You can’t accuse the R&A of a lack of ambition. The 150th Open Championship is a historic event with an audience to match, a record 290,000 for the week of July 10-17.
Veterans of St Andrews Opens, both residents and visitors – this will the seventh Old Course Open this observer has covered – will have raised their eyebrows at that figure. It’s more than 50,000 ahead of the record crowd from the Millennium Open of 2000.
Can St Andrews cope with such numbers?
I can’t be the only one who remembers previous Opens at the Home of Golf, with crowds of 220,000 to 240,000, being a bit of a tight squeeze.
Can the town itself manage? There have been grumblings from St Andrews residents for some time about Opens, even if it’s been seven years since the last one.
The anticipated £200 million economic impact of the championship to St Andrews, Fife and Scotland might soften their attitude to the inevitable disruption.
Post-Covid staffing issues at service facilities like restaurants, bars and hotels must be a concern, although likely less of an issue come July. Yet the R&A, the Scottish Government and Fife Council have carefully mapped out a plan which they believe will accommodate everyone comfortably.
Soaring accommodation costs mean fewer fans stay in the Auld Toun for the championship these days anyway.
Dundee and other nearby centres are going to get a boost from a St Andrews Open like never before. The vast Park and Ride facilities at Guardbridge and to the south will get the majority of the 52,000 spectators a day into the Old Course.
The closest accommodation will be the Open Camp Site at Station Park, between the Old Course Hotel and the A91. 3,650 ticket holders have booked plots there.
Can the Old Course accommodate everyone?
The Old Course is unique – possibly the only remaining museum piece of any sport in active use for elite competition. But that also makes it comfortably the worst for spectator viewing of any of the nine venues on the Open rota.
The double fairways and greens mean everyone is further away from the action, and high vantage points are few. The modest dunes on St Andrews Links don’t compare to Birkdale, Sandwich or Portrush.
The R&A are building extra mounding and a programme of gorse-clearing has opened up more space.
Given the historic and treasured nature of the Old Course, these are not close to the actual playing areas. But there is limited room with the New and Eden Courses flanking the Old closely.
It will be interesting to see where these moundings are, and if they affect sightlines and the effects of wind upon the Old Course.
More grandstand seats
There are also 17,500 grandstand seats, massively more than usual and at any other venue. 8000 will be in an amphitheatre of the 1st, 18th holes and the 17th green. As in 2015, the double-decker stand cantilevered over the Links Shop behind the 18th green will be constructed.
A new feature is the 3500-seater complex at the 7th/11th green. This stand will have views of the entirety of ‘The Loop’ from the 7th to the 12th.
Hospitality will be based at fixed units like the Old Course Hotel and the World Golf Museum, and in a custom built unit on the 14th fairway.
There have been concerns about the effects of 2020s technology on an Old Course Open. But there are minimal changes to the course itself, playing just 16 yards longer than in 2015. 13 extra yards are at a new tee at the short 8th, and three yards are added to the 12th.
Why such a huge increase?
— The Open (@TheOpen) April 23, 2022
The massive increase in numbers of tickets sold is as a direct result of the first ever ticket ballot, which has allowed the R&A to control buying practices while also vastly increasing demand.
Up until 2018, fans could buy tickets on the gate to gain entry to the championship. That first all-ticket-in-advance Open was 2019 at Royal Portrush as shortage of space required numbers were restricted. They still ended up with the second largest crowd of all time.
Last year’s Open was also all-ticket because of remaining Covid restrictions. But as a result the R&A discovered that in closely controlling ticket sales they could create demand and better communicate with purchasers.
That demand was obvious in the 1.3 million applications for the ballot. The option of a ticket for the entire week has been removed. The R&A believe they have a fair distribution among Scottish, UK and international fans.
The ballot is now closed and successful applicants notified. Some tickets may still be returned to sale at face value. But the obvious advantage of knowing exactly who and how many people are coming has helped the R&A aim high.
The ballot was complete and spectator numbers confirmed before Tiger Woods announced that he intended to continue his comeback from injury and play at St Andrews.
Woods famously won in 2000 in front the previous record attendance. He also won on the Old Course in 2005, and has often remarked that it’s his favourite golf course.
The draw of the 150th championship is certain to attract a full complement of the world’s best players. Even if the ongoing dispute between the major tours and the Saudi-backed LIV Investments project is presently confusing matters.
In addition, 48 players will compete in the Celebration of Champions on the Monday of championship week (July 11). These will be past Open champions but also leading figures from the women’s game, disabled and junior golfers.
They will play a mini-tournament on the 1st, 2nd, 17th and 18th holes in teams of four with charities benefitting.