THERE’S an iconic picture of the legendary Arnold Palmer, standing on the Swilcan Bridge at St Andrews 19 years ago. With a cap in his hand, the true golfing great waved farewell as his final Open Championship neared an end.
The American, a two-time winner of the Claret Jug, created a little bit of history that day, even though he missed the cut after walking off the last green, and a former president of the Durham Golf Union played his part.
Edward Bunting, one of just two members of the Royal & Ancient Golf Club of St Andrews to hail from Durham Union these days, was not only there to see it, he had a significant part to play in such a memorable moment.
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As an R&A member he has marshalled at three Open Championships and 1995, followed by 2000 and 2005, was his first. “I was the marshal half way down the 18th that day, for Arnold Palmer’s final round, and he wasn’t going to make the cut so everyone knew that was the last time he would walk up the 18th at St Andrews.
“He arrived on the tee and there were around 70 photographers all wanting to take his photo crossing the Swilcan Bridge, but I couldn’t let them on. The photographers all kept shouting ‘marshal, marshal, can we go to the bridge?’ I kept saying no, they weren’t allowed and they knew that.
“Then one of the chief marshals came along. He decided to let them, but he said ‘get them off as soon as you can’ to me. All of them came on and they took that famous picture of Palmer on the bridge for the last time. And I had some part in it. Every time I see it, it takes me back.”
The Open creates memories like that and, over the next four days, more will occur at Royal Liverpool. Will Tiger Woods deliver at Hoylake as he did in 2006 or can Phil Mickelson lift the Claret Jug for successive years?
“At the last Open I was a marshal, in 2005, they had lengthened the second hole and there was a tee near to the burn,” said Bunting. “Mickelson came along and he was a left-hander. I was on the other side of the burn and just before he took his tee shot an eel came along.
“Mickelson looked over and said ‘marshal what’s that?’ He could see this eel going along the burn above the top of his club so he couldn’t take his shot. There was allsorts of things like that that you encounter at The Open as a marshal.”
Despite boasting some 2,000 members, Bunting and John Downes are the only remaining Durham Union representatives on the R&A. “There used to be around seven, we just can’t seem to reproduce them now,” said Bunting, who has been on the R&A since 1991.
He votes on committee decisions, like who will be elected, and the 78-year-old’s progression to the R&A stemmed from his time as county president in 1983-84 which followed years of impressing on the fairways and getting his handicap down to one at Seaton Carew.
Less than a year after joining the R&A, who are the main organisers of The Open and rule makers of golf internationally, he went up to play the famous Old Course at St Andrews with a number of executives from Durham Union for a trip he will never forget.
While he has taken more than 100 guests with him to play St Andrews over the years, he is unlikely to ever replicate what happened in April 1992.
“I was probably a six-handicap at the time and I got a hole-in-one at the 307 yard Par 4 ninth,” remembered Bunting, pointing to the scorecard he had framed alongside a report in The Northern Echo marking his achievements.
“I was with Bill Murray, Les Inskip, Bill Loades and Bill Hepplewhite. it just so happened that one of them had a camera. I got a photo of me on the green. It was quite unusual to get a hole-in-one at on the Par 4 at St Andrews. It was the only hole-in-one I have had.”
It is more difficult to secure a tee time around the Old Course these days, even for an R&A member. Bunting, whose father Gilbert Bunting was a Ryder Cup referee five times, said: “There are honorary members too, like previous Open winners, the Duke of Kent, President Bush Snr ...
“When The Open is on, there is a marquee where we can go along and get together, but there are no freebies, even the members have to pay. I’m not going to Royal Liverpool this week, I could go back one year (maybe St Andrews in 12 months time).”