In the first of our series of behind-the-scenes profiles from Royal Liverpool and the Open 2014 , we catch up with courtesy car driver Rachel Bridge, by Robin Barwick
Rachel Bridge is not even a golf fan, but she will be a fan of Tom Watson for life, and probably a confidant to his wife for a few years to come. Rachel drives courtesy cars at the Open 2014.
“I am not a golf fan and I don’t recognise all the players, but Tom Watson is fab – what a darling – what a gentleman,” starts Rachel, as she waits for her next call in the main car park in front of the clubhouse at Royal Liverpool Golf Club.
“He gets in the car and says, ‘Morning, ma’am, haven’t we met before?’ He probably says it to all the ladies, but in my little mind, he has only said it to me! He is a natural gentleman, and his wife is very nice too, and her and I have talked about each other’s hair and we have talked about hairdressers and that kind of thing. They are just really friendly and really nice, which is great.”
This is Rachel’s fourth Open. Her day job is working for an estate agent in her hometown of Southport, but whenever the Open or Senior Open lands in the northwest, she books a week off to get behind the wheel of a luxury Mercedes-Benz. Her first Open was here in 2006, and she worked at Royal Birkdale in 2008 and at Royal Lytham in 2011.
“The whole experience is just fabulous,” she adds, “Just to be a part of the Open, the event. People are always really kind and courteous, but it’s hard to go back to driving my own car at the end of the week!”
The hours aren’t always as friendly as the passengers. On Monday morning Rachel was up at 5am sharp because the Monday of the Open is a busy day with a stream of collections of incoming golfers and officials from Manchester Airport.
Rachel is one of 60 drivers in the Mercedes fleet at Hoylake, and they are split into four over-lapping shifts each day.
As a driver, you just hope your passenger gets in to the airport on time, with the same amount of luggage that they left home with.
“I had a tense journey to Southport with a golfer in the Senior Open last year,” says Rachel, whose Advanced Driving qualification is a compulsory requirement.
“His luggage did not arrive at the airport, and then when we arrived at his hotel, that was not up to scratch either. He found accommodation in a house locally, and once his luggage arrived he was fine, but that first journey was a bit tense – not a word of conversation in the car.”
Those who know a thing or two about Phil Mickelson will not be surprised to learn about his level of courtesy to the drivers.
“One time Phil Mickelson walked past my car,” recalls Rachel, “and I wasn’t even picking him up, but he said, ‘Morning ma’am,’ as if he had just come round for tea last week.”
Then the co-ordinator radios through and Rachel is off.