The 144th British Open is Ivor Robson’s 41st and final as the official first tee starter. One of golf’s most recognizable voices will retire following the end of 2015, according to the European Tour.
“It will be an emotional occasion,” said the 74-year-old who once sold shafts on the range at European Tour events. “But St. Andrews is a difficult course, because you have them coming up 18 too, so as soon as a player on the 18th plays his second shot, you have to get them going. There won’t be a chance to get emotional or sentimental. Nothing will keep my attention away from the job. You can’t afford to let anything do that, and it won’t.”
Robson has been at it since 1975, when he took the post as the European Tour’s official starter. Since then, he’s brought both simplicity and animation to the art of announcing groups, turning a typically drab formality into something memorable for players and fans alike. His final event will be the season-ending DP World Tour Championship in Dubai in November.
Robson’s mystique is founded in the fact that he does not leave his post on the opening hole from the moment the first ball is in the air until the last. No bathroom breaks, no food, no drink. Just how is that possible?
In a story for Sports Illustrated in 1999, Rick Reilly reported the following about Robson’s routine:
“This job requires total and complete concentration,” he says. For that reason he doesn’t touch a drop of liquid after 7 p.m. the night before. For instance, each night last week in Carnoustie, he would have a sandwich and a glass of mineral water and nothing more until the following night at 7 p.m. He loses “about a stone [14 pounds]” each Open, he says, but it makes it very easy to eschew the loo all day.
But Robson’s voice has arguably contributed the most to his fame. The distinct rise in pitch while pronouncing players’ names is unmistakable, so much so that British Open competitors seem to look forward to hearing their names roll off Robson’s tongue.
Aside from announcing the pairings, Robson has other, sometimes more important duties. He checks each player’s golf ball and often counts clubs. In 1998 he saved Ignacio Garrido a two-stroke penalty at Royal Birkdale and noticing he had 15 clubs in the bag. But Robson also doles out penalties—if you’re late for your tee time.
Robson’s current post is ironic. As a professional golfer on the Scottish tour in the 1960s and ‘70s, Robson wasn’t exactly a fan of the first tee. As he told Reilly:
“Once I was out on the course playing, I was fine. But I absolutely lived in fear of the first tee. I hated having my name announced. I’d get to shaking so bad with nerves that I finally had to give it up altogether. Now I’m doing the very thing that killed me.”
If only Ivor had had someone a bit more like himself announcing his name…well, then we may not have the pleasure of his first tee presence.
Robson’s retirement announcement finally puts to rest the annual tradition of media speculation over when he’ll finally call it quits. Let’s enjoy the legend’s victory lap at the Home of Golf, and hope that whoever is chosen to replace Ivor Robson can master the art of the strong bladder.