A record-attendance for England – but the spotlight is now on Carnoustie to deliver, says Bryce Ritchie
Outside of any Open at St Andrews, the Royal Birkdale staging was the most successful and best attended in history south of the border. A record 235,000 people turned out to watch Jordan Spieth win his third major, and what could well be the first of a few Claret Jugs in his career.
The 23-year-old – who has since turned 24 – outlasted fellow American Matt Kuchar in what can only be described as a rather crazy final round on the Sefton Coast.
There is no doubt in this writer’s mind that when Spieth was chuntering round that links on the Sunday afternoon, he was actually choking. His play on the first 13 holes – which had five bogeys and one solitary birdie – was entirely unexpected, despite the memories of Augusta National and his Masters collapse in 2015.
But if the full-on choke was unexpected, so was the comeback. Other players would have collapsed under that pressure in such a spotlight. Spieth simply got his finger out.
The drama played out in incredible fashion over the closing six holes, with Spieth picking up five shots to effectively canter to his first Open win.
His bossing of the driving range fiasco at the 13th was Seve-esque, not in terms of drama and manipulating the situation, but rather stoically attempting to make the absolute best of a bad situation. He was cool whilst everyone else was losing their minds in the heat of the moment.
For the crowds, the 146th Open was unlike anything they had ever seen. And best of all, it wasn’t simply the quality of golf that people were watching – including Branden Grace’s history-making third round 62 – it was the spectacle itself. The R&A have, in the last few years, turned the Open into a truly world-class spectacle of golf.
Notice how this year there were no complaints about pricing.
The only negatives uttered all week were by those uninformed ‘experts’ who bizarrely claimed that Royal Birkdale was “too easy”. Really. If the course was, as they so brazenly said, a doddle, how do they explain 130 players failing to finish in red figures after four days? Odd that, isn’t it?
In the end, it was back pats all round for the organisers. But never rest on your laurels, as they say. The Open returns to Carnoustie next year - arguably the most exciting course on the Open rota - and there are a few things I’d like to see the R&A do (or leave alone) so that Carnoustie can keep the momentum going for what is the world’s oldest and greatest major.
The R&A told Scottish Club Golfer that Twilight tickets sold out in 2017 and that they will be in operation at Carnoustie. The concept provides an incentive for those who don’t want to spend a whole day at the course, or can’t afford an all-day ticket. At Birkdale, the leaders teed off on the Saturday at 15.55pm, five minutes before Twilight tickets were being accepted at the gate. Tremendous value for money. Admittedly, the late tee-time was a one-off, but it worked. Let’s do that again at Carnoustie.
LEAVE THE COURSE ALONE
There is no need to make any drastic changes to Carnoustie, with the exception of the ninth hole, which is too easy for today’s modern tour pro. I’d create a new green and trick it up. Apart from that, the course is perfect for Open golf and has the best closing trio of holes of any major venue. Hopefully the R&A can do something to encourage more crowds around this corner of the course to create a closing amphitheater of sorts.
KEEP IT MOBILE FRIENDLY
After a few years of will-we-won’t-we decision-making on whether to allow people to use their mobile phones on the grounds, Birkdale was concrete proof that the problem actually isn’t a problem anymore. More people knew what was going on and it was clear people liked being able to keep up on social media, as they would at any other sporting event, without spoiling it for the players. Ironically, it was at Carnoustie in 2007 when the R&A enforced a ban on mobiles. Over a decade later, we’ve all moved on.
MAKE IT CHEAPER
And now onto the negatives. The price of a ticket still represents value for money. Through the gates, it’s a different story. Food and drink at the Open is too expensive. The event is a million miles from the kind of value-for-money on offer at Augusta National (despite paying more for the ticket, admittedly) and other major golf events (and other sports events). Call me cynical but £7.50 for a tiny wrap that tastes like dust just isn’t good enough. Buying a round of drinks was the equivalent of a full tank of petrol. The R&A does so much right, so in these times of people being completely skint and fed up being fleeced at every opportunity, let’s cut the paying customers some slack and go easy on their wallet once they’re through the gates.
CLEANSE THE FIELD
Yes, I get it’s called the Open Championship. I’m fully aware of that. But park that for now and listen. There are 11 events that allow players to qualify for the Open, including Final Qualifying. One of those qualifiers takes place almost eight months before the Open in the previous calendar year. The first four of those events are played before the end of May. Of the 14 players who qualified from those four events, ten missed the cut at Birkdale. The Open has cast its net too wide in its search for being a truly global ‘Open’ and its field is diluted as a result. It likely won’t be fixed. But maybe it should be.