EDINBURGH city centre is being used as an experiment by Open Championship chiefs to try to lure non-golfers to the event.
In the build-up to Muirfield staging the world’s oldest major for a 16th time in a fortnight, the R&A is hosting “The Open in the Square” next week.
The event takes place in St Andrew Square from Thursday to Saturday, when the public will have the opportunity to get a taste of the sport.
They will be able to receive some tips from PGA professionals, play some of the great Open courses on EA Sports games consoles and to get their picture taken with the Claret Jug.
The event will also feature a golf simulator, a large screen showing some of the great moments from The Open and artificial practice putting greens.
“We’re excited about ‘The Open In The Square’ because it’s a new venture for us,” said Jim McArthur, chairman of the R&A Championship Committee.
“It’s run in tandem with a local business development group which boasts 600 firms, plus the local City Council.
“It’s intended to raise awareness in the city and we are trying to tie it into the Edinburgh Festival scene. We want to make it a Festival of Golf a couple of weeks before the actual Arts Festival starts in Edinburgh.
“We are really happy with the way it has been developing and the support we have got for it.
“If it’s successful we might try it again in Liverpool next year ahead of The Open at Hoylake and see if we get the same reaction.
“Edinburgh, with its festival spirit, is the perfect place to test it out and we were lucky to get such a prime spot in St Andrews Square.
“It’s right in the middle just off Princes Street and a thoroughfare between the railway station and the bus station.
“So we are hopeful that we are going to raise more awareness that The Open is on their doorstep.”
World No 1 Tiger Woods, of course, will be the star attraction and he will be joined by the likes of Rory McIlroy, Masters champion Adam Scott and Ernie Els, who won the last Open at Muirfield and is returning as the defending champion.
But the field will also now include three local stars after Grant Forrest, Lloyd Saltman and Gareth Wright all secured spots through Tuesday’s qualifiers in East Lothian.
“We are expecting an attendance somewhere between 160 and 170,000 at Muirfield,” added McArthur when asked about advance ticket sales.
“We had a bumper year at Hoylake when we had 225,000. Last year at Lytham we had 180,000 and at St Andrews we get about 220,000.
“There’s quite a variation in attendances for each location and Muirfield is probably towards the lower end on that scale, but we are happy with it.
“In terms of course staging and off-course set-up, it’s probably one of the best.
“And it’s not just about commercial aspects, it’s also about the course and how much the players love it. All the Open rota courses are terrific golf courses but Muirfield is probably up there with the best.” Despite miserable conditions, a big crowd was out at Gullane to watch Colin Montgomerie make his unsuccessful bid to qualify.
The events at Dunbar, Musselburgh and North Berwick also attracted lots of interest from the locals – the last time could watch the event in that format as there will be only one Scottish LFQ venue as from next year.
“We were delighted with the four courses we had for the Local Final Qualifying this year,” said McArthur. “It’s great for the club members and local golfing community to come and watch and builds up the interest in The Open even more.”