Martin Dempster: Old Course stands test of time

The Old Course in St Andrews. Picture: Getty
The Old Course in St Andrews. Picture: Getty
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IN THE absence of the R&A’s once traditional post-event press conference, it is left to the golfing scribes to do our best to assess some of the main talking points during Open Championship week.

A degree in meteorology would have come in handy on this occasion, I suppose, as Mother Nature certainly played her part. But, let’s face it, that’s the one element no-one can control. It was trying – very trying – when the Old Course was left under a carpet of water on Thursday morning, but what a phenomenal job by course manager Gordon McKie and his St Andrews Links greenkeeping team to get play back underway as soon as they did.

High winds, of course, then became the next problem on Saturday but, alas, the R&A initially got it wrong with their attempt to tackle those conditions. Starting play on time was a gamble that should not have been taken and, in fairness, chief executive Peter Dawson did admit that in hindsight. In the final throes of his tenure – Martin Slumbers, who shadowed Dawson at the event, takes over the reins later in the year – a ten-and-a-half-hour suspension of play certainly wouldn’t have been on the wish list for the week. Nor would a decision about refunds and it is safe to say that Dawson may well have some heavy mail bags landing on his desk before heading off into the sunset because 60 per cent on a ticket costing £80 seems like short-changing spectators when they saw less than four hours of golf.

In truth, the decision to extend the event into the Monday for only the second time in its history became the only one available to the R&A and, in a roundabout way, it may have actually helped attract some newcomers to the game.

Taking advantage of a day ticket at £10, many in an attendance of 35,370 may not have been at the event otherwise and, moreover, there were a lot more families in the crowd than any of the other days. In total, the attendance figure was 237,024 – slightly up on St Andrews in 2010 but just down on Hoylake 12 months ago. In short, the home of golf is still on the bucket list for any golf fan when it comes to this event. “We were delighted that so many people came along to enjoy one of the most exciting finishes in Open history yesterday,” said championship director Johnnie Cole-Hamilton “I know the players really appreciated the fantastic support they received from the St Andrews galleries.”

As for the Old Course, Dawson was bang on about it continuing to “stand the test of time”, as he boldly said on the eve of the championship. Much softer than it should be at this time of the year, it was also played in fairly benign conditions most of the week. Yet, Marc Leishman’s 64 in the third round was the lowest score and a winning total of 273 was just one more than in 2010.

It is understandable that some people believe the event has become an expensive day out because it is when you add in travel costs, including parking, and food and drinks. It did seem, however, that a concerted effort had been made on this occasion to enhance the spectator experience. The information on LED screens around the course, for instance, was a huge improvement on what has been available in the past. Let’s see more initiatives like the one that gave ticket holders free admission into the revamped British Golf Museum.