Ivor Robson, Golf’s Celebrated Voice at British Open, Dies at 83

For four decades he announced the names of players — Jack Nicklaus, Tiger Woods, Rory McIlroy and more — before they teed off. He rarely took a break.

At the British Open, a Scotsman named Ivor Robson became one of the most distinctive and revered voices in golf by saying little. Called a starter, he stood at a lectern near the first tee at each round of that major championship, where his job was simple: to introduce each player.

“On the tee, from U.S.A., Jack Nicklaus,” he would say in his slightly high-pitched, singsong brogue.

Or, “On the tee, from Northern Ireland, Rory McIlroy.”

Once he was at his post, around 6:30 in the morning, he didn’t leave until every golfer had teed off — 156 in all in each of the first two rounds. He did not eat or drink anything before he took his position or for the next nine or 10 hours.

Nor would he take a bathroom break, at a “comfort station,” even if he had time between introductions.

“No input,” he would say, “no output.”

He explained his on-course restraint to Rick Reilly of Sports Illustrated in 1999: “I don’t want cups of water spilling over. I don’t want food around. I don’t have time to excuse myself. There’s no time!”

When he was done for the day and back at his hotel, he would call room service for his only meal of the day.

Mr. Robson, who retired from starter work in 2015, died on Oct. 15. The R&A, which organizes the British Open, announced the death but did not give a cause or say where he died. He was 83 and lived in Moffat, Dumfriesshire, in Scotland.

Mr. Robson, who was born in England in 1940, was a golfer himself, having competed on the Scottish pro tour in the 1960s and ’70s and worked as a club professional in Scotland.

He began his four-decade run at the Open Championship, as the event is officially known, in 1975, at Carnoustie, Scotland, at the invitation of the golf shaft company that hired the tournament’s starters. He went on to perform the role at the other links courses where the Open is played, like St. Andrews, Turnberry, Royal Birkdale and Muirfield.

“Nobody told me how to do it,” he told the golf website Bunkered this year. “I just had to work it out for myself when I started in 1975. ‘What do I do here?’ Just keep it simple, where are they from, the name of the player, and let them go.”

Mr. Robson endured heat, chill and rain and said he did not eat, drink or take bathroom breaks while on the job as a starter.Andrew Redington/Getty Images

Mr. Robson’s job was similar to that of public address announcers at baseball games. But they work from protected press boxes. Mr. Robson endured heat, chill and rain while always formally dressed in his blazer and tie. (A sought-after announcer for 41 years, he also played the starter role at other golf events, including the DP World Tour in Europe.)

“That voice — that smile in his eyes and that lilt in his voice — was unmistakable,” Mike Tirico, an NBC sportscaster who anchored British Open coverage for ESPN and ABC, said in a phone interview. “If you mentioned his name to a player, they’d imitate how he pronounced their names, with his inflections.”

Mr. Robson would often chat with players before they took their swings and witnessed them face pressure, especially in starting their final round on a Sunday.

“You can see the tension,” he said in a video interview with Golfing World magazine in 2019. “They’re not listening to you. They’re speaking to you, but you know they’re not really sure what to say. The club head is shaking as they’re addressing the ball.”

Tiger Woods was among the many famous golfers whose names Mr. Robson announced. “Thank you Ivor for making each one of my Open starts so memorable,” Woods wrote on social media.Tom Pennington/Getty Images

His final British Open, in 2015 at St. Andrews, was also the final one for Tom Watson, who had won the tournament five times. “He gave me an 18th-green flag, which had a message on it,” Mr. Robson told Today’s Golfer magazine in 2022. “‘We have traveled this long road together. All the best in your retirement. Tom Watson.’”

After Mr. Robson’s death, Tiger Woods wrote on X, formerly known as Twitter, “Thank you Ivor making each one of my Open starts so memorable.” Woods won three British Open titles.

Mr. Robson’s survivors include his wife, Lesley; his daughter, Julia; and his son, Philip.

When the R&A chose Mr. Robson’s replacement, they picked two men: David Lancaster, to do most of the work, and a backup, Matt Corker, to fill in when Mr. Lancaster takes a break or two.

“I believe the vocal cords need to be soothed by drinking water at some point,” Mr. Lancaster told The New York Times in 2016. “Fortunately, the R&A understood.”

Source: Golf -


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