Fears that Carnoustie might this week be staging the Open Championship for a final time have been played down by R&A chief executive Martin Slumbers, who wants to see the event “bring value to the town for decades to come”
In a stunning development on the eve of the championship’s eighth staging at the Angus venue, the captain of Carnoustie Golf Club, Bill Thompson, claimed that golf’s oldest major had outgrown the Angus town.
He also expressed concern that local residents are being inconvenienced by the tightening of security, parking restrictions and changing ticket policies.
“We have 14,000 residents and we’re not built for 45-50,000 people,” said Thompson in a BBC interview. “It’s changing the balance. The balance was that you would always put up with an element of disruption, and a number of weeks with not playing the course.
“But, for the first time, we have actually seen pieces of the golf course torn up for corporate hospitality tents and we have already lost several weeks of play and will lose more before they come back into play.”
Carnoustie was off the R&A’s Open rota for 24 years before it returned in 1999, when Paul Lawrie won the Claret Jug, and last played host in 2007, when Padraig Harrington prevailed.
“It’s difficult because the venues all want to have the Open because it’s a badge that brings business,” added Thompson. “At the end of the day, this is a corporate machine run very professionally. But there is very little input, very little communication.
“We are absolutely on the periphery of this tournament, and when it goes away next week, we will be hoping to try to re-baseline our business back to what we do.”
Slumbers, who is overseeing the event at Carnoustie for the first time since he succeeded Peter Dawson in 2015, delivered his view on the venue’s future on the Open rota at a traditional pre-event press conference.
“I’m not sure I agree with him,” said Slumbers, referring to Thompson’s comments. “If you go back to 1999, the Open here transformed Carnoustie, in terms of the money that was invested in the golf course and the golf club, and it brings great value to the town for decades to come.
“This course is driven by tourists playing here and we are proud to showcase the course and the town on the world stage.
“We can always work with space, and I think Carnoustie has plenty of it. At the heart of every Open has to be a classic links golf course and that’s what we have, and we work around that.”
According to Johnnie Cole-Hamilton, the R&A’s director of championships, the majority of local bodies are happy to see the event at Carnoustie.
“In the 20 Opens I’ve been involved in, this has been one of the most positive experiences I’ve had in building a modern Open Championship,” said Cole-Hamilton, who has direct responsibility for the entire operation this week.
“I would say the co-operation we’ve had from clubs, the co-operation we’ve had from Carnoustie Links and Angus Council, has been a positive experience. There’s absolutely adequate space here, and there’s no concern from my perspective.”