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  • Alistair Tait

Tour tales make the European Tour go round

Imagine calling hotel reception to complain that there was no bed in your room. It could only happen on the European Tour.

Friend Sue Shapcott inspired today’s blog after sending me a message asking me to write something to cheer her up. She, and everyone else, only needs to go to the European Tour website to find some great stories of European Tour hijinks. Or follow Tony Johnstone or David Lynn on twitter. They are absolutely brilliant.

I’ve been listening to Tony’s tales for years. He’s got tons of brilliant stories. He’s not alone.

One of the European Tour’s greatest assets is the extent players, caddies, officials and even journalists will go to take the mick out of each other.

Most European Tour don’t take themselves too seriously. Just the opposite. It’s one of the reasons some struggle to adapt to life on the PGA Tour, where they take themselves far too seriously. It also explains that “team spirit” intangible which has helped carry numerous European teams to Ryder Cup victory.

Mark Roe and Robert Lee are the respectable faces of Sky Sports Golf. They’re European Tour board members. It’s a strange metamorphosis for two of the Tour’s biggest practical jokers. These are the same two who hit exploding pink golf balls on the first tee at Muirfield during a practice round for the 1987 Open Championship. They were both dressed in skirts and wearing paper bags over their heads.

Roe paid a price for that exploit. R&A boss Sir Michael Bonallack got his own back by making sure Roe was given the last tee time in the opening rounds for subsequent Opens. Roe was putting out when most fans had gone home, the bins were being collected and greenkeepers were sitting in carts just off the greens waiting to collect the flags.

Roe and Lee, often accompanied by Mark “Mad Dog” Davis, were responsible for some classic practical jokes during their time on Tour. The disappearing bed is a classic.

Russell Claydon, he of the three-finger overlapping grip and one European Tour win, once got a shock when he walked into his hotel room after an early morning round. Claydon was probably looking for a quick 40 winks. That proved impossible because there was no bed in his room. Roe and Lee, out with the afternoon starters, had slipped into his room while Claydon was playing, dismantled the bed and removed it.

Now we’ve all called down to reception to complain about something – missing towels, a dripping tap, a TV that doesn’t work – but imagine calling hotel reception to tell them there’s no bed in your room!

Barry Lane once returned from dinner to discover the lights in his room didn’t work. Baz called reception and the hotel kindly sent an electrician. It took the sparky 10 minutes to discover the reason Baz couldn’t see the light was because there were no light bulbs in the room! Yes, Roe and Lee had got into Lane’s room and removed all the light bulbs.

I’ve been the victim of many pranks orchestrated by Roe. I can tell you that a notepad travels 40 yards when hit with a full 5-iron.

Once in Dubai, I was sat behind Roe on the practice range chatting to him as he hit balls. I turned to chat to his long-suffering caddie Stan Merson. When I turned back to Roe I noticed he’d placed a ball on top of my notepad and was just starting his takeaway. The ball flew 180 yards while my mangled notepad lay 40 yards away.

Roe once asked me to put his father-in-law on the free distribution list when I worked for Golf Monthly. I decided to be cheeky.

“Why would I do that?” I asked. “What have you ever done for me?”

He surprised me when he asked me what I wanted. Knowing he had a veritable pro shop of clubs in a huge room in his Sheffield home, I decided to take my chance. I told him I needed a new driver.

Roe told me he had a great driver he could give me, but it had an extra stiff shaft and only six degrees of loft. He was obviously trying to put me off, but I wasn’t buying it. He asked for my address which I duly gave him: 31 Barnfield Road, Harpenden.

Roe called back 30 minutes later to tell me he’d sent the club by special delivery to 32 Barnfield Road. When I told him he’d used the wrong address, he said I’d just have to go across the street and tell the occupant my mistake.

I did. It meant spending an hour and a half having tea with a kindly old gentleman who told me the entire history of Harpenden in great detail.

The driver turned up the following day addressed to 31 Barnfield Road, not 32 as Roe had told me. Gotcha!

Tour tales, sad to think it’s only at this time we’re hearing them. Let’s have one per TV broadcast to break up the monotony of hole locations and the spew of superlatives like fantastic, brilliant, magnificent, outstanding that make ordinary tour pros sound as if they’re Ben Hogan.

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