Martin Dempster: Why it's too easy to criticise Scottish golf fans

As the home of golf, it’s an easy target, so it is absolutely no surprise, really, that the snipers are taking aim at Scottish golf fans yet again.

Rory McIlroy and his caddie Harry Diamond walk to the  18th green during the final round of the 150th Open at St Andrews. Picture: Ian Rutherford.
Rory McIlroy and his caddie Harry Diamond walk to the 18th green during the final round of the 150th Open at St Andrews. Picture: Ian Rutherford.

Sparse-looking crowds for the AIG Women’s Open at Muirfield led to negative comments being posted on social media while I also heard that old chestnut about “how this wouldn’t happen in Ireland” being mentioned by a colleague in the media centre.

The official attendance for the week was 33,033, and I have to admit that was a bit disappointing for the event’s historic first visit to the East Lothian venue.

Four weeks earlier at its next-door neighbour, The Renaissance Club, the total crowd for the Genesis Scottish Open was 68,771, more than double last week’s figure.

Australian Cameron Smith holds the Claret Jug after winning the 150th Open at St Andrews. Picture: Ian Rutherford

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The 150th Open at St Andrews the following week then boasted a record 290,000, but that can’t really be used as a comparison due to it being a milestone occasion and also the venue.

Being held for the first time at Gleneagles, the Senior Open attracted a total attendance of 22,400 while 10,000 turned up over the course of the week at Dundonald Links for the Trust Golf Women’ Scottish Open.

Add in however many visited Fairmont St Andrews for the Hero Open that same week and an impressive total of around 430,000 fans have watched top-class golf in Scotland over the past five weeks.

It was a wonderful run of tournaments, producing victories for Xander Schauffele (Genesis Scottish Open), Cameron Smith (The Open), Darren Clarke (Senior Open), Ayaka Furue (Trust Golf Women’s Scottish Open), Sean Crocker (Hero Open) and Ashleigh Buhai (AIG Women’s Open).

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Ashleigh Buhai reacts after winning the AIG Women's Open at Muirfield on Sunday night. Picture: Charlie Crowhurst/Getty Images.

A small army of volunteers involved in all the events should take a bow because, without them, big golf tournaments simply don’t happen and that aspect is often overlooked by those quick to criticise.

If anything, perhaps it was simply down to so many events being held close together – and let’s not forget there’s a cost-of-living crisis at the moment – in terms of both scheduling and location that both the Senior Open and AIG Women’s Open didn’t attract better crowds.

Did some people stay away from Muirfield because of its past history? Perhaps. But it’s moved on and the world’s top women players were certainly offered the warmest of welcomes last week.

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As was the case with the Genesis Scottish Open, eyebrows were raised about how late the final groups teed off in the AIG Women’s Open at the weekend - and rightly so.

It was due to US TV coverage, which I get is an important aspect but not when it means that lots of fans, especially on a Sunday when they have work the next morning, have left long before the end of play.

Due to a play-off that lasted four holes and the light fading fast, it almost led to an unwanted situation of a Monday finish being required, and I’d urge the R&A for that event and also the DP World Tour/PGA Tour for the Genesis Scottish Open to think about those fans when setting tee times going forward in these tournaments.

It’s impossible to please everyone but, as R&A chief executive Martin Slumbers said last week, “big-time sport needs big-time venues” and Scotland delivered once again in that aspect over the past few weeks and will always be able to do so.

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