Sculptor Peter Bignell is spending more time in sand than pros at St. Andrews

Monday July 19th, 2010
Doug Clement, founder of Kingsbarns Distillery, with a sand sculpture of Seve Ballesteros. <strong><a href="http://www.golf.com/golf/gallery/article/0,28242,2004622,00.html">More Photos</a></strong>
Erick W. Rasco/SI

ST. ANDREWS, Scotland — As the Open field chipped, picked and blasted its way out the Old Course's mass of bunkers Saturday afternoon, Peter Bignell had his hands full with a different kind of sand. On the beach just a caber toss from the Old Course's first fairway — the same place where the opening scene from 'Chariots of Fire' was filmed — Bignell and his small team of fellow sculptors spent the day building sandy homages to the Open Championship: a claret jug here, a Swilcan Bridge there.

They even got topical, sculpting in large letters and numerals "RORY 63," a tribute to the Old Course record that young Rory McIlroy posted during Thursday's first round. "After his 80 yesterday," Bignell said laughing, "somebody suggested we should put an RIP next to it."

Bignell, a leathery-skinned bloke in a straw hat, who sounds a lot like Paul Hogan, came all the way from Tasmania for the occasion, and he's not even a golf fan. A sculptor since 1984, he was hired by Kingsbarns Distillery to build some eye-catching creations that might drum up some publicity for the fledgling whisky-maker.

So far, so good. Earlier today Padraig Harrington dropped by to check out a rendering of — Padraig Harrington. The three-foot-tall monument depicts the two-time Open winner clutching the claret jug. Harrington seemed pleased enough with his likeness, Bignell said, though the Irishman dutifully requested that the sculptor remove the "Wilson Staff" inscribed in the cap. (The golfer's new hat sponsor is FTI Consulting.) Harrington's young nephew was so taken by the excitement that he returned to the beach later today to help Bignell and Co. shovel sand into molds.

Harrington's not the only golfer frozen in sandy perpetuity — well, at least until the tide comes in. Bignell, who has been working long days since Monday morning, also sculpted Tiger Woods in his follow-through position and Seve Ballesteros fist-pumping after his win at the '84 Open. What, no Sands of Nakajima?

The sand-sculpting process itself is both arduous and tedious. The back-breaking part is loading up the mold, particularly for cumbersome sculptures like, say, the R&A clubhouse, which the team was beginning to work on when I dropped by Saturday evening. The sand needs to be kept wet — the better for packing and shaping — so after every few shovels-full are dumped into the mold, a few buckets of water must follow. The exacting part comes later when Bignell adds the finer touches with tools such as a chisel, a ruler, even a spoon.

As the winds howled on Friday, an accordion player was doing his thing down on the beach. Bignell was impressed by the musician's fortitude, so he sculpted an accordion in his honor. "Sand was blowing everywhere," Bignell said. "Poor guy. It didn't make his job easy."

His job? What about Bignell's?

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