Denton County attorney William Brotherton enjoys spending time on the golf course. After 13 years serving as a gallery guard on the 14th hole at the Masters, Brotherton has seen some of the best golfers in the world play. So when an opportunity to serve as a marshal on the 16th hole at Carnoustie Golf Links in Scotland for the British Open presented itself, Brotherton jumped at the chance to see some of these greats play a different course. Brotherton, who has links to the United Kingdom through his heritage to Lord Edward Brotherton, is also a member of the Abenaki Nation of Missisquoi in Vermont and an adopted member of the Spirit Lake Sioux of North Dakota. His Native American heritage excited the organizers of the Open, who invited Brotherton to be the first Native American marshal of an Open. Here, Brotherton talks about his passion for the sport and his experience working the event in Scotland.
How did you get the opportunity to work at the British Open?
Having worked at the Masters at the Augusta National Golf Club in Georgia for the past 13 years on the 14th hole, I had become a big fan of Jordan Spieth. So while watching the Open last year, I was on the edge of my seat as Jordan pulled out a victory—after making some miracle shots—at Royal Birkdale in Southport, England. I was inspired. The very next day I tracked down the head pro at Carnoustie Golf Links in Scotland where the next Open would be held. I briefly described my golf background in an email and asked to be considered as a marshal at the next Open. I was amazed at how quickly I received a response from Chris Smith, who is the deputy chief marshal for the Open. Chris told me that he’d do his best to get me on, and he did. I was approved to work as a marshal by the Royal & Ancient Golf Club, or the R&A, the governing body of golf outside of the U.S. and Mexico (it’s the United States Golf Association, or USGA, in the U.S. and Mexico) and provided a waiver by the National Health Service. Chris was able to find a golf club, the Piperdam Golf Club near Carnoustie, to sponsor me to work on the 16th hole. It all came together nicely. I’ve been invited back to work as a marshal at the Open being held at Royal Portrush in Northern Ireland in 2019. It will be very historic as this is the first Open being held in Northern Ireland in over 65 years, and I certainly want to be there.
Your heritage is English and Native American, which both had significance at the Open. How did it feel to be working the British Open in regards to your heritage?
The Scots working the Open were intrigued by my heritage. When I first inquired about serving as a marshal, I mentioned that I was a member of the Abenaki Nation of Missisquoi in Vermont and served on tribal council. That opened a lot of doors because they had never had a Native American serve as a marshal at the Open. And the fact that I’m an adopted member of the Spirit Lake Sioux in North Dakota made it even better. They even had a Carnoustie hat made up for me with my Sioux name “Iron Horse” (Tasunka Masa in Sioux) embroidered on the back. My new friends were fascinated that years ago, my wife and I had visited the Brotherton Library at the University of Leeds. Lord Edward Brotherton founded the Brotherton Library and left his personal collection of books and manuscripts in trust for the university. When we visited, the curator of the library, Chris Sheppard, gave us a high tea to celebrate our visit and confirmed that I was a distant relative to Lord Brotherton. It was quite an honor, especially when Chris allowed us to handle valuable items from the collection, including first editions of Shakespeare and a lock of Mozart’s hair. So, in addition to calling me Iron Horse, my friends at Carnoustie also called me “Sir William.” Great fun!
What was it like working at the Open?
It was an honor to work at the oldest golf tournament in the world. I was happy to be there, and everyone was incredibly friendly. Golf is a universal sport shared by almost every country in the world. When I would talk with the fans, their first comment was usually, “You don’t sound like you’re from Scotland.” Many, especially those from America, quickly recognized that I was a Texan from my accent, and everyone spoke highly of Texas. The golf at the Open was incredible under somewhat difficult circumstances—it had been hot (for Scotland) and dry and the officials were especially concerned that the Americans would have a field day with a course that could produce 400-yard drives on such hard fairways. But that didn’t happen, and as it turned out, it was not an American who won but an Italian. Everyone couldn’t have been nicer, and they were happy to have me there. And that was especially true at the Open campground, where I stayed in a roomy tent at the Carnoustie High School football field. Sleeping on an air mattress in Scotland is something everyone should experience at least once in their life, and the campground was a mix of young and old and people from everywhere. The campground was well run and included not only a bar in a teepee-like structure but also food trucks featuring a variety of good food, including of all things, barbecue. The owners were quite proud of their smoker, manufactured in Ennis, Texas. And the brisket was tasty!
You’ve previously worked the Masters for quite a number of years, how does it compare to working the Open?
The Open is a public tournament open to everyone, and from what I gathered, the ticket prices are very modest. Unlike Augusta, anyone can walk up to the ticket office at the Open at any time during the tournament and simply buy a ticket. With Augusta, you typically have to have a family connection, win badges through the lottery (paying face value for the badges), or purchase the badges on the open market where you will pay considerably more than the face value of the badge. The Masters is held at the same venue every year, and the number of patrons is regulated. Bobby Jones, the founder of the Masters, was always concerned about having too many people at a tournament diminishing the value of watching golf. There are no such restrictions at the Open because typically the events are held at courses that can hold a great number of people, and it’s a different venue every year. But it certainly didn’t feel crowded at the Open because there was more than enough space to accommodate all of the gallery. And let me mention the food as well. At Augusta, you enjoy a pimento cheese sandwich, an egg salad sandwich, or barbecue, along with the beverage of your choice and dessert items such as a peach ice cream sandwich. At the Open, it was fish and chips, Yorkie pie, sausage rolls, and large roast pork sandwiches. One of the biggest differences between the two tournaments is the fact that at the Open, marshals hold up a “quiet please” paddle whenever a player is about to hit his ball. No such signs are used at Augusta—after 82 years of the tournament being held at the same location every year, the signs simply aren’t needed. Indeed, gallery guards, as marshals are called at the Masters, rarely even need to raise their hands for quiet. Thankfully, at both tournaments, you just don’t hear many people screaming “get in the hole” or “mashed potatoes—something you tend to hear at other U.S. tournaments.
It was a rather close finish to the tournament on Sunday. Any particularly exciting moments at the 16th hole?
What made working at the 16th hole so much fun was that it is considered one of the toughest, if not the toughest hole, in the tournament. With sand traps on both sides of the green—deep and treacherous—and a narrow green that slopes to send a player’s ball off the green with even what seemed to be perfect shots, it was a hole that was hard to master by anyone. Tiger Woods and Jordan both bogeyed the 16th, and many players coming to the 16th had good rounds going until they bogeyed or worse on 16. What really got all of us on 16 excited was the fact that it sure looked like there was going to be a playoff—at one point there were four or five players tied for the lead including Jordan and Tiger. And the playoff holes are, in order, 1st, 16th, 17th, and 18th. It’s sudden death, and the players continue playing 18 until a winner is determined. So, our hole was going to be in the middle of the playoff, and we started bracing for the onslaught of fans. Then, it got even stranger. Apparently, at the Open, it’s a tradition that once the match is finished, the fans are free to run all across the golf course. As marshals, we were asked to stop this, and it was easier said than done. But it was all part of working the Open and what made it so much fun!
Did you do any other activities while in Scotland and away from the course? Any sightseeing?
Absolutely. This was not my first trip overseas, but I was excited to see more of the U.K. on this trip. Previously, I had taken depositions in London in an insurance fraud case and taken a train to Edinburgh after the depos and rented a car to play a few courses in Scotland. However, this time, I wanted to see more. My brother, Matt, and I got to Edinburgh a week and half before the Open and drove to Cairnryan on the west coast of Scotland to take the ferry to Belfast to see Northern Ireland and Ireland. Thankfully, driving on the wrong side of the road came back quickly to me. It was a challenge to drive, especially on narrow Irish roads, with two lanes—probably the equivalent of one-and-a-half of a Texas road lane. To make matters worse, there were typically stone walls right up to the edge of the roadway, and you cringed every time you encountered heavy goods vehicles (tractor-trailers) and tour buses. Despite all that, we covered 2,000 miles throughout Ireland and Scotland, and we enjoyed the spectacular Cliffs of Moher in the Republic of Ireland, visited Dublin and Killarney, and played the seaside courses of Tralee and Lahinch. My brother, who doesn’t golf and didn’t want to drive, ended up walking the courses with me. In Scotland, we stayed at a good friend’s castle for three days. The day we arrived was spent exploring the 17th-century structure and its secret passageways, drinking a dram of whiskey with the estate manager to celebrate our safe arrival, and having a specially prepared dinner of salmon steaks. The following day we explored Loch Ness, visited Urquhart Castle, and swam in the Loch. It was exhilarating because the temperature was only 54 degrees and the water temperature was 46 degrees, but we had to do it! That evening we had the traditional haggis, neeps, and tatties. Haggis is a spicy dish made from sheep organs, while neeps are smashed turnips, and tatties are simply mashed potatoes. During our stay at the castle, I also played two additional seaside golf courses—Royal Dornoch and Fortrose. After all that, it was back to Edinburgh where I dropped both my brother and our car off at the airport. I then took the tram into Edinburgh and hopped onto one of the frequent trains to Carnoustie via Dundee. Just riding the trains through the Scottish countryside and cities brought back great memories of riding in locomotives and cabooses when I was a brakeman/conductor for the Burlington Northern Railroad some 40 years ago. When I stepped off the train in Carnoustie, I walked to the golf course to get my security briefing and following the briefing, started enjoying my assignment as a marshal on one of the toughest golf holes in the world.
William J. Brotherton is the principal of the Brotherton Law Firm, a six-attorney civil litigation firm located in Highland Village. Brotherton is licensed in both Texas and North Dakota. He taught environmental law for 12 years at Texas Christian University, and is the author of Burlington Northern Adventures: Railroading in the Days of the Caboose (South Platte Press, 2004). For more information, about the Brotherton Law Firm, go to brothertonlawfirm.com and for the book, go to bnrailstories.com.