It’s not often the golf writers get to delve into the steamy, risqué world of erotic fiction. Our idea of a juicy, titillating read, after all, is poring over the pearls of wisdom in The Short Game Bible by Dave Pelz.

Thanks to the celebrity-infused Dunhill Links Championship, however, our horizons, like our waistlines, continue to be broadened.

A couple of years ago, for instance, the presence of Jamie Dornan, the star of that racy book-to-big screen frolic 50 Shades of Grey, meant we had to briefly switch our focus from menacing undulations and stiff breezes to kinky blindfolds and deviant riding crops.

The sight of some of the more venerable members of the press corps leafing through the aforementioned 50 Shades novel as part of the research process was a quite curious spectacle and was broadly equivalent to Fred Dibnah peering at the cylinders and pistons section of The Haynes Manual on steam engines.

Yes, the Pro-Cel-Am format in golf has always been a quirky old affair, from Terry Wogan holing one of the longest putts ever recorded to Ronnie Corbett sizing up a tricky 12-footer while chuckling a prolonged anecdote about pottering in the garden and having to phone the Mountain Rescue when he got stuck on the north face of the rockery.


At a time when slow play is high on the agenda of golf’s power brokers and all and sundry are demanding the game speeds up, the Dunhill Links, staged over those fine links of St Andrews, Kingsbarns and Carnoustie, sits somewhat uneasily in this whip-cracking environment.

With rounds regularly creaking towards the six-hour mark, with myriad hold-ups here, there and everywhere, you tend to see more thrusting, free-flowing movement in the tortoise cage at the Angus, Fife and Tayside animal rehoming centre.

Huey Lewis, the well-kent American singer and Dunhill Links regular, once stood on a tee for so long playing the moothie, he had to change the name of his band from Huey Lewis and the News to Huey Lewis and the Archive Library when he handed in his card.

Entertainers may abound in the field but it can be far from entertaining. At times, the fare is unwatchable and, in an age of fast-paced, sporting innovation and engagement, the Dunhill can be like a throwback to the land that time forgot.

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The presence, of course, of these deep-pocketed celebs helps make the Dunhill one of the richest on the tour and a first prize of £615,000 is certainly not to be sniffed at.

This week’s affair has attracted a terrific, world-class field with the likes of Rory McIlroy, Jon Rahm, Shane Lowry, Tony Finau, Tommy Fleetwood and others rolling into the Auld Grey Toun.

For the global superstars, it’s a week to essentially let the hair down, enjoy some hospitality in the Old Course Hotel and savour the chance to play three of Scotland’s finest courses. It’s nice work if you can get it.

“It’s a very relaxed week,” said McIlroy, who partners his dad, Gerry, in the event this week. “St Andrews is a great town and I’m going up there to have a good time.

“You try not to take it too seriously because I think if you take these Pro-Ams too seriously, you start to get frustrated with how long you’re out there and all that sort of stuff. So keep it light-hearted and hopefully that’s the key to playing some good golf.”

That’s easier said than done, of course. For those in the upper echelons, the Dunhill can be a nice, back-end-of-the-year hit-and-giggle.

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For those fighting to keep their tour cards, however, it can be about as relaxing as bobbing about in a Higgins Boat en route to a beach invasion.

From a Scottish perspective, the Dunhill Links, with its vast sums of cash on offer, has been the saviour of many a season down the years.

A decade ago in 2009, Richie Ramsay finished fourth to safeguard his European Tour card while Fife’s George Murray’s third-place finish in 2011 did the same for him and sparked off

such a tsunami of celebrations there was just about a maritime emergency in the harbour of his native Anstruther.

Chris Doak’s fifth-place finish in 2014 propelled him into the safety zone of the top-100 on the circuit’s order of merit while Marc Warren enjoyed the links effect twice and got his full playing rights back in 2011 by finishing fifth while another fifth place in 2016 changed his year.

Here in 2019, Warren, a lowly 220th on the Race to Dubai, is not even in the field after a thoroughly desperate year that has included 10 missed cuts in a row. For such a talented golfer, the slide has been painful to watch.


For somebody like Liam Johnston (pictured), one of the young Scottish rookies on the main tour, the clock is ticking.

There are only five regular events left on the schedule this year and, at 140th on the rankings, the Dumfries man needs to conjure something special in the remaining tournaments to hoist himself into the card-retaining promised land of the leading 110.

Like many before him, the Dunhill could offer that salvation but trying to adopt a happy-go-lucky, smile-for-the-cameras Pro-Am approach when your job is on the line is not easy.

Then again, the peculiarity of the format and the presence of amateur partners to blether to while out on the links may be a welcome distraction from the week-to-week worries of looking at order of merits.

The Dunhill Links format may not be to everyone’s taste but, for those scrambling in the lower reaches, it can be a lifeline in their bid to keep dining at the top table.