In Scotland, in summer, golf is an evening game. The St. Andrews locals have the first tee — no tourists allowed — between 5 p.m. and half-6, as they call the hour when the evening news comes on at home. At 10 p.m., you’ll still see people playing through the Valley of Sin in front of the home green on the Old Course. If the day’s been bright, there’s still a lovely light at that hour. If the day has been gray and overcast, there’s still enough light to see the hole and make your final putt. Golf in the Scottish gloaming is one of the game’s modest pleasures.
On the weekend at Carnoustie, the leaders will go around half-3, Scotland national time, 10:30 a.m. in the U.S. Eastern zone, 7:30 a.m. in the Pacific. Sergio Garcia, sitting pretty through 36 holes, said the long wait for a late tee time is never easy, but it beats the alternative. On the weekend, the better you’re playing, the later you play.
But in the opening rounds, on Thursday and Friday, the last times of the day are reserved for obscure qualifiers. On Friday, at 4:21 p.m., the last group of the day went off: Won Joon Lee of Australia, Douglas McGuigan of Scotland and Toshinori Muto of Japan. Before teeing off on Friday, McGuigan spoke to a friend in South Africa, who said, “Before you’re done playing, I’ll be drunk.” As they say, it’s 5 o’clock somewhere. More specifically, when it’s 9 p.m. on Friday in Carnoustie — the rounds take between four and five hours here — it’s 10 p.m in Durban, South Africa. The party is on.
It’s not quite accurate to call McGuigan Scottish. His father, Frankie, is a Scot, and a long-retired professional footballer (soccer player) who played in Scotland, England, Canada and South Africa, all places where his son Douglas has lived. He lives, really, in Durban, but the official Open draw sheet lists his home country as Scotland, for reasons of local pride.
When Ivor Robson, the white-haired starter working his 33rd Open championship, announced McGuigan, he lingered, in his distinctive sing-song voice, on the word Scotland, and the little mellow crowd gathered on the first tee let out a little cheer. There’s more art in what Robson does than he could ever know. In his mind, he says, he calls them all the same.
McGuigan’s been playing evening golf all his life, in Scottish summers and in the long Canadian summer nights, too. “We’ll say, ‘Do you want to play tonight?'” That means a 6 p.m. start, after a day in the shop, or on the range picking balls.
Robson, a professional golfer by background, has his own custom for marking the end of the day. He says, “On the tee, the final game of the afternoon,” and then he fills in the blank.
He doesn’t play much golf anymore. “I’m too busy,” he said Friday. His job — he works many European tour events, too — keeps him on a golf course all day long. A lot of people who work in golf lose the burning desire to play. Their job fulfills their golfing desires. “I don’t have time for it.” In actual fact, he does. It all depends how you look at it.
He could get out of his red blazer and tie while walking to the car park and be on the first tee of some nearby course by 5 p.m. Five hours of daylight left.
In Scotland, if you’re playing in, say, a two-ball match, you could play 36 in that time. For Lee and McGuigan and Moto — and all the others playing Carnoustie — 18 a day will be plenty.