It would be an exaggeration to say the Open Championship is causing widespread anger in Carnoustie. Nonetheless, one need not scrape far beneath the surface to discover grumblings of discontent.
The subject in hand is straightforward for those attending the 147th Open; if you leave the venue, you cannot get back in with the same ticket. Exceptions will be made on medical grounds, just as members of golf clubs affiliated to Carnoustie – who have bought advance season tickets and meet identification criteria – can come and go. This R&A position, adopted last year and due to continue in 2019 at Portrush, is contrary to what occurs at Augusta National, the US Open and Wimbledon.
Several months ago an online petition was launched by David Valentine, the proprietor of Simpson’s Golf Shop, which sits across the street from the Carnoustie links. By the time he stopped publicising it, close to 700 signatures had been added.
The wording was strong: “The R&A’s ‘No‑readmission’ policy will effectively lock them on‑course all day – every day unless they pay again. This goes against the 150-year-old tradition of the Open and is not in the interests of spectators who are – only now – beginning to realise the full effects of these restrictions.”
Speaking this week, Valentine made it clear he is not at war with the R&A but a degree of unrest remains. “The petition is still live so fans of the Open can give feedback about the policy,” he said. “Most local people agree the Open is the best golf event on the planet and the R&A should be commended for helping juniors to come free and stay at the new campsite.
“But there is a growing disappointment by local people with elderly relatives, young children, pets and local businesses because the new policy doesn’t allow them to pop out and back in, to take care of their responsibilities.
“Frankly this should have been sorted by the Links Management who are custodians of the courses on behalf of the people who own them.” Therein lies a key Carnoustie distinction; its three courses, including the championship one, are owned by the town.
The Open is an expensive day out. Adult tickets for tournament days start at £80, though early bird tickets were available. The addition of a £4.50 bacon roll, £5 pint of lager, £10 burger and chips or £6 salad box may be avoided by some spectators if there was a chance to visit Carnoustie’s pubs and eateries before returning.
Yet the R&A remains adamant that its objective is not to squeeze every last penny from customers. Unofficial – or “pirate” – hospitality, which has been a huge and recurring headache at the Open, is its explanation. “That is a real issue for us,” said the R&A chief executive, Martin Slumbers. “It degrades the Open. It undermines that fan experience and we have decided that the no-readmission policy is a core way, along with other things that we are doing, to reduce unofficial hospitality. That’s the primary reason.”
Intrigue will naturally surround whether the R&A retains this in its home of St Andrews, where the Open will return in 2021. Businesses in the town, like Carnoustie within easy walking distance of the golf course, have a deep-rooted relationship with golf’s ruling body.
In Carnoustie the inference is of a cooler alliance. Bill Thompson is captain of Carnoustie Golf Club, whose 800 members have links playing status. Their clubhouse sits adjacent to the Open.
“The reality is that for approximately the last six weeks we have had a major disruption with regards the availability of golf courses to members,” he said. “That also has a massively negative effect on our commercial viability; members don’t play, they don’t come into the club. We understand that’s a necessary evil but there is no compensation to us. If we get a marquee winner here, for the next 10 years everybody benefits but in the short-term it is difficult.”