Driving a crucial part of the gameDriving a crucial part of the game

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UPWARDS of 20,000 cars are expected to converge on this week's US Open at Oakland Hills, where a large percentage of them will be accommodated on the North Course. It is considered highly appropriate, given the proximity to Detroit, otherwise known as Motor City, and the fact that the first American cars rolled off the production lines exactly 100 years ago.

Given America's love affair with the car, it is hardly surprising that they should see it as crucial to all recreational developments, especially golf. "It was the car that lifted the ancient game from a minor pastime in the United States to a national jubilee," proclaimed the celebrated golf writer, Grantland Rice, as far back as 1926.

Rice went on. "This is true of the big cities where one frequently has to travel 15, 20 or 25 miles for a chance to sky a drive or blow a two foot putt. This is also true of the smaller towns."

Local scribes here at Oakland Hills are taking particular pride in regaling us with some splendid stories of the car's links to golf in a manner of speaking. Like the way Ky Laffoon would grind the edges of his clubs by leaning out of the driver's side door and scraping them on the road surface.

And how Gene Sarazen was once pitted in a driving contest against a car, with a view to establishing which was faster car or golf ball. The car sped along a test track in Detroit. As it passed Sarazen, he let fly with his Sunday best which, as it happened, was not quite good enough.

A car company, Buick, was the first commercial concern to lend its name to a US professional tournament, no fewer than 11 of which are currently sponsored by motor manufacturers.

But all is not sweetness and light. "If you look at me, that's three strikes. I'm black, young and the last time I looked, I was female. My friends don't just say that golf is a white man's sport they say it's an old white man's sport." These are the views of 20 year old Jamila Johnson whose mother, Selina, is encouraging the black youth of Detroit to take an interest in golf.

As a former Detroit police officer, she formed a organisation called the Hollywood Golf Institute. And each day this week, she has been bringing in the region of 30 members to Oakland Hills where they have been getting some tips from the professionals while watching US Open practice.

Her determination is that a breaking down of racial barriers can make that possible for her charges, just as the motor car did for previous generations.

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