sign above the stall. LIBRARIES AND COLLECTIONS FORMED, LARGEST USED GOLF BOOK STOCK WORLDWIDE.
McEwan's shop is always busy, but rain drives in people who might otherwise be eating fish and chips at outdoor tables in the tented village. Some refugees thumb through first editions of Bernard Darwin. Some study the illustrations in Tommy Armour's How to Play Your Best Golf All the Time, as if a posthumous tip from the 1931 Open champ might get them through an upcoming round at St. Andrews Bay.
"It's a meeting place," said McEwan, whose Ryder Cup polo shirt and stringy auburn locks neatly bridged the gap between town and gown.
It's also a trading place. "I just inherited a book from my aunt," a tall Brit of advanced years volunteered. "It's autographed 'Best Wishes, Bobby Locke.'"
"I would give you 50 pounds for that," McEwan said.
Next up was a sensibly-dressed woman who bought six golf-themed brass buttons, two pounds each, from a display case. "They're going on his blazer," she explained, nodding to a trailing husband.
"Why six?" the husband asked.
"Because you have to have three on a sleeve."
Then came a fellow with a closely trimmed white beard who said he had just met an old man who has been a Carnoustie member for 84 years. "He has signatures of all the old timers," White Beard told McEwan, "from pencils and ink right through to biro and felt tip. And he's got bloody photographs! He's got photographs of the Barry Burn when it was flooded!"
McEwan was interested, so White Beard went to look for the old man.
The bookman paused to craft a receipt for a customer. "I have a chap who came in earlier with Jean Van de Velde's visor, the one he chucked at the end in '99. Signed by Jean."
From the tone of his voice I gathered that McEwan thought the chap's claim was credible. But traders in collectibles have to be cautious, lest they get stuck with Old Tom Morris's iPod or Ben Hogan's original pane of glass. (You, it occurs to me, might want to buy those or similar items from McEwan. If so, you can examine his catalog at http://rhodmcewan.com/.)
McEwan is not a strict antiquarian. He's got stacks of recently published golf books. This morning he was pushing autographed copies of Darren Clarke's Golf The Mind Factor, George Pepper's A Home on the 18th, and Kevin Cook's Tommy's Honour. About the only must-have golf book not on display was Tour Tempo by John Novosel and John Garrity.
"I ordered 80 of Tour Tempo," McEwan told a very tall American who had come in out of the rain. "I've got an e-mail saying the books were shipped on the fifth. But there are no books. It's a nightmare."
The good news, McEwan added, was that Peter Allis would soon be in to sign copies of his autobiography, My Life, and the legendary BBC announcer had promised to demonstrate the correct way to peel a banana.
That never gets old.