With his back to the wind that whipped up whitecaps on the Firth of Clyde, Robert Baillie, a retired civil servant, stood sentry on the sea side of the second fairway, looking for Lee Trevino or his favorite, Arnold Palmer.
Baillie wore two sweaters and a heavy tweed jacket against the chill under a pewter sky. Sand flew from the dunes. "This is quite a good day," said Baillie, who smoked a pipe.
"Would that I were playing myself, rather than marching along here. But this is a day's entertainment that one should not deny oneself. We British are said to be sailors because we are surrounded by water. Sailors we be, but not so much more than we be golfers."
Baillie is a compact man who stood unwavering in wind that rocked a younger American to and fro. Such a good day this was for a Scotsman that a wistful look came to Baillie's eyes as he pointed his pipe at mountains barely visible through mist over the Firth of Clyde.
"Out there is the Isle of Arran," he said, "and on it is Goat Fell Mountain. Every road goes straight up or straight down. There are 5,000 full-time inhabitants there. And there are seven golf courses. Where would you find so many golf courses for so few inhabitants? There is only one ferry from the mainland to Arran, yet they support all that golf."
Baillie chuckled. "A wee daft over golf, we Scots are."
How daft? "It is possible, and has been done many times, to play golf along the sea from Glasgow to Carlisle, a distance of 150 miles. You would not walk all the way. A car would carry you from course to course. But the courses do near enough abut to say you have played the distance."
Jack Nicklaus says the British Open is his favorite tournament. Arnold Palmer came to tears this week when Troon made him a member. These are men with a sense of history. They know their game came from this place so hard in its beauty. Their names are on the same trophy with young Tom Morris, who won the 1868-69-70-71 opens before dying at 24 of a heart broken, it is said, by the drowning death of his fiance.
So they come to the Open every July. They don't come only to make a buck. The certified mercenaries are rifling the cash register at this week's instant super-duper classic somewhere in Illinois. The men who love their game came here to play for the history books and, in a very real way, to make a pilgrimage.
"Your Americans who don't come over," said Harold Singletary, 63, an accountant from Liverpool, "are doing themselves no favors. We British know the reasons. This bloody nonsense of expense doesn't hold water. The Open is paying $500,000, a veritable queen's ransom should a night burglar carry her off.
"The Americans don't come because they don't want to suffer the indignity of humiliation by a golf course. They prefer the American-type course with its pristine gardens rather than our gorse and whins (bent grass)."
Only 32 Americans were in the 150-man field here. Those who went to Illinois had good reason, no doubt, perhaps even some admitting they are not up to the challenge of golf along the Scottish shore with its constant wind, fairways so undulating they seem a roiling sea, rough that is knee high and bunkers from which escape is achieved only through heroic measures.
During the war of 1939-45, as a memorial marker describes it in the Royal Troon clubhouse, the British needed a place to practice tank warfare. They brought the tanks to Troon. They also worked on hand-grenade pitching here. Of special war-time rules for golf, two seemed the most generally adopted: "(A) in competitions, during gunfire or while bombs are falling, players may take cover without penalty for ceasing to play. (B) a player whose stroke is affected by the simultaneous explosion of a bomb or shell, or by machine gun fire, may play another ball from the same place. Penalty, one stroke."
Plainly, any place that considers machine gun fire not cause enough for a free shot is a wee daft over golf.
But then you knew that, if you tried to hitch a ride from Troon to your hotel in Ayr, 15 miles away. "Sorry, lad, 'tis only to the putting green I'm going," a fellow said. "Seems you have underclubbed yourself again."
At the barber shop in nearby Prestwick, the village where old Tom Morris and young Tom Morris won seven of the first 11 Opens, white-haired W.G. Morrison fell into a golfing conversation the way Americans come to pro football.
"Prestwick is a much more difficult course than Troon," Morrison said. "You wouldn't be seeing any of these 66s at Prestwick." Of the runaway leader, Bobby Clampett, the barber said he is a nice young man well-liked. "But Clampett has a wee terror on his neck with that Watson lad. The Bear, I believe, is through."
It was at Prestwick in 1977, by the way, that a player in the Scottish Women's Amateur championship sliced her drive off the first tee. Because the tee is only 10 yards from railroad tracks, the woman's wayward ball bounced off a working locomotive and back into the first fairway. As the woman made ready for her second shot, the engineer in the locomotive leaned out and said, "Missus, in case you're int'rest'd at all, I'll be here same time t'morrow."
Yes, same time, same place. "It's always fun to come here," said Palmer, playing in his 23rd Open. "A lot of the people I've seen for 20 years. They're such good fans that it's almost noticeable when one's missing. 'Oh, he passed away,' someone will tell me. Or, 'Mrs. Leatherdale is just not able to walk any more, but she wishes you well.' Mrs. Leatherdale, she is a great gal."
The day before this tournament started, Palmer and Tom Watson came down the 18th fairway together. Polite applause began. Watson slowed down and fell in behind Palmer. The applause rose for the man who won the Open here in 1962. "I can't walk as fast as Arnold," said a smiling Watson, who knows his history and knows his time will come.