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Golf, at its best, stimulates all the senses.

The smell of freshly-cut fairways. The mouth-watering taste of a bacon roll before you tee off. The feeling that starts in your fingers and ripples through your body as you flush an iron. The spectacular views and backdrops to your round that dazzle and delight the eyes.

And then there’s the sounds. The satisfying hiss of a shot ripping through the still air. The guttural, panicked screams of ‘Fore!’ following wayward strikes. The polite applause from the galleries that quicken to a cheer as the ball rolls closer and closer to the hole.

To that list, you can add the soft, calming lilt of the late Ivor Robson’s voice.

The congenial Robson spent 41 of his 83 years on this mortal coil as the official starter at The Open.

A former club pro, he took a job in 1975 with club shaft-makers Accles and Pollock, who, by coincidence, also supplied starters for The Open. His first day at work was spent on the tee at Carnoustie introducing everybody from defending champion Gary Player to Argentine Vicente Fernandez.

He did such a good job that Keith Mackenzie, the secretary of the R&A, subsequently wrote to his manager Alan Whelan. “Could we retain Ivor’s services for the foreseeable future?” he asked.

And so it began.

With his shock of white hair, crisp white shirt, pristinely pressed jacket, and a tie perfectly knotted into a double Windsor, Robson cut an inimitable presence on the first tee. He was the personification of professionalism and commanded respect without demanding it. His drill sergeant demeanour belied an avuncular warmth devoid of airs and graces.

Jack Nicklaus, Tom Watson, Tiger Woods, Seve Ballesteros, Rory McIlroy. He started them all but treated them no differently to the many club pros and amateurs who qualified for the championship under his watch.

Every player was introduced in the same understated, much-imitated way.

“On the tee, from the USA, Tiger Woods.”
“On the tee, from Finland, Mikko Ilonen.”
“On the tee, from England, Justin Rose.”
“On the tee, from Japan, Katsuyoshi Tomori.”

Until finally, at St Andrews in 2015: “On the tee, from Ireland, Paul Dunne.”

And done.

Estimates vary but it is reckoned Robson started close to 19,000 players during his years behind the microphone at The Open. When you heard his voice, you knew one of the great weeks in the sporting calendar was about to begin.

“Nobody told me how to do it,” he told bunkered earlier this year in one of his last-ever interviews. “I had to work it out for myself when I started in 1975. I thought, ‘What do I do here?’ Just keep it simple, where are they from, the name of the player and let them go. You don’t need a biography.”

In 41 years, he never missed a tee time and, famously, didn’t take a bathroom break, despite standing on the first tee for up to ten hours at a time. He also refused to wear a rain suit when the weather took a turn because he “didn’t think it would be right”.

“You got used to not having breakfast or lunch because you’re concentrating all the time,” he added. “By the time you get players a card, pin placement, the local rules, and tell them who is up first and second, the next group is coming on to play.

“You had to keep your concentration, and you don’t realise the time until it was about the last game. It was mentally exhausting but good.”

Ahead of his final Open, Robson was invited to the Champions’ Dinner by the then secretary of the R&A Peter Dawson where he was presented with his very own Claret Jug in recognition of his contribution to the championship.

“Inscribed on it is ‘Outstanding Performance for The Open Championship’,” he told us. “I was shocked and didn’t know what to say. Getting a Claret Jug is beautiful.”

Tom Watson, who made his own final Open appearance that year, gave him a signed flag. “We have travelled this long road together,” wrote the five-time champion. “All the best in your retirement.”

As TV cameras captured Robson stepping away from the Open podium for the final time, the late Peter Alliss – himself a constant and familiar voice of the championship – added his own tribute.

“Ivor, you’ve done a wonderful job,” he said. “You’ve made friends all around the world. We wish you well, old friend.”

Fiercely private, Robson never sought attention. He was at his happiest surrounded by his family and friends in his beloved Moffat, a quiet little village on the banks of the River Annan in Dumfries and Galloway. A modest, unassuming home for a modest, unassuming man.

Following news of his passing, the onus will now be on the R&A to celebrate and acknowledge his contribution the championship during next year’s Open at Royal Troon, the venue on the rota that’s closest to his home.

His green blazer could be hung from the starter’s podium. Better yet, could they not take their lead from football grounds who name stands after iconic figures and rename the first tee grandstand ‘The Ivor Robson Stand’ and have that as a constant at every venue going forward?

There is time between now and next summer to get it right and find the most compelling and appropriate tribute.

Now, though, is about remembering the life of a gentleman and a gentle man who, in his own little way, became an intrinsic and beloved thread in the fabric of golf’s oldest major. A man who, as my colleague Alex Perry observed earlier today, will still be talked about at The 250th Open.

A father, grandfather, friend and starter.

So, thank you, Ivor.

We’ll let you go now.

author headshot

Michael McEwan is the Deputy Editor of bunkered and has been part of the team since 2004. In that time, he has interviewed almost every major figure within the sport, from Jack Nicklaus, to Rory McIlroy, to Donald Trump. The host of the multi award-winning bunkered Podcast and a member of Balfron Golfing Society, Michael is the author of three books and is the 2023 PPA Scotland 'Writer of the Year' and 'Columnist of the Year'. Dislikes white belts, yellow balls and iron headcovers. Likes being drawn out of the media ballot to play Augusta National.

Deputy Editor

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