My room is fairly standard, with a view overlooking the 18th green on the Championship Course. As a guest I'm in agreement with Sir Michael Bonallack, the former secretary of the R&A, who is quite pleased with the hotel, saying it's fit for the world's finest players. "They expect to find high standards," he says, "and Carnoustie now surpasses them." The Open is expected to return to Carnoustie by 2007.
The Lottery Winners: Johnston isn't the only one paying homage to Carnoustie's Open winners. Ian Salmond, the irrigation manager at Carnoustie, named his sons Tom and Ben. They are three and two, respectively, and have a trip to Disney World awaiting them when they are old enough to appreciate it. That was the promise Salmond made to himself last year when two golf balls he found on the course fetched a total of £15,000 at auction at Sotheby's in London. "I bought a computer," Salmond tells me as people tee off behind us on the 1st hole. "That's the one thing I bought."
Salmond was laying irrigation line on the 3rd fairway during remodeling of the course in November '97, up to his neck in dirt, when something rolled to his feet. "You could tell it wasn't a stone," he says. "I was lucky I happened to be working."
The ball at Salmond's feet was a gutta-percha. Carnoustie maintenance workers find two or three every year, and the balls sell for £50 to £100 apiece. What made Salmond's find special was that the ball had been given crude, hand-hammered dimples to make it fly truer, and had ALLAN stamped on the cover. The ball had belonged to Allan Robertson, designer of the original nine holes at Carnoustie and the first man to break 80 at St. Andrews, in 1858. Today's equivalent of Robertson is Woods, who has TIGER stamped on his ammo. Experts concluded that the Robertson ball was more than 150 years old.
A week after finding the guttie, Salmond was working on the 7th fairway when he found another ball from the same era. This one was less valuable because it didn't have the stamp. Salmond was advised to put the two balls up for auction, and he did so with modest hopes. Salmond didn't even attend the auction, which was held a year ago, but that night he got a phone call. "I was shocked," he says. "The estimated price had been £1,800 to £2,000.1 actually thought [the figure quoted to me] was a mistake. I called back to make sure. I never found out who bought the balls. I wasn't really carin' at that stage."
Salmond, in a sense, had won the lottery. For about 10 months he was big news in town. Then on May 15 a Carnoustie couple really did win the lottery.
The day I arrived was the first day of Derek and Teresa Esposito's unemployment. Teresa, 44, had been a sewing machinist for 8½ years. Derek, also 44, had worked as a technician for the Michelin Tire Co. for 28. They have three sons and had strung together 11 numbers using the birthdays of everyone in the family plus Derek and Teresa's age when they began playing the lottery. On May 19, the day after they quit their jobs, they began working full time on the problem of what to do with £1.4 million. "The main thing is to get family and friends sorted out," said Teresa, clearly still in a state of shock. "We'll get our son Darren a flat. He works for British Telecom and has been renting in Dundee. My husband is going to get a new car. He doesn't know it yet."
When I visit, Teresa is in her immaculate garden, a cordless phone to her ear. Two West Highland terriers, Snowy and Holly, run up to greet me. Teresa says she has been getting calls and brochures from car dealers and financial advisers. Derek is busy, or as busy as he's likely to be in the foreseeable future, playing golf.
Salmond, whose handicap is nine at nearby Edzell Golf Club, feels as lucky as the Espositos—not only because he found the balls, but also because their price was driven up at a lively auction. He says he keeps a keen eye out for old balls, as do his coworkers, but he will mostly be looking for Watson next week. "I'd like my kids, especially Tom, to meet him," Salmond says, "to get their photo taken and even to get his autograph."
It won't be easy. About 80 trains a day will pull into Carnoustie's Golf Street station. The town will swell to an estimated 150,000 people over the four days. Salmond will need some luck to run into Watson, but don't bet against him.