R&A says Turnberry remains on the Open rota despite £2m profits fall

THE R&A insists it will stand by Turnberry as an Open Championship venue, despite the event's long-awaited return to the Ayrshire course last summer costing the organisation more than £2 million in profit.

While the event almost produced a great sporting fairytale, with Tom Watson nearly claiming a record-equalling sixth Open title at 59, it proved a disappointment financially for the R&A in its first staging at the links in 15 years.

It has been estimated the R&A would lose around 1m in spectator revenue, compared with other venues in Scotland. But yesterday it was revealed that operating profit fell 2.1m to 7m, compared with the 2008 Open at Royal Birkdale.

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Corporate hospitality dipped, due to a combination of the recession and the course's remote location in South Ayrshire, but the biggest single factor was a much lower attendance than in recent years.

Attendance fell to 123,000 at Turnberry, 78,000 down on the figure at Royal Birkdale and 116,000 fewer than the record 239,000 at St Andrews in 2000.

Peter Dawson, R&A chief executive, admitted in his annual review: "Our headline financial report quantifies the cyclical effect of taking the Open to less accessible venues."

Despite the drop, the St Andrews-based governing body still managed to hand out grants worth 3.4m – 700,000 more than in 2008 – for golf development projects around the world and, according to an R&A spokesman, Turnberry will not be dropped from the rota.

He said: "The Open Championship goes to nine venues on the rota, and we accept some yield a greater number of spectators and greater profit than others. Last year's Open Championship was a great spectacle, and there was no doubt the challenge and beauty of the course played its part in what was an exciting event for spectators.

"We had forecast all along that the spectator numbers (for Turnberry] would be down substantially on other venues."

Traffic problems were the main reason the Open stayed away from Turnberry for so long, but, after Stewart Cink ended Watson's brave bid in a play-off, the R&A insisted it was thrilled with the venue's return to the golfing limelight.

"It's a fabulous venue and must be kept on the Open rota," said David Hill, the director of championships. "The attendance is never as good at Turnberry as it would be at other venues, but we take a ten-to-15-year view."

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Tory MSP for Ayr John Scott said it would be a major blow were Turnberry never to host another Open, given golf was "vital" to the region's future. "The obvious reason for the reduced attendance last year is that the Open coincided with the deepest point of the biggest recession since the Second World War," he said. "Self-evidently, guests were fewer in number."

Norman Geddes, executive chairman of the Elite Ayrshire Business Circle, added: "I think Turnberry is one of the classic venues, in terms of its setting and quality of the course."

David Anderson, chief executive of South Ayrshire Council, said: "Turnberry is an iconic location, and there has not been any indication that the Open would not return there in the future."