R&A hopes to recession-proof Open

TURNBERRY, Scotland — The R&A is pulling out all the stops to try to make this year’s Open Championship as recession-free as possible.

In an effort to attract spectators to the most isolated Open Championship venue in Scotland, the R&A is offering to subsidise travel for golf clubs in Southern Scotland and the north of England. The R&A will pay 250 pounds to the cost of a bus containing 30 golfers who want to attend the Open Championship.

Turnberry hasn’t held an Open Championship since 1994. Crowds of 115,000 turned up 15 years ago to watch Nick Price take the third Open Championship held on the South Ayrshire links. David Hill, the R&A’s director of championships, wants to attract the same number this year.

“We are encouraging clubs to bring members, and the R&A will pay 250 pounds towards the cost of a coach,” said David Hill, the R&A’s director of championships.

“In this period of recession we’re trying to reach out to clubs and we will be contacting them with details. We’re asking them to bring 30 people.

“There’s no secret that Turnberry is one of the tougher Open venues when it comes to attracting people. We are confident we should get the same number we had in 1994.”

The initiative comes on the back of a campaign to try to attract new members into Scottish golf clubs. The R&A helped fund the “Love Golf – Join the Club” scheme in Scotland recently. The campaign ran the week after the Masters in an effort to boost membership of Scottish golf clubs.

Ticket prices for this year’s championship remain the same as last year, as the R&A hopes to persuade spectators to come to Turnberry despite the current worldwide credit crunch.

In line with other world wide sporting events, the R&A is taking a hit on corporate hospitality. Hill estimated that business entertaining would be down 15-20% down on what it was last year. That may have an effect on prize money.

The R&A did not announce the purse, but there is every chance that prize money will remain the same as last year considering the economic situation. Prize money for this year’s Masters was the same as last year, and the R&A might consider adopting the same policy for the Open Championship.

“We’re aware of the pressures upon us, but we will make a decision on prize money soon,” said Peter Dawson, the R&A’s chief executive.

When spectators do arrive at Turnberry they will be treated to a course measuring 247 yards longer than it did in 1994. The course has been extended to 7,204 yards from the 6,957 yards it measured 15 years ago.

Six new tees and 21 new bunkers have been added to toughen up the par-70 course. The layout is now nothing like it was when Tom Watson and Jack Nicklaus ripped it apart in the first Open held here in 1977. Watson finished the tournament at 12-under-par to pip Nicklaus by a stroke. Hubert Green finished in third place at 1-under-par.

Greg Norman won the 1986 Open held at Turnberry, but on that occasion the R&A tightened the fairways and let the rough grow to protect the course. Norman won the title with an even-par score.

Price won the 1994 Open Championship with a 12-under-par total, but technology has advanced considerably since then. Hence the course changes.

“We are aware that modern golfers are bigger, stronger and fitter. They have more technology at their command, and it is very important that we keep our great links courses relevant to he modern day professional. Turnberry has had some considerable number of changes. We are entirely happy that we have a very stiff par 70,” Dawson said.

In an effort to ensure golfers don’t get any bigger or stronger, the R&A is introducing drug testing for the first time at this year’ Open. The R&A will adopt the European Tour’s drug-testing policy at Turnberry. Dawson said that since Tour players on both the PGA and European Tours are used to drug testing, it should prove to be “just another week.”

Whether the championship is just another championship depends on the course and the players. Padraig Harrington is seeking to become the first player since Peter Thomson in 1956 to win three consecutive Opens. While Tiger Woods will contest his first Open at Turnberry as he seeks his fourth Open title.

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