Top-class service makes it easy to survive challenge

 

No sooner had the hacks chased Ian Woosnam's unfortunate caddie, Myles Byrne, at high velocity into a quiet corner of the Lytham and St Annes locker-room for the gory details of one of the bigger debacles in caddie Open history than some golfers were already on their way to Scandinavia for the SAS Invitational challenge.

As grandiose an affair as the Open is, it is not in a golfer's nature to linger at an event even as important as the Open Championship; once their individual involvement is over they move on swiftly.

The corporate machine was partly responsible for a quicker than normal exit from Blackpool airport 10 days ago.

This mini-event was the finale for a number of selected guests of Scandinavian Airlines. They had been flown over on a chartered plane on Saturday, spent the final day at the Open and then moved on to various destinations around the Nordic countries for their own personal sort of golf show.

Blackpool airport was a haven of chartered and private jets serving the needs of the more influential of Open spectators and those on official business.

The more successful golfers bound for Scandinavia were not on board the SAS flight; they were taking their own jets, which enabled them to make a quick get- away after the official final ceremonies. So as the caddies and "lesser" players were transported in relative comfort at the front of the plane, the guests were "slumming" it down the back. Each player had his own row reserved for him and his entourage.

In Jesper Parnevik's case, with his wife, four children, his father and two nannies, extra space had to be made available. The blond, obviously Swedish and apparent sisters from Stockholm received plenty of offers of extra space from those of us with accompanying empty seats. They were not to be distracted from their primary duties of nannying, despite the efforts of the mob.

On arrival in Copenhagen the group split three ways: Helsinki, Oslo and one stayed in Copenhagen. We all converged again on Monday night in Stockholm.

It's the closest I'll come to feeling like some sort of dignitary. Not only did we get whisked through Copenhagen's international airport like some sort of sacred beings, our plane to the Finnish capital was held back until we arrived. Because IMG's main man was with us, I assumed that we were benefiting from his esteemed status.

We were 45 minutes late and we stole on board as they were announcing why the plane was late in departing. I was bracing myself for a cock-and-bull story, but was amazed to hear the truth being told to the awaiting passengers.

I had been excited at the prospect of visiting a new destination in Helsinki when my boss, Paul Lawrie, broke the news to me on Saturday that he had been asked to replace Greg Norman in the Nordic Challenge. "The Shark" had pulled out due to the death of a close friend.

The reality of the fleeting visit was somewhat different to the images I created in my mind of Helsinki. We arrived sometime after 1.30a.m. on Monday and ended up in the SAS Radisson (surprise) an hour later. The streets from the hotel to the airport were naturally empty at that time on a Monday morning, but what I could see looked remarkably similar to any other Nordic big city that I had visited. The sky did not seem very dark even at this time of night.

Later that day we are chauffeured away to the Tali GC across town, my only other chance to get a look at the place. Fifteen minutes later we arrived in the oldest golf club in the country, founded in 1932. With Finland's biggest golf spectacle a Challenge Tour event, it should not have been a surprise that about 5,000 Finns turned out on a wonderful summer's day to watch Paul (and not the Shark as they had hoped) and "the white Tiger Woods", as Adam Scott was introduced as, take on Pierre Fulke and the local hero, Mikko Ilonen.

One round later, a bit of a reel and a jig in the Irish Bar tent that had been set up for this single day's play, a quick bite to eat while talking to the press and back we went towards the airport for our 6.30p.m. plane to Copenhagen. Needless to say I didn't get much chance to form an impression of the Finnish capital, despite having spent a very enjoyable 17 hours there.

Meanwhile, in Oslo (in front of a 5,000 strong gallery), the first permanent Norwegian golfer on the European Tour, Per Haugsrud, who has been absent from European fairways for two years due to a finger injury, had to make way for an unknown fellow countryman stand-in, M Orveland, in his scheduled match with Thomas Bjorn against Retief Goosen and Ian Woosnam. This time Haugsrud's back gave in.

In Stockholm (in front of a vast crowd), Monty and Justin Rose beat Jesper Parnevik and Patrik Sjoland. The Swedish capital's Arlanda airport resembled some sort of global golf village on Monday night as the professionals and the SAS guests, along with their golf clubs, began to converge for the finale of the Nordic Challenge.

Appointed drivers chauffeured the players and their caddies to the Ulna golf club for the final show-down of the Nordic challenge. A lavish banquet awaited us at the course, and a special room had been assigned to the players and their caddies. As a further display of the excesses that can sometimes be associated with this game, the players fired brand new Callaway balls into the Ulna lake in order to warm up.

A well-supported Nordic golf display, with the World Team winning 5-1, had taken place in a part of the world starved of world class golf. It must be time for another Scandinavian event to be included in the European Tour schedule.