The profits are Royal and the methods Ancient sport of soaking the punters

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The Independent Online

In the marquee for the "unofficial British Open 2000 merchandise", sales assistant Martyn Rabbitt is handicapped. He broke his left arm on Monday, hopping over a wall. For the week of the 129th Open Championship, he needs both arms to meet customer demand. "Whatever figure you think of, double it," he said. "Everything has doubled - the number of people, the prices, everything. It's almost got to the point of madness."

In the marquee for the "unofficial British Open 2000 merchandise", sales assistant Martyn Rabbitt is handicapped. He broke his left arm on Monday, hopping over a wall. For the week of the 129th Open Championship, he needs both arms to meet customer demand. "Whatever figure you think of, double it," he said. "Everything has doubled - the number of people, the prices, everything. It's almost got to the point of madness."

In his tent in an alley off Ellice Place, a couple of hundred yards from the Old Course, he's selling Pringle tops for £29.99 and T-shirts for £11.99.

What he cannot sell, however, is the logo of the old silver claret jug, the trophy that will be presented to the Open champion tomorrow with a cheque for £500,000.

That priceless brand mark belongs to the Royal and Ancient, which sells its merchandise in the "official" shops at the British Golf Museum, which is a sand wedge from the R&A clubhouse. Here you can buy an Open tie complete with claret-jug emblem for £25 or a shirt for £67.50. A box of three golf balls costs £8 but if that doesn't whet your appetite there are three white chocolate golf balls with strawberry-truffle filling, made by Mackay's of St Andrews.

The official umbrella, called the Gustbuster, retails at £25 but they have not been selling like hot cakes - the Millennium Open has been blessed with glorious weather, boosting attendance and trade. The crowd for the first round on Thursday was 39,000, a record for the Open.

Even before the start 47,000 people had descended on St Andrews for the practice rounds. People, it seems, want to visit the home of golf and catch a glimpse, not just of the hallowed links, which were first connected with golf in 1552, but of the warm favourite, Tiger Woods.

Yesterday they had a double treat when Jack Nicklaus, at the age of 60, took his final bow in the Open, walking down the 18th fairway to tumultuous applause as the 24-year-old Tiger, seen as the natural successor to the Golden Bear as the game's greatest player, arrived on the first tee. In a perfect world, and to some people St Andrews was close to that yesterday, Tiger will be giving a valedictory performance here in 2036.

Golf and St Andrews, a public course given to the town by King David I in 1123, have never known such a boom. Over at the tented village, which is more like a metropolis under canvas, almost everything is for sale, from golf clubs to golfing holidays. There is one notable exception. You cannot have a bet on the Old Course. Although the European Tour has an official bookmaker, the R&A will not sell space on site to a bookie: it doesn't fit with the image of the arbiters of the Royal and Ancient game.

Nobody can put a figure on the projected profits from the 2000 Open aside from the fact that there will be record sums for everybody involved - the R&A, the town's hoteliers and landlords and the university, which lets out its dormitories.

For a start, there was a record entry for the championship of 2,460 players, each paying a fee of £90.

Cheques were made payable to the R&A Golf Club. And Mastercard, Visa or Switch would do nicely.

Back at the R&A shop in the golf museum, what would not do nicely was American Express. Three Americans who bought more than £100 of memorabilia had to hand the goods back when their offer to pay by American Express card was rejected.

It is estimated that Tiger, one of whose sponsors is American Express, will become the richest sports personality on Earth, his wealth being measured in billions rather than millions.

When Sam Snead, now 88 and still swinging, took possession of the claret jug here in 1946, he won just $600.

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