The Open 2022: St Andrews work to begin, ticket ballot, DeChambeau course test - Johnnie Cole-Hamilton speaks on 150th event

He’s come a long way since learning the ropes in golf as a wet-behind-the-ears tournament controller with the PGA in Scotland. “Yes,” said a smiling Johnnie Cole-Hamilton, “if someone had tapped me on the shoulder when I was doing the Clydebank & District Pro Am and said that one day you’d be in charge of the staging of the 150th anniversary of The Open, I wouldn’t have believed them.”

As The R&A’s Executive Director - Championships, that is, indeed, Cole-Hamilton’s current main task, with the countdown to this summer’s keenly-anticipated milestone occasion in St Andrews set to crank up a gear on Monday as work starts to build the contractors’ compound. From then until July, it will be all systems go.

“We probably start planning for most Opens four or five years out,” said Cole-Hamilton, who has managed the team responsible for delivering the game’s oldest major since 2012 but has been on The R&A staff for 23 years in total. “When we last had The Open here in 2015, we would have been thinking about the 150th even then and what we could see on the ground.

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“The main challenge in St Andrews is that it’s got the town right at the top of it, which is great in so many ways. To have the greatest walk in golf with all those flats and hotels just 10 paces from the fairway is just incredible and we are so delighted that’s the case.

Johnnie Cole-Hamilton, The R&A's Executive Director - Championships, speaks to the media at a press conference prior to the 148th Open at Royal Portrush. Picture: The R&A
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“But it can also provide a challenge. Spectating is difficult because we’ve got no spectator movement in between the holes with the Old Course basically being on a loop with the crowd going on the outside at all times. We have to manage some big numbers on the outside and give spectators the best experience we can.

“But St Andrews is so steeped in the game that we will overcome any challenge and it will be an absolute joy. It’s a unique layout and that’s why it’s the Home of Golf.”

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As a 14-year-old, Cole-Hamilton watched every single shot hit by Tom Watson at St Andrews in the 1984 Open, won by Seve Ballesteros. Since joining the R&A, he’s been involved in four Opens held at St Andrews, but, even since that last one seven years ago, the tournament seems to have become an even bigger beast.

“The brand of the event, the reach of it, everything about It has all grown in a good and positive way for the game and the infrastructure has grown with it,” said Cole-Hamilton, who graduated from the University of the West of England with a degree in Social Science before then attending Strathclyde University, where he completed a Masters in Human Resource Management.

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Collin Morikawa will be defending the Claret Jug at St Andrews in July after his win last year at Royal St George's. Picture: Glyn Kirk/AFP via Getty Images.

For the first time in its history, the R&A introduced a ticket ballot for the event due to it being the hottest golfing gig in 2022. “We had 1.3 million ticket applications, so clearly we had to come up with a fair and equitable way to distribute those tickets, which is exactly what we have been trying to do,” said Cole-Hamilton of that process.

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“We’ve got a very good attendance from the local area and in the UK, but we’ve got a very strong international presence as well. Being the most international championship of them all and not just in terms of the players, we wanted to reflect that in the attendees.”

People who missed out in the initial ballot could now get lucky in a newly-launched Official Ticket Resale Platform. “It went live earlier this week and is allowing applicants to buy tickets that have been taken up at face value, which is really important,” he said.”It is also deterring the unofficial selling of tickets that goes on behind the scenes.”

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The Open’s all-time attendance record was set in the 2000 championship as 239,000 watched Tiger Woods claim the first of his two Claret Jug wins on the Old Course. The figure again exceeded 235,000 in 2015. “We are hopefully at the tail end of this pandemic, but we want The Open to be safe and responsible, so we are still working very strongly with the Scottish Government, Scottish Public Health and local authorities etc,” said Cole-Hamilton.

“But we are aiming to have more than 50,000 on each championship day and we are hoping to have a lot more on each practice day. So I am hoping and have an ambition that we can certainly exceed that 239,000.”

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Entries opened recently and some of the hopefuls have been quick off the mark. “We’ve already had 240-odd entries and it took us until April to hit that sort of number in 2019 for Portrush, so we are well ahead and I think there is a lot of excitement,” commented Cole-Hamilton.

“In 2005, we had around 2,300 entries. Whether or not we hit that sort of number, I don’t know, but the signs are good that players want to play in the 150th.”

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The R&A will be “delighted” if newly-inducted World Golf Hall of Famer Woods, who is still recovering from his serious car crash just over a year ago, is back in time to take his place in the field, while Cole-Hamilton said his boss, Martin Slumbers, is confident the Old Course can stand up to being tested by big-hitters like Bryson DeChambeau.

“Obviously we are aware of those comments,” he said of people predicting that DeChambeau could drive as many as nine greens. “But we absolutely take the view that, for The Open Championship, the Old Course will provide an outstanding test for the world’s top golfers.

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“As we always do at any Open Championship, we aim to set the course up in a tough way but in a fair way. I know that Martin absolutely believes the Old Course will stand up to the test. I’d be astonished if we had four flat calm days and what we will get is a very worthy Champion Golfer of the Year.”

With all due respect, that’s got a different ring than announcing the winner of the Clydebank & District Pro Am and he knows it, especially this time around. “Just the privilege to be involved in the 150th Open is incredible,” said Cole-Hamilton.

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Watch the full interview with Johnnie Cole-Hamilton on The Scotsman Golf Show on scotsman.com

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