Wednesday 25 June 2014

Adventures at the 2014 Irish Open

I managed to wrangle a volunteering gig at the recent Irish Open golf championship at Fota Island in County Cork. Even as I arrived at the appointed (early!) hour at the southern venue on Thursday, I still did not know what exactly I would be doing. I had a vague idea that I would be ferrying TV crew around the course in a buggy. The fact that I had never seen the course or driven a golf buggy before made me more than slightly apprehensive as we (my friend and I!) waited anxiously for our assignments.

The TV Compound bear the 10th where we waited for our assignment
After a longish wait, during which time we interrogated the regulars for information, I was eventually assigned to RF2, the designation for the second mobile camera crew. My camera man and his antenna guy picked me up in the buggy and along with the sound guy, all four of us made our way down the steep dusty track from the TV compound to the course. Much to my surprise, about two minutes later, I found myself sharing a fairway with Ross Fisher, Matteo Manassero and Darren Clarke, right in the thick of the action! I couldn't believe it at first, but my disbelief soon turned to anxiousness as I had visions of mowing them down in a runaway buggy! Luckily, it was easy to drive and I got the hang of it straight away. Knowing where to park the buggy and when to move it wasn't as easy, but fortunately my Aussie camera man Mark was very nice and patient while showing me the ropes!

My trusty steed with tripod on the front
All four of us on the buggy and distinct jobs: Mark got the shot and the antenna guy was tethered to him holding the rather heavy device for transmitting the pictures back to mission control. The sound guy's job was to stand in the correct place to capture the sound of the strike, the player/caddy chat and crowd reaction. My main job was to drive the buggy after the camera man jumps out for the shot. He drove the buggy most of the time (to my relief at the start!), but I took over when he was at work on the fairway and around the green. Once finished and when the fixed camera were no longer on the golfer, I picked up the crew and the camera man again took over driving duties. Once we reached the green, I generally moved the buggy to the side of the next tee before the huge crowd that moved with the groups I covered got in position around that tee.

I would then do another big part of my job - looking after the fairly heavy tripod which was generally used for tee shots and around the green. Before leaving the previous green for the next tee, I would usually drop off the tripod and then run back to collect it once I had parked the buggy and the golfers had finished the hole. Sometimes this involved a long run in hot humid conditions (unusually for Ireland!) through a large crowd and the return journey to the next tee carrying the aforementioned tripod. The last part of my job was to look after the batteries for the camera and the antenna. Both used the same large lithium ion batteries which lasted for about an hour and there was a stash of them in the buggy. When given the nod by the camera man or the antenna guy, I'd have to supply them with fresh batteries and  keep the spent ones separate.

Generally, we followed the same group until they finished, but there was a fair bit of jumping around the course on Thursday and Friday to wherever a golfer was doing well. We did this in two sessions that roughly matched the Sky coverage (9.40am-1pm, 2.20pm-6pm). In between, we got a free packed lunch, which we consumed by the par five tenth fairway while watching the action. After the cut on Friday, the task was easier, where we just followed the same two ball from the first hole to the last in one roughly four an a half hour session. After filming Fisher & co. for a hole, we moved on to Paul Lawrie, Matthew Fitzpatrick (on his pro d├ębut) and Tommy Fleetwood. After a while with that group, we also covered Romain Wattel, Edoardo Molinari and Gaganjeet Bhullar in the morning. On Thursday afternoon, we covered Paul McGinley, Branden Grace and Pablo Larrazabal before moving on to Robert Karlsson, Mikael Lundberg and Peter Lawrie.

On Friday, I got the marque groups (especially for an Irishman!): GMac, Shane Lowry and Paul Casey in the morning and Rory McIlroy, Padraig Harrington and Stephen Gallacher in the afternoon. We also spent some time with Simon Khan, Stephen Dodd and Jbe Krugar. Over the weekend, I got GMac both days with the associated huge home support. He was partnered with Wattel on Saturday and Fabrizio Zanotti on Sunday. This made my job pretty difficult while my jammy friend was on RF1, which was on the leading group with a much smaller following! However, I must have done something right because the camera man complimented me on my work on Saturday evening, which led me to assume I was crap on Thursday and Friday! Some observations from the four days:

  1.  Most of the golfers are smaller in real life than they appear to be on TV! Even Robert Karlsson isn't 6'5" as advertised (unless I have grown a few inches recently, unknown to myself!).
  2. They all hit the ball a prodigious distance off the tee and their ball flight with irons also has to be seen to be believed.
  3. They all can putt pretty well also. Once on the dance floor, I rarely saw a three putt. Mind you, I was so busy moving the buggy, I missed a lot of the putting, especially over the weekend!
  4. The area of the game where a lot of them need work is chipping and pitching. I saw a fair few of these that I wouldn't be happy with myself!
  5. Most of the golfers are good with the crowd, kids, marshals, volunteers, TV crew etc. Some however, are not. McIlroy is very standoffish and Casey is renowned for being a jerk on the course (I can personally vouch for that, having seen/heard him in action!). I heard Anders Hansen was very nice and shook hands with everyone working on his group. I saw GMac giving a ball to a kid and high fiving loads of people on the way to the next tee.
  6. I experienced a lot of "third party adoration"! Walking from green to tee either directly in front or behind McIlroy, GMac and Harrington and coming down the eighteenth on Sunday with GMac in particular was amazing. It has to turn their head in some way! Some people were so obsessed with celebrity, they even wanted to high five me!
  7. I witnessed a "full and frank" discussion between GMac and a rules official coming down the last on Sunday. Apparently, his group were put on the clock and suffice it to say that GMac wasn't happy about it!
  8. The marshals varied from completely useless to fanatical about the modicum of power that they had finally managed to acquire! At one stage, I was almost manhandled off the course by some over zealous marshals (despite wearing pretty obvious credentials, as shown below)!
Over the course of the tournament (pun intended!), I managed to get some Golf Predictor advertising in by wearing my branded cap for four days and my branded polo shirts on the first and last days! I also got a close look at what I assume was a replica of the famous claret jug on the first tee on Sunday!
A GP branded me by the claret jug (or replica of same)!
It was great to see the mixture of recent and more distant winners inscribed on the famous trophy, e.g. Walter Hagen and Tiger Woods. Overall, it was a brilliant four days. I never expected to be so close to the action, yet there I was sharing tee boxes, fairways and the odd green with Irish (and international!) golfing stars. While the first couple of days were long and somewhat stressful, once I learned the ropes, the weekend was very enjoyable. I even managed a chat with the Irish Taoiseach (Prime Minister) on Sunday by the final green!

The Irish Taoiseach (Prime Minister) watches the finish of the tournament right beside me!
Luckily, there was no play-off on Sunday, so I was able to leave quickly! Shortly after Ilonen completed his wire to wire victory, I blasted out of there and got back home at a relatively respectable hour, after a long but enjoyable four days.

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