ST. ALBANS, England — A golf tournament unlike any we’ve seen before will kick off Thursday north of London. It will be exactly that — a golf tournament. Will it look the same as other tournaments? Yes and no. Will it feel the same? Yes and no. Is the purpose behind it chaotic and controversial? Yes, indeed.
The vibe at Centurion Club, outside the press room at least, has been reserved. Largely because fans are not allowed on property until Thursday’s opening round, and also because the pieces are still coming together. Midday Wednesday, 24 hours before the first shotgun start, construction crews were still assembling, well, many things: viewing platforms, the Centurion-members-only addition to the clubhouse, a large majority of the gaudy fan village.
The huge concert stage is in place, but the tiny little shops just a 5-iron away were still being put together. A 9-hole mini-golf course was ready for action, but the massive skull statue outside the arcade was still sheathed in plastic. Plenty of official merchandise was still in boxes, and restaurant decor — like faux 19th-century outdoor lanterns — was still in its packaging. The menu for the street cart-style restaurant was listed, but prices were not.
The village itself is tucked inside the finishing stretch of the course, which is a luscious shade of green. This is not the baked-out summer links, nor is it pretending to be. Players in the field competed in a typical pro-am, with long-drive contests and goodie bags. They’ll find the same looking TV towers, and a handful of small viewing areas around the tees and greens. In other words, normal.
One major difference, though, will take place Thursday afternoon, when London black cabs usher players out to their starting holes. Twenty-five cabbies have been hired for the job, each slapping a LIV Golf decal on the sides of their vehicles. They’ve all received maps of the property and on Tuesday began rehearsing their commutes.
Their job is both simple and complex. Centurion is bisected by a small forest, and is bordered on its west side by farmland. There is no quick trip to the 7th tee. In fact, it requires leaving the property and driving on local roads adjacent to the course to reach holes 6 through 13. One cabbie, who will be bringing players to the 5th tee, said he was nervous for his compadres who have a more chaotic route. Getting there is easy; getting back not so much. The drivers have been instructed to drop off players and wait until after they’ve all teed off, so the broadcast can include an iconic London image. But once play begins, some drivers may find themselves taking a bit longer to return home so as not to disturb play.
It’s possible that disrupting play is the last of LIV Golf’s concerns. Most of the event’s tricked-out additions are meant to be showy. Speakers littered throughout the property are all connected to the same audio, so if Sam Horsfield is warming up on the range to Mr. Brightside, then spectators will also be hearing The Killers across the property — at the wine bar that runs along the 15th hole, and in the “Birdie Shack” along the 18th.
Some of the accoutrements radiate the idea that no expense has been spared. But some aspects leave more to be desired, particularly the Player Gym, which amounts to about 800 square feet of space, and includes a few yoga mats, three exercise balls, eight foam rollers and some resistance bands. There are two rooms connected to the gym, with one training table each, which begs the question: If 48 players tee off at the same time, how will they all loosen up at the same time in that small space?
As with many questions about LIV Golf, we will find out Thursday.