First posted on the Golf Monthly website on Thursday 10th July 2008
Fergus has had a couple of dealings with the Americans this week. They may be very friendly but they’re also very strict.
This year I’ve been lucky enough to be asked to fly to Kentucky to cover the Ryder Cup for Golf Monthly. I’m hyper-excited about the prospect – I’ve only ever been to the great biennial event once before (The Belfry back in 2002) and it was an incredible experience.
I’m also looking forward to visiting Kentucky. I’ve only been to the west coast of America in the past and I’ll be very interested to see what middle-America is actually like. I’m expecting endless trailer parks, people wearing dungarees and spitting into buckets, stray dogs and seedy motels. I don’t know anything about Kentucky – I’m as ignorant about it as the average yank is about the UK. Here’s what I know of Kentucky off the top of my head – Kenny Perry comes from Kentucky, the Kentucky Derby, Kentucky Fried Chicken… that’s about it – pretty embarrassing eh?
Speaking of friendly but badly informed Americans, I met a particularly good example in Heathrow Airport on Tuesday. He, as they always do, struck up a conversation with me (despite my best efforts not to make eye-contact with him and to appear as unapproachable as possible.) “Say, where you headed?” He asked. “Aberdeen.” I replied in monotone. “OK, right up to the north coast. Big ship-buildin’ centre Aberdeen huh?” He continued. “Erm, not quite the north coast.” I replied. “And, Aberdeen’s probably more famous as Europe’s Oil Capital than for it’s ship-building.” “Huh. But pretty big in ship-buildin’ too though.” He persisted. “Oh yes.” I said, thinking agreement would be the best way out of the conversation.
I thought wrong. “We’re going to Glasgauw, then across to Saint Andrew’s to play some gawlf.” “Excellent.” I replied, feigning enthusiasm. “Yup, then to Carnoosty and Door-knock. I believe that’s the oldest gawlf course in the world.” He said. “Erm, I think that’s generally considered to be Musselburgh.” I tentatively suggested. “No. I believe it’s Door-knock.” He insisted. “Oh, look my flight is boarding.” I lied.
You might wonder why I’ve been talking about a golf tournament that’s two months away when there’s an equally, perhaps more, significant one starting next week (The Open). Well… It’s just that I’m so ahead of my time. No, actually the Ryder Cup is at the forefront of my mind, as I’ve had to get past some red tape this week to secure my trip.
Journalists travelling to work in the States have to acquire something called an I-Visa before they go. To do this I had to make my way to London for an interview in the US Embassy. Prior to the appointment I had to fill out forms requesting my entire life history, inside-leg measurement and favourite scene in the Sound of Music (and that was only on page 1).
I was told I couldn’t take any electronic equipment or liquids into the building, nor could I take a large bag or rucksack. So I made the trip down the night before with no mobile phone, no wash-bag and no deodorant. I arrived at the Embassy, unshaven and sweating profusely.
I thought I’d been incredibly thorough so I was a little miffed when I was taken to one side in security and asked to open my (very small) bag. My keys were taken out – “This is an electronic device.” The surly guard said pointing at my car key. It’s one of those ones with a button that opens the door. I had to take it to a nearby chemist who would kindly look after it for me for the sum of £10. I came back and rejoined the back of the queue.
After finally making it in and waiting for a not inconsiderable amount of time to see a Consular Official my number was finally called. I nervously went to the correct booth carrying the documents I’d been told to bring to confirm my identity – everything from my driving licence to details of my life insurance; phone bills to a copy of the deeds to my house.
“Mr Bisset?” The softly-spoken official asked. “Yes.” I replied feeling like a naughty schoolboy sent to the headmaster. “So you’re going to Kentucky to cover the Ryder Cup?” He asked. “Yes.” I said. “Have a great time, your Visa is approved.” He said cheerily. “Is that it?” I thought. “I’ve travelled 550 miles for this? I want a 30-minute grilling with lights shone in my face and another official being called to act out a ‘good-cop, bad-cop’ routine.” But, that was it and I was told I could go. All very silly if you ask me.