Many hands are needed to keep The Open in motion and prevent it seizing up – some hands more literally than others. Tucked away behind the Competitors’ Family Marquee at Muirfield, there finds itself a large blue lorry, emblazoned with the words European Tour Race To Dubai Physio Unit. A familiar sight at 35 events on the European Tour, the lorry pulled up in its slot near Muirfield Clubhouse late on Sunday night, having made the 180-mile journey that evening from the Scottish Open at Castle Stuart near Inverness.
From a ten-strong multi-national team, six experts – covering not just physiotherapy but also chiropracty, osteopathy and sports therapy – are on hand, along with a doctor specialising in sports medicine. At The Open, all were available from Tuesday onwards to any of the 156 players in the field, beginning 90 minutes before the first tee time until half an hour after the last ball is struck on Sunday. Close by is another Portakabin where the comparatively few players with personal physiotherapists receive treatment, but this is quite separate to the European Tour Physio Unit.
“We’re all familiar to the players, offering them as full a service as possible,” explained physiotherapist Nigel Tilley. “Injuries are particular to individual sports, depending on the forces exerted on the body in elite competition. So in golf we see a lot of lower back problems, and also shoulder and wrist injuries because of the nature of the golf swing. A lot of sports people live with a moderately high level of discomfort almost as a matter of routine, but some weeks will be worse than others. Sometimes they can play with niggles, but we aim to give players the best possible information on the effect of playing, so that they can make their own decision.”
Such is the sophisticated high-tech equipment inside the lorry that the net value of the vehicle and contents is in the neighbourhood of £1 million.
“The environment inside is comfortable and private, very removed from the rest of the tournament to give respite from those stresses, and obviously away from spectators or officials,” said Tilley. “A £30,000 air conditioning unit maintains the interior temperature at 20 degrees which is the optimum for treatment. We have a diagnostic ultrasound scanner on board supplied by GE which is a £100,000 piece of kit, and a TechnoGym Kinesis machine worth £15,000 helps get the body warmed up for play. The beds and therapy equipment provided by Enraf-Nonius are also worth many thousands of pounds.
“We tend to be busiest on Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday, and as many as 70 or 80 players may come through in any one day, especially after a run of six or seven tournaments close together where physical stresses on the body accumulate. About half an hour is the usual duration for a visit, although it can be much more or less. We are never so busy that we turn anyone away. This service has been developed over 23 years, so we can cope with large demands. Every year we get busier because of the level of service we give, and the increasing recognition of the importance of complete fitness.
“Part of being a good clinician is identifying when a condition is beyond our scope of practice, so we have a large group of specialist doctors and radiologists to whom we can refer players for immediate assistance. But we do not only treat injuries. We also give a performance service, meaning preventative screening, conditioning, warm-up and post-play treatment, as is commonplace now in the sophisticated modern game. We help with the best preparation and recovery techniques. Sometimes golfers come to us on the verge of pulling out, and we are able to give treatment so they can play and also do well. That’s when our work is really enjoyable, and most satisfying.”