Golf: Return tickets clause provides powerful rider

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The Independent Online
THE Murphy's English Open, a contradiction in nationalities, begins at The Belfry today, ostensibly to find a champion and promote an Irish stout. There is, however, a rider. The championship is inextricably linked to the Ryder Cup, which will be held at the same course next year, and the accountants are already at work.

Members of the public who attend the tournament this weekend have an opportunity to buy season tickets for the biennial match between Europe and the United States. The first 1,000 people who apply have the privilege of paying pounds 100 per head in the knowledge that they can return to The Belfry in September 1993. The lucky 1,000 have to spend at least three of the four days watching, or attending, the English Open.

Alternatively, anyone (ie. an impoverished company) who buys a hospitality package (ie. don't bring the car) is entitled to buy a similar package in the tented village at the Ryder Cup next year. There is a subtle difference. The upmarket hospitality hamper this week costs pounds 159. At the Ryder Cup the most upmarket package costs pounds 57,500.

The three-day Ryder Cup is an all-ticket affair, limited to a maximum of 27,500 people per day, 7,500 of them 'hospitalised.' When the Ryder Cup was held here in 1989 a season ticket (which lasts, not for a season, but three days) cost pounds 45. The increase is almost 120 per cent. The new price does not compare favourably with, for example, the pounds 62 charged by the Royal and Ancient for watching the Open Championship from beginning to end. A day ticket at the Ryder Cup here three years ago cost pounds 15; next year it is pounds 35.

'The Ryder Cup committee is acutely aware of the massive interest that will be generated and is anxious that all genuine golf fans have the opportunity to be at what promises to be another exciting and closely fought contest,' Sandy Jones, the executive director of the Professional Golfers' Association, said. They are aware, acutely, of supply and demand and the event, sponsored by Johnnie Walker and televised by the BBC, is expected to gross about pounds 7m. Profit will be around pounds 2m, compared to pounds 300,000 from the Ryder Cup at The Belfry in 1985 and pounds 750,000 in 1989.

It is all figures. De Vere Hotels, owners of The Belfry, have spent pounds 500,000 improving the Brabazon course. Ten holes have been changed by the introduction of either new tee positions or remodelled fairways and bunkers. At the ninth, for example, the green has been extended into the lake. Huge mounds have been constructed to give spectators a better view.

Dave Thomas, who designed the Brabazon, said: 'When a course has been played for 15 years it begins to show areas where improvements can be made. I believe this is something that should be done at all new courses and certainly at true championship ones. At Augusta they do it almost every year.' A 10- million gallon reservoir of water has been built next to the course and goes on stream later this year.

Despite the significance of the venue, not to mention pounds 550,000 in prize money, the English Open has failed to attract any of the upper echelon, the super tax bracket. No Faldo, Ballesteros, Woosnam, Lyle, Olazabal or Langer. The winner here receives pounds 91,660 (Faldo won pounds 95,000 for winning the Open Championship) but this obviously represents pocket money to those who expect to be rewarded simply for turning up. No appearance money, no appearance.

In Germany last week, Ken Schofield, executive director of the European Tour, made a personal approach to Ian Woosnam to get him to play at The Belfry. Woosnam, who lives about an hour's drive from here, said he would think about it. He thought about it and decided to stay at home.

Murphy's, owned by Whitbread, put a brave face on things. 'We've got a solid field,' they said. 'We would have been delighted if a few others had shown up but no more could have been done. We are new kids on the block and it has taken us four years to get here. We have plotted our route and we are in it on a long-term basis.'

----------------------------------------------------------------- CARD OF THE COURSE ----------------------------------------------------------------- Hole Yards Par Hole Yards Par 1st 429 4 10th 298 4 2nd 352 4 11th 427 4 3rd 466 4 12th 235 3 4th 581 5 13th 395 4 5th 409 4 14th 193 3 6th 400 4 15th 552 5 7th 182 3 16th 415 4 8th 460 4 17th 571 5 9th 433 4 18th 478 4 Out: 3,712 36 In: 3,564 36 Total: 7,276 72 -----------------------------------------------------------------

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