‘On Course to The Open’, an epic veteran-led relay challenge, finished its journey to The 150th Open in St Andrews this afternoon.
Over the last two weeks, a 55-person team made up of On Course Foundation (OCF) beneficiaries have carried a golf pin flag from Royal St George’s in Kent, venue for The 149th Open, to the Old Course at St Andrews, venue for this week’s historic staging. It has been a journey of some 1,500km.
The OCF supports the recovery of wounded and sick service personnel and veterans through golf and careers in the golf industry.
The route took in all mainland UK golf clubs to have hosted The Open since its inception in 1860, along with other clubs. This has been achieved in the form of a relay using non-motorised means – walking, running, cycling, rowing, and swimming.
At 3pm today, the final pairing – Ian Bishop and Laura O’Neill – walked the 17th and 18th holes of the Old Course on the eve of The 150th Open. In front of fans on the final day of practice, they were joined on their walk by Tommy Fleetwood, runner-up at The Open at Royal Portrush in 2019. The giant yellow Open scoreboards on the 18th even highlighted their efforts with their names displayed.
After a memorable photograph of the trio on the Swilcan Bridge, a presentation took place on the 1st tee, along with HRH The Princess Royal – who visited The 150th Open today accompanied by Vice Admiral Sir Tim Laurence. Peter Forster, Captain of The Royal and Ancient Golf Club of St Andrews, was also in attendance along with the Claret Jug.
For all those involved, it’s a day that will live long in the memory.
Bishop, who is a double amputee and has a brain injury which affects his speech, said, “It was a great honour to walk with Tommy. We got a great reaction from the crowd. I think they appreciated what we have all done as a team.
“People have been walking, swimming in rivers, getting on bikes, enjoying good weather and putting up with some bad! The whole team have been amazing to get here. It was a concept that we started planning 16 months ago and we thank the opportunity given to us by The R&A.”
The 41-year-old ex-Royal Marine added, “It’s massive to have a focus on the On Course Foundation today, seeing people waiting for us on the 18th. We’ve raised a lot of funds and we’re looking to keep that going.”
Fleetwood added, “These people are an inspiration. Just to get the chance to walk a couple of holes with them was great and I’m very, very grateful for the whole experience. I felt quite emotional for them.
“It is a special week at The Open. It’s been my favourite event since I was a little boy. The experience for everybody is amazing, what a spectacle it is here. Being part of the walk was another amazing part of this week that I’ll never forget.”
O’Neill,46, previously served in the Royal Navy and continues to battle the ongoing affects of aggressive cancer treatment going back to 2009.
“What an honour it was to walk the same grass that all the greats are doing this week,” she said. “It was fantastic to bring to an end the fundraising journey at The 150th Open.
“It’s incredible we’ve got to this stage with everyone playing their individual part. There is no better championship to be at than here at home in St Andrews. It’s been wonderful. It was a once-in-a-lifetime afternoon.”
All OCF participants will have or have had a medical condition of some kind, be that a physical injury, non-physical injury, or medical condition/illness. For all, golf has played a major part in their recovery and well-being. Overall, the aim of ‘On Course to The Open’ has been to:
* Raise awareness of the OCF and the work done to support beneficiaries through the game of golf
* Raise funds for OCF to help them with the important work they do
* Showcase the health benefits of golf and how it can help people in other aspects of life
There is a dedicated fundraising page to support the activity and you can donate here.