Among the iconic sights of any Open are the two giant yellow scoreboards on either side of the 18th green. Their operation is just one cog in the gigantic wheel turned by the chaps at Score Control, whose headquarters at Royal Lytham & St Annes is unfeasibly difficult to find, even with the aid of a map. Only the most determined – ie, your correspondent – track them down to their mobile office to an obscure and muddy outpost bordering Beauclerk Road.
It’s the 15-foot radio mast that eventually gives them away. It is needed for the relentless stream of scoring data received from golf in play, and sent out to the scoreboards around the course – not just the two most famous display boards, but also the leaderboards situated at every hole, which also detail the state of play in the match approaching that hole; the scoreboard on the practice range; and the two hole-by-hole boards in the Lytham tented village and the St Annes tented village.
“Six of us here oversee all the other 250 people involved in scoring around the course,” explains Paul White, who in regular life is scoring manager for the European Tour. “A further seven supervisors are available at all times to go out on the course and deal with any problems.
“Each group of players on the course has a walking scorer. Within a second of each shot being taken, the walking scorer sends us electronic data about it – which stroke number it is, where it lands, whether the next stroke will be from the fairway or the green or which particular bunker, and so on. It all arrives here and we send it out. The idea is that all the boards give the same information at the same moment, especially on the giant yellow boards on the 18th.”
Excitingly – I mean it – I am permitted access up into one of those yellow scoreboards, each of which is constructed within a maze of scaffolding. Entry is by unsophisticated loft ladder arrangement, taking you up first to a lower storey, and then a higher storey. Except for a small window on the higher level, once up the loft ladder there is no view at all of the outside world. Inside, what daylight there is takes on a strange butter-coloured hue as it filters through the famous yellow exterior.
Each giant scoreboard can display 12 lines of text, with a font size sufficiently huge to be legible hundreds of yards away. The wording is so large that inside the scoreboard, each storey controls the display of just six lines of text.
It is a peculiar fact of The Open that every year one of the giant scoreboards is controlled by staff and pupils from Charterhouse School, and the other is controlled by their Cranleigh School equivalent. These two schools are situated within miles of one another in Surrey, and the occupants of each scoreboard often play school sports against one another. At The Open, there is a certain (friendly) rivalry between the two scoreboards to be the more hyper-efficient.
I visited Charterhouse, which this year is the scoreboard to the left of the 18th green as you look at the Clubhouse. Bob Noble, who in professional life is a French and Spanish master at the school, is in charge there. He has been involved with running the giant scoreboards since 1975 at Carnoustie.
“Two shifts of nine people – so a total of 18 – run each scoreboard,” he explains. “Typically four or five of us are adults and the rest are boys. I invite boys to do the job simply when I think they will be good at it. The youngest is 16, and the boys get paid the same as the adults.”
Bob sits on the higher storey, next to a tiny window from where he can see the Cranleigh scoreboard. An oddity of the job is that neither he nor his counterpart on the other side of the green can see their own scoreboard, so they let one another know of any small mistakes – if a letter is upside down, for example. Even as I’m there, I hear Bob consult his opposite number by radio on the agreed abbreviation for Gonzalo Fernandez-Castano – uniformity is important.
“We can sway back and forwards a bit up here in a high wind,” says Bob. “You can get very cold. But the problem this year has been rain – it’s not weatherproof in here. I can tell you that a strategically placed Jaffa Cake is very good for soaking up rain dripping off scaffolding. The main thing is that it’s an incredibly cool job. Once the leaders are out on course, it’s pandemonium. Great fun.”
Of course, in this day and age, the giant yellow scoreboards could easily be made electronic. But the fact is that no one wants them to be. In their existing form they are iconic, unique to The Open. Get rid of the giant yellow scoreboards? You might as well bin the Claret Jug itself.