THE first-ever two-tiered stand to be built at an Open Championship venue will help create the “best closing arena in golf” at this year’s event at St Andrews, according to the R&A.
Two grandstands down the side of the first hole on the Old Course, one at the side of the 17th green and the ground-breaking structure behind the 18th green will provide seating for 10,000 spectators.
The new arena will provide a fantastic setting for the climax of the championshipJohnnie Cole-Hamilton
Almost half of the total grandstand capacity for the event’s 144th staging, the aim is to create an amphitheatre that is second to none in the sport as the 2015 champion sinks the winning putt.
“There is always an incredible atmosphere at The Open and particularly when it is held in St Andrews,” said Johnnie Cole-Hamilton, the R&A’s director of championships. “We want to make sure as many spectators as possible can experience that unique atmosphere and enjoy wonderful views of the play on the opening and closing holes at St Andrews. The new arena will provide a fantastic setting for the climax of the championship at the 72nd hole and will be the ideal place for spectators to greet the new Champion Golfer of the Year.”
The stands down the side of the first will have a combined capacity of 4,000, approximately the same as the one at the 17th green. Two separate stands in previous years, it will be one L-shaped structure on this occasion, continuing a theme that was introduced last year with a horseshoe shaped stand round the first tee at Hoylake.
Erecting spectator structures behind the 18th green has, of course, always proved problematical. For starters, half that area is occupied by the iconic R&A Clubhouse and, for very obvious reasons, there’s no chance of the view from there ever being obstructed.
The St Andrews Links Trust’s golf shop next to it has also been a headache in the past in terms of the size of stand that could be constructed around it, but a radical solution has been found. With the shop embedded underneath, that area will house a two-tier stand with a capacity of just under 2,000. The top part will be open to the general public with the bottom half a reserved area.
“We’ve never done a tiered grandstand at the Open Championship before and it will be quite a marvel to see this,” said Rhodri Price, the event’s director of operations. “It is part of an amphitheatre we are trying to create that will be the best closing arena in golf. By increasing the scale of the grandstands from previous Opens here, we are trying to make the finish more of a cauldron.”
He also hinted that significant changes could be in store for “The Loop” – the stretch that takes in the eighth, ninth, tenth and 11th – when the event next visits the home of golf, the date for which has still to be fixed. “We have a few ideas up our sleeve for there,” added Price of the one section of the course – other than the first, 17th and 18th – where spectators can watch a few holes from the same position.
As is always the case when the event is held at St Andrews, both advance ticket sales and corporate hospitality packages are ahead of most other venues at this stage. If bought before the end of May, a daily ticket costs £70 (£10 more than the price in 2010, when South African Louis Oosthuizen made his major breakthrough), rising to £80 if bought at the gate. “There is a huge appetite for The Open at St Andrews,” reported Malcolm Booth, the R&A’s director of communications. He added that the ticket prices for next year’s event at Royal Troon will be set soon, with the likelihood being that they will be announced before the summer.
In other changes from the event’s last staging on “home” soil, a second park-and-ride facility is being added to the one on the Guardbridge side of the Auld Grey Toun. It will be at the south side of St Andrews to cater for traffic mainly using the A915 from Leven. “This will help take a bit of the congestion out of the town,” said Price.
Closer to the course, a pay gate on the sea side of the R&A clubhouse has been moved round towards the St Andrews Links clubhouse in a bid to de-clutter the area close to the first tee. It has also involved the Media Centre being moved on to the Bruce Embankment, while a “one-stop shop” competitors’ facility will be housed in the Links Clubhouse.
Many of the structures are starting to take shape and once finished will all have a navy blue livery as part of a brand development push by the R&A’s marketing men.